Recent School Shootings Follow Familiar Patterns

Last Updated: January 27, 2014

This article appeared in the January 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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School shootings in recent months bear hallmarks of many prior school violence incidents: all three involved student perpetrators, victims were random, and assailants had easy access to their weapons.

In the most recent incident, two students were injured when shots were fired in a gym at Delaware Valley Charter School in Philadelphia. Two people have been charged in the incident, including the 17-year-old student accused of firing the shots and an 18-year-old graduate of the school accused of providing the weapon. Attorneys for the shooter have said the incident was an accident and the student obtained the weapon to protect himself from the threat of an after-school attack.

In Roswell, New Mexico, a 12-year-old seventh grader shot randomly in the school’s gym where students were waiting for classes to begin. Two students, ages 12 and 13, were injured, one critically. The student used a shotgun reportedly purchased legally by his family and kept unlocked in the home.

The student is reported to have kept a journal in which he outlined his plans. Several media accounts have noted the young age of the shooter. A Rural Trust report examining media accounts of mass violence events in U.S. schools found that 6% of assailants were thirteen or younger.

The December shooting at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colorado, also involved a student who shot randomly. The 18-year-old senior opened fire in the school’s library, fatally injuring one student before killing himself.

The student had legally purchased his shotgun earlier in the month. He skipped part of his morning classes and entered the school through an unlocked door carrying 125 rounds of ammunition, a machete, and three Molotov cocktails. Reports indicate the student said he was looking for a staff member who had disciplined him earlier in the school year.

The Arapahoe High incident has focused attention on some of the difficult issues related to privacy and discipline that complicate considerations about how schools should best respond to students suspected of having behavioral or psychological problems. Some reports suggest the student had previously threatened the school staff member he was reportedly looking for the day of the shooting.

A school security guard posted accusations on Facebook that the school ignored warnings that the student might be dangerous. According to media reports, the guard, who is currently on administrative leave, wrote that the student had been caught looking at guns on his personal computer, had written questionable symbols on papers, used the word “comrade” often, and had anger outbursts.

Police are currently investigating.

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