How Medical Technology is Saving Lives. From Americas Biopharmaceutical Companies (retrieved from https://innovation.org/). Google images.
The earliest recorded school shooting in America occurred on July 26, 1764, when four Lenape Indians entered a schoolhouse near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania and shot and killed the schoolmaster and nine or ten school children (unsure) leaving only two survivors. There have been violent events at and in schools ever since, but it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that there was a truly significant increase in student-on-student gun-related violent school crime. This all culminated in Columbine, on April 20, 1999,1 ushering in a whole new era of campus violence. Since then, researchers have been looking for clues as to what drives a kid, supposedly with their entire life in front of them, to the brink of desperation and hopelessness such that they feel this is a deserved way out.
Way out of what? Deserved for who?
When the FBI released The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective in 2000,2 mass casualties as a result of student-on-student school gun violence was still a comparatively new phenomenon. Since 2000, a number of federal agencies and many independent researchers have applied tremendous mental effort in an attempt to understand, toward preventing, these tragedies.
From the very highest of perspective looking backward, it would seem that as our skill and ability in the mechanical arts of lifesaving have increased, so has our propensity for death and mayhem.
Through the Years
Scholars have made the observation that in the United States, between 1960 and 1991, while the population of the country increased by 40%, the rate of violent crime increased by 500%.3, 4
The 1960s in America saw ten school campus-related events. Perhaps the most well-known of the decade occurred on August 1st, 1966 at the University of Texas-Austin, when Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck on the 28th floor of the university tower and randomly started shooting. He killed 31 people during the 96 minutes he had a clear and unobstructed view of the campus before Austin police were finally able to neutralize him. His first victims were his mother and his wife – at their homes – and his third, fourth, and fifth victims were simply random targets he happened upon as he walked through the building. The earlier killing of family – a mother – is a trait he shares with many other shooters of today.
Far from a respite, the mid to late 1970s are considered perhaps the second most violent in U.S. school history. While the term ‘massacre’ found its way into the phonetics of school shootings, perhaps the two most notable events were at Kent State, OH (nine dead and four injured), and at Jackson State, MS (two dead and twelve injured), both occurring in May of 1970. These respective events occurred when the National Guard (Kent State) and the state police (Jackson State) opened fire on student demonstrators at each campus. The killing at Jackson State happened only eleven days after the event at Kent State, both capturing the attention of an already beleaguered nation beset with anti-war and anti-racism protests, and still reeling from the tumult of the late 1960s.
The 1980s ushered in a new era of student hostage-taking and gun violence. Over a four year period between September 1986 and September 1990, at least 71 people (65 students and 6 employees) were killed with guns at school.1 A further 201 victims were severely wounded by gunfire, and 242 persons were taken hostage. There were several violent and horrific events in the 1980s, culminating on January 17, 1989, when in Stockton, California five school children were killed and twenty-nine were wounded by a single gunman firing into the elementary school with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Yet, the almost-three-decades since have also produced some interesting statistics with respect to crime overall.
By the Numbers…
According to the research group Statista,3 violent crime (overall) has been trending downward. Violent crime in the U.S. seemed to peak between 1991 to 1993, and although the projections have been largely positive, the disturbing statistical counterpart to this tendency is that which represents the violent crime of rape.
While the number of rape offenses also peaked in 1991, matching the curve for other person-on-person violent crimes, the statistic for rape fell to a low point in 2013 with 82,109 cases reported nationwide. Since then, the number of (reported) rape incidents has been steadily and drastically increasing.
Table 1. Violent crime in the United States 1991-2018.
Another component of the story that we must consider is the advancement in medical technologies over the past 100 years, especially our life-saving tech. Grossman4, 5 quoting the U.S. Medical Services Corps, suggests that if we were still using medical technology from the 1930s, the rate of death from violent attacks would be ten times higher, and with 1970’s technology, four times higher. To keep this in perspective, let’s consider the comparative causes of death for 15-24 year old’s in the United States averaged between 1999-2006 compared to 2017 (the most recently available data published by the CDC).6, 7
Table 2. Cause of death comparisons, 15-24 yo.
It is shameful to see that suicide and homicide are increasing causes of death within the 15 to 24-year old age group. It is tragic to see suicide as the second leading cause of death overall, up 69% over the last two decades.
