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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
tion and correctional supervision, with the upper limit of sentences for most ranging from 20 to 60 years. The exception was where state law required the justice system to treat the offenders, ages 11 and 13, as juveniles. Even though there is little room in the adversarial process of the criminal courts for the special problems these boys had to influence the outcome, most residents of that particular community saw adjudication in the juvenile system as unjustifiably lenient treatment, given the nature of the offense.
Instituting or adding to physical security measures was the most common response of the school communities to these shootings in almost every site. In the urban cases, public officials and residents went well beyond security measures to effect improvements in community climate and communication between youth and adults. The rural and suburban communities also took steps to improve communication but did not focus on community climate, tending to explain the incidents as the act of a troubled youth rather than resulting from community-level or social factors that needed attention.
OBSERVATIONS AND RESEARCH RECOMMENDATIONS
School rampage shootings are rare events that have occurred in middle-class and affluent rural and suburban schools, but they are not found in inner-city schools. They resemble other rampage shootings, especially mass murders, more than other forms of youth violence or urban school shootings. It is virtually impossible to identify the likely offenders in advance; thus, there is no accurate way to develop a profile of students at high risk to commit these kinds of acts.
Little is known about what causes school rampages, so the development of primary prevention mechanisms is difficult. Until more can be learned about causes, case studies such as these can be helpful in identifying some plausible targets of intervention. One approach involves the fact that these young people had such easy access to firearms. Based on these cases—and the fact that all but one of the incidents of lethal school violence involving multiple victims in the United States over the last decade have involved firearms in the hands of children—the committee believes it is necessary to find more effective means than we now have of realizing the nation’s long established policy goal of keeping firearms out of the hands of unsupervised children and out of our schools. In addition, there is a need for youth and adults, among themselves and together, to be more sensitive to the often fragile status concerns of young people. Students are often in a position to preempt rampage attacks simply by telling what they know to school authorities, but that requires crossing the gap between the society of youth and that of adults. Specifically, there