Students being evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, 2018. (Reuters)
The first K-12 mass shooting of the modern era occurred in 1989 in the schoolyard at the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California.
Five children — all of them Southeast Asian refugees — were killed. Thirty-two others were wounded. The attack led to California’s first assault weapons act.
After that violence, shootings took place at elementary, middle and high schools across the country every year for the next 10 years. Though they were not mass shootings — defined by the Congressional Research Service as four or more victims — and in several cases, resulted in no deaths, their impact on families and communities were everlasting.
In 1999, the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, marked a turning point in school violence at K-12 schools. According to The Violence Project, the attack inspired an entire subculture of copycats, called “Columbiners,” and the city itself became synonymous with mass shootings.
In a column published last year on a research and commentary website, Violence Project researchers Jillian Peterson and James Densely said since Columbine, six mass shootings and 40 active shooter incidents took place in K-12 schools in the United States. In 20 of the 46 shootings — including at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2019 — Columbine was the shooter’s obsession and inspiration.
Circles scaled according to the number of fatalities.
Jillian Peterson, Ph.D., and James Densley, Ph.D., built the new database of mass shooters that they hope will inform future research and policy decisions about how to effectively prevent and respond to mass shootings.
For their study, they used the Congressional Research Service’s definition of a mass shooting:
“a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms — not including the offender(s) — within one event, and at least some of the murders occurred in a public location or locations in close geographical proximity (e.g., a workplace, school, restaurant, or other public settings), and the murders are not attributable to any other underlying criminal activity or commonplace circumstance (armed robbery, criminal competition, insurance fraud, argument, or romantic triangle).”
All shooters have either been charged, convicted or killed at the scene.
In two years, the team collected more than 100 pieces of information on each of 171 mass shooters, resulting in The Violence Project Database of Mass Shootings in the United States, 1966-2019.
They compiled details on hundreds of factors, including age, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, education, relationship status, number of children, employment type and status, military service and branch, criminal, violence and abuse history, gang and terrorist affiliation, bullying, home environment and trauma.
What emerged were fleshed-out profiles and motivations of individual shooters, whose crimes can potentially influence current and future policy and prevention.
While there is no single profile of a mass shooter, there are several similar characteristics of shooters who carry out their crime at elementary, middle and high schools.
According to The Violence Project, the K-12 school shooter tends to be a white male student of the school with a history of trauma, and is suicidal. He has an interest in guns and uses a high degree of planning for his act. He leaks his plans ahead of time in the form of a video or a manifesto, and uses multiple guns that he stole from a family member.
Sixty-eight percent of K-12 shooters experienced severe childhood trauma, which includes parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence and/or severe bullying. Fifty-three percent had a criminal record, and 61% had mental health concerns. Almost all K-12 shooters were in crisis prior to the shooting (85%), marked by bullying or suspension from school.
Eight percent of K-12 mass shootings took place in urban areas. Most occurred in rural and suburban areas, evenly at 46%.
The average age of a K-12 perpetrator was 18.
Jan. 17, 1989 Sokhim An • Ram Chun • Oeun Lim • Raphanar Or • Thuy Tran ◾ May 1, 1992 Robert Brens • Judy Davis • Beamon Hill • Jason White ◾ March 24, 1998 Natalie Brooks • Paige Ann Herring • Stephanie Johnson • Brittany Varner • Shannon Wright ◾ May 20, 1998 Bill Kinkel • Faith Kinkel • Mikael Nickolauson • Ben Walker ◾ April 20, 1999 Cassie Bernall • Steven Curnow • Corey DePooter • Kelly Fleming • Matthew Kechter • Daniel Mauser • Daniel Rohrbough • William “Dave” Sanders • Rachel Scott • Isaiah Shoels • John Tomlin • Lauren Townsend • Kyle Velasquez ◾ March 21, 2005 Derrick Brun • Dewayne Lewis • Chase Lussier • Daryl “Dash” Lussier • Neva Rogers • Chanelle Rosebear • Michelle Sigana • Thurlene Stillday • Alicia White ◾ Oct. 2, 2006 Naomi Rose Ebersol • Marian Stoltzfus Fisher • Lena Zook Miller • and Mary Liz Miller • Anna Mae Stoltzfus ◾ Dec. 14, 2012 Rachel Davino • Dawn Hochsprung • Nancy Lanza • Anne Marie Murphy • Lauren Rousseau • Mary Sherlach • Victoria Soto • Charlotte Bacon • Daniel Barden • Olivia Engel • Josephine Gay • Dylan Hockley • Madeleine F. Hsu • Catherine V. Hubbard • Chase Kowalski • Jesse Lewis • Ana M. Márquez-Greene • James Mattioli • Grace McDonnell • Emilie Parker • Jack Pinto • Noah Pozner • Caroline Previdi • Jessica Rekos • Avielle Richman • Benjamin Wheeler • Allison N. Wyatt ◾ Oct. 24, 2014 Shaylee Chuckulnaskit • Andrew Fryberg • Zoe Galasso • Gia Soriano ◾ Feb. 14, 2018 Alyssa Alhadeff • Martin Duque Anguiano • Scott Beigel • Nicholas Dworet • Aaron Feis • Jaime Guttenberg • Christopher Hixon • Luke Hoyer • Cara Loughran • Gina Montalto • Joaquin Oliver • Alaina Petty • Meadow Pollack • Helena Ramsay • Alex Schachter • Carmen Schentrup • Peter Wang ◾ May 18, 2018 Jared Black • Shana Fisher • Christian Riley Garcia • Aaron Kyle McLeod • Glenda Perkins • Angelique Ramirez • Sabika Sheikh • Christopher Jake Stone • Cynthia Tisdale • Kimberly Vaughan ◾