As a number of perpetrators have attested – having survived these senseless acts of violence after ultimately choosing not to self-terminate – in slightly less than half of the event cases, suicide was the primary motivator to carry out these attacks. More than half those again cite suicide as a secondary motive. 4, 8 This suggests that while suicidal ideation is rarely the sole determining factor in an attacker’s motivation for violence, it is reasonably common to find suicidal ideation in combination with or secondary to other motivators.
The Killing Season
Finally, it occurs to me to consider whether or not there is a month or time of year favored by the shooters – a ‘killing season’ per se.
The Washington Post published an article in 2016 on the seasonality of violence.9 The author proposed that April is the most favored killing month for shooters and killers. The logic behind this deduction included several well-known tragedies that have all – ironically – occurred in April. Among them; the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, the Columbine High school shooting, Virginia Tech, Waco Texas (Patriots Day), and even an attempt to pay homage to Adolph Hitler’s Birthday. While it is indeed true that all these events occurred in April, and it is easy to tie those who exhibit signs of malicious envy or ‘Stan worship’ to those involved, as it turns out, April is not the preferred month or ‘killing season.’
It is important to note here that as included in the CIA’s report Analysis of Targeted School Violence, incidents have taken place in every month except July, and have occurred on every day of the week except Sunday. It is also interesting to note that more than half of these events have happened during morning class hours. This is a statistic independently confirmed using the publically available data from K12academics.
This is an opportunity to invite the reader to think for themselves about the activities, seasons, and events that may be occurring, and ask if they elicit some kind of possible correlation with these tragic spikes?
Following is a quick tally of incidents reported and logged by K12academics.1 Following that is a comparison prepared for Analysis of Targeted School Violence.8
Figure 1. Tally of events per month from data provided by K12academics for 2000-2009, 2010-2014, and 2015-2019.1
Figure 2. Average of events over an academic year by month from the CIA’s Analysis of Targeted School Violence.8
Astonishingly, 41% of attacks took place on the first day back at school following a break in attendance (school holiday, illness, truancy), while 24% occurred on the first day back after an absence (suspension, discipline).
None in July. None on a Sunday.
Since the original FBI study released in 2000, there has been a steady rise in incidents. By my calculations (including all logged incidents), the number of events has increased by a factor of three to slightly more than two incidents per month. While not every one of these incidents meets the FBI criteria for a mass school shooting event (either just under two per month or just over two per month, it is still ‘2’ too many), it is essential to look at all the information we have in an attempt to understand – and ultimately prevent – tragedies of this nature.
There is a Clue…
While it is not my goal to understand what motivates these individuals to carry out such heinous acts, discovering a way to avoid these tragedies is ultimately the best result. Perhaps there is no changing the mind of an individual who is set on causing mayhem and destruction, but I firmly believe there is a way to intercede first – to prevent to the best of our abilities these senseless, mindless, destructive crimes against humanity that serve nothing but a selfish, delusional aspiration of grandeur and perceived revenge.
Please join me next week for my final article in this series when I look at the one common trait identified by the FBI back in 2000 that seems to still hold true today. It may be our one salvation toward helping to prevent any more of these heinous acts.
- History of School Shootings in the United States. 2020 [cited 2020 February 23]; Available from: https://www.k12academics.com/.
- O’Toole, M.A., The school shooter: A threat assessment perspective., N.C.f.t.A.o.V.C. (U.S.). Editor. 2000, FBI Academy: Quantico, VA.
- Violent crime in the U.S. – statistics & facts. [electronic] 2020 January 28 [cited 2020 February 23]; Available from: https://www.statista.com/topics/1750/violent-crime-in-the-us/.
- Chalmers, P., Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer. 2009, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
- Grossman, D., K. Paulsen, and K. Miserany, Assassination Generation. 2016, New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Group.
- Leading Causes of Death Charts. [electronic] 2017 April 10, 2019 [cited 2020 February 23]; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/.
- Miniño, A., Mortality among teenagers aged 12-19 years: United States, 1999-2006. 2010, National Center for Health Statistics: Hyattsville, MD.
- Alathari, L., et al., Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence, U.S.S.S.N.T.A.C. (NTAC), Editor. 2019.
- Rosenwald, M., The strange seasonality of violence: Why is April ‘the beginning of the killing season’?, in The Washington Post. 2016, Washington Post: online.