A Snapshot of School Shootings
“Copycat Threats Fuel the Fear,”
“19 Years after Columbine, schools are locked tightly”,
“Generation Columbine knows no other worlds”
These are headlines from recent articles in local and national newspapers spurred by the horrible tragedy at Parkland. Parkland is now a word that will be etched in our minds forever, just as Columbine is from nearly 20 years ago.
The headline, “Generation Columbine knows no other world” is a tragic reminder of a hard reality. Young people and schools changed forever on April 20, 1999. While there had been many shootings reported in the 1990s prior to Columbine, and many in the years afterward, nothing prepared the nation for the deaths of 17 young people and adults that occurred on February 14, 2018, in Florida.
Shootings Have Been Close to Home
Before Columbine (for those of us living in Nashville) there was another tragic event that occurred on April 21, 1994. Directly across the street from my residence at John Trotwood Middle School, a seventh grader was shot to death in a classroom while watching a video of Beauty and the Beast. Terrence Murray was 13 and tragically died when the weapon of another 14-year-old discharged.
This horrible event happened in a classroom, in a school, where my children would soon attend. My son would attend JT Moore in just 4 short months and my daughter would follow the next year. Friends in our neighborhood had children in the school and in the classroom where the shooting took place. The sights and sounds that afternoon with the news crews, police and cleaning crews (with an awful steam cleaning vacuum sound coming from inside the school) will never fade. The impact on our neighborhood was traumatic. Life in Nashville in schools would never be the same. Our children, 13 and 11, would grow up in a world that had changed, in an instant, because of the death of a middle school student in a classroom. The unthinkable had happened.
Shootings Across our Nation
Five years later on April 20th, stories broke of a tragic multiple causality shooting in Littleton, Colorado. Again, neighbors had close relatives with children attending Columbine. The years between these two tragedies included 30 more school shootings, several in Tennessee. Personally and professionally, these tragedies would influence my life’s work. At STARS, we became trained in best practices in bullying prevention, an issue that appeared to be a significant risk factor for many of these young shooters.
In a February 27, 2018, article, the Conversation, by Jeff Daniels, referred to the report that was released by the Secret Service in 2002 following the Columbine attack. Daniels posed the question, “Has the research (some 15 years ago) been ignored or forgotten?” We do know some things that we can do to help prevent these horrible tragedies. Beyond the debate on gun ownership the Secret Service found:
- Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts
- Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack
- Most attackers “engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help
- While most attackers—96%—were male, the report found that there is no accurate or useful ‘profile’ of students who engage in targeted school violence
- Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide
- Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack
What We’ve Seen at STARS
Our work at STARS has taken us to different parts of the state and the country in the aftermath of some of these terrible events. Some schools and communities needed follow-up in helping them deal with the trauma of such a tragic event. Others wanted solid evidenced-based trainings to help prevent these catastrophic events. In all cases, school leaders, parents, and communities wanted to do everything possible to ensure that yet another generation could know a different world.
My birthday is April 20th. The events surrounding my birthday have been etched into my memory forever. The domestic terrorist truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19th, Columbine on the 20th and JT Moore on the 21st are stark reminders of the senseless loss of life of too many young and old. These dates are also markers of my hope; that we may not forget some of the things for which we know to be on the lookout and that we would be ever more vigilant to protect, safeguard and strongly advocate for the safety and well-being of our children.
May our younger generation know a different world!
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