School Climate & Safety

Lethal School Shootings Resemble Workplace Rampages, Report Says

By Darcia Harris Bowman — May 29, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The mass shootings that have hit rural and suburban schools over the past decade may have little connection with the type of lethal violence long associated with urban districts, according to a new study.

While inner-city school violence is fueled by poverty, racial segregation, and the drug trade, write the authors of the National Research Council report released last week, the lethal gunplay in rural and suburban schools more closely resembles “rampage shootings” that occurred during roughly the same period in workplaces in the United States.

The researchers found no instances of that type of shooting in inner-city schools.

Read “Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence,” from the National Academy Press. Or, order it online here or by calling (888) 624- 7645.

“The urban [shooting] cases tended to be classic disputes that spilled into school territory, but the shooters in the rural and suburban cases consciously picked the schools as a place where a general grievance might be resolved,” said Katherine S. Newman, the dean of social science at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is a co-author of the study, “Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence.”

From 1992 to 2001, there were 13 multiple-victim shootings in rural and suburban U.S. schools. Those explosions of violence, which peaked in severity in 1999 with the 15 deaths in the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, left a total of 44 people dead, 88 injured, and nine teenage gunmen imprisoned, according to the study.

For the study, researchers examined six shootings in depth, two of them in urban schools in Chicago and New York City.

The study by the National Research Council—an arm of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences—was released on the heels of a federal report on school violence released this month by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education. (“U.S. Agencies Release Details From School Violence Research,” May 22, 2002.)

Prevention Is Difficult

One of the new report’s primary conclusions—that it’s difficult to prevent incidents such as the Columbine massacre—will likely be troubling to many educators.

The study’s authors say they reached that conclusion because there is no consistent profile of a school shooter, youngsters operate in tight-knit social communities that are largely inaccessible to adults, and youth violence is often sparked by a combination of perceived injustices, gradual disillusionment, and hard-to-detect mental illness.

Take the case of Michael Carneal, the 14-year-old who opened fire on a prayer group at Heath High School, just outside Paducah, Ky., on the morning of Dec. 1, 1997. The freshman killed three students and wounded five others, two of them seriously.

The son of a respected local lawyer and a homemaker, and the brother of one of the school’s valedictorians, Mr. Carneal grew up with the support structures that are thought to prevent delinquency and that many urban youths lack, according to the study.

“You won’t be able to identify these kids in advance,” said Ms. Newman, one of the researchers who conducted the case study of the Heath High shooting. “They are very rarely loners, and they’re not the kids who are egregiously disruptive.”

As with other studies of school violence, however, the NRC research confirmed that the assailants had tended to signal their plans by making threats or telling classmates. Intercepting those signals may be a school’s best hope for averting tragedy, Ms. Newman said.

“Kids at this age are good at concealing just how troubled they are,” she said. “But I have never read about a rampage shooting in a workplace where the adult let it be known that this would happen Monday morning, so I see reason for hope.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week as Lethal School Shootings Resemble Workplace Rampages, Report Says

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind
Student Achievement K-12 Essentials Forum Tutoring Done Right: How to Get the Highest Impact for Learning Recovery
Join us as we highlight and discuss the evidence base for tutoring, best practices, and different ways to provide it at scale.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety For Drug Prevention, Scare Tactics Are Out. Here’s What’s In
Experts have advice for today's educators looking to choose effective models for drug-prevention education.
3 min read
First lady Nancy Reagan speaks at the first national conference of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth in Washington on Oct. 11, 1982. “Many people think drug prevention is ‘just say no,’ like Nancy Reagan did in the '80s, and we know that did not work,” said Becky Vance, CEO of the Texas-based agency Drug Prevention Resources, which has advocated for evidenced-based anti-drug and alcohol abuse education for more than 85 years.
The late first lady Nancy Reagan speaks at the first national conference of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth in Washington on Oct. 11, 1982. Experts say drug-prevention programs have evolved since those years, when many such programs turned out to be ineffective.
Barry Thumma/AP
School Climate & Safety How a Superintendent Urged Parents to Discuss Gun Violence With Their Kids
The leader of the school district that serves Monterey Park, Calif., encouraged parents not to "let the TV do the talking."
5 min read
A woman comforts her son while visiting a makeshift memorial outside Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Authorities searched for a motive for the gunman who killed multiple people at the ballroom dance studio during Lunar New Year celebrations.
A woman comforts her son while visiting a memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., two days after a gunman killed 11 people and injured several others as they celebrated Lunar New Year.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School Climate & Safety Guidance on Responding to Students' Questions About Shootings
A guide for educators on ways to foster a sense of safety and security among students at a time when gun violence seems widespread.
4 min read
People gather for a vigil honoring the victims of a shooting several days earlier at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Monterey Park, Calif. A gunman killed multiple people late Saturday amid Lunar New Year's celebrations in the predominantly Asian American community.
Two days after a mass shooting that killed 11 people, people gather for a vigil outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. In the aftermath of shootings and other community violence, educators are called on to help students process their emotions and help them feel safe.
Ashley Landis/AP
School Climate & Safety Many Schools Don't Have Carbon Monoxide Detectors. Are They Overlooking the Risk?
Less than a quarter of states have laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in school buildings.
5 min read
Image of a carbon monoxide detector with a blurred blueprint in the background.
iStock/Getty