I was in private practice conducting evaluations for 24 years. I did in-classroom observations and attended a great many meetings with teachers, counselors, speech and language therapists, behaviorists, occupational therapists, administrators and at times, advocates and lawyers.
I've got a view from both the inside the outside.
No, it isn't. Here's our history, but first, let me define a "school shooting" as presented in this article. "This list contains shooting incidents that occurred on the campus of K-12 public schools and private schools, as well as college and universities."
"It excludes incidents that occurred during wars or police actions, as well as murder-suicides by rejected suitors or estranged spouses, and suicides and suicide attempts involving only one person. Mass shootings by staff of schools that involve only other employees are covered at workplace killings. This list does not include bombings such as the Bath School disaster."
Yes, it is a Wikipedia page, but it seems to be well-researched and was the only comprehensive list I could find. Although the introduction indicated that "incidents that occurred during wars" were excluded, the first one appears to have occurred during a "named war" and there are at least 15 that I would classify as a workplace shooting...sigh. Several were suicides and spousal disputes.
In the early years of our country, rowdy, drunk cowboys who forced teachers to drink liquor and shot up a bar were included,
I encourage you to read the extensive list of 50 pages and see the kinds of behavior demonstrated in a time when EVERYBODY had a gun. The number of killings of teachers and administrators for "whipping" kids is astonishing and amazingly enough, there are quite a few teachers who killed students.
Of the greatest distress was the number of accidental shootings of kids, especially during school plays and re-enactments of one kind or another when everyone thought the gun wasn't loaded. In my mind, no gun is ever "empty". One mother was killed at her son's track meet by the starter's pistol which was clearly a gun and not what we know to be a starter's pistol.
Here are the total number of events offered in the list with the caveat that I stated above.
2010's: 145 - as of February 20, 2018. We are 7 years and change into this decade and we've already doubled the amount of school-based shootings according to the list even if you take out some of them for "not qualifying".
This represents a grand total of 473 school shootings and as you can see, the frequency is increasing dramatically. Very dramatically.
In 254 years of our history, we haven't learned one thing, not one thing about keeping our kids safe in school.
We keep wringing our hands, praying for families and the nation to heal and "we gotta get the guns" which, of course, is never going to happen, although, clearly, some changes need to be made.
What is going on that has lead to this? There are so many obvious factors including that we've doubled our population since 1953 and the divisiveness driven by forces both internal and external to our country are creating a level of mental illness and rage not seen before. You know the factors...you see them on the news and hear about them in talk radio every day.
You've watched your own family members distance themselves from each other as their faces are buried in "devices". Church attendance is down. Anxiety and depression is up. Anti-anxiety agents are the most prescribed medication.
People are unsure as to what is "right and wrong". Kids are having vision problems because they don't play outdoors anymore and don't exercise their "distance vision". Vitamin D deficiencies from a lack of sunlight and physical exercise are causing serious health issues. Obesity...don't need to say another thing here.
Intense sexualization. Deterioration of the family. Too much competition Geez, I'm getting depressed here. Time to find that Hershey's bar I've got stashed...oh, and the very serious increases in opioid and alcohol addiction among American adults. They're just not there to raise the kids...maybe another reason for mandatory 2-year military. Give them the guidance and structure they didn't get. Go ahead, yell at me.
It took place during the Pontiac's War. "Four Delaware (Lenape) American Indians entered the schoolhouse near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania, shot and killed schoolmaster Enoch Brown, and nine children (reports vary). Only two children survived. However, this incident may only incidentally be considered a school 'shooting' because only the teacher was shot, while the other 9 victims were killed with melee weapons".
Now, if you, like me, saw the phrase "melee weapons" and thought, "Oh dear, this can't be good", you're spot on. Here's how another Wikipedia site described melee weapons.
- "Pointed weapons, which cover spears, pikes and almost all polearms. They typically have a sharp point designed to inflict penetrating trauma, even against heavily armoured opponents, and the length of such weapons gives a range advantage. Certain variants may also hook at enemies to disrupt and disarm them, or pull them from atop horses.
- Edged weapons, which cover swords, axes, fighting knife and daggers. These weapons are designed to cause severe lacerations, dismemberment and exsanguination injuries, and are most effective against minimally armoured opponents. These are used to cut, hack, slash, thrust or stab.
- Trauma weapons, which cover clubs, maces, war hammers, staves, and flails. These weapons are designed to cause blunt trauma injuries, even through armour that would protect against penetration by pointed or edged weapons."
Yes, "Oh dear", indeed. Here's the link to the full article in case your murderous leanings are getting the better of you.
The last one in the Wikipedia school-shooters list is not the Parkland, Florida shooting, but the one that took place 6 days later on February 20, 2018 in Jackson Township, Ohio, where "A male seventh-grade student was taken to the hospital after shooting himself in a bathroom at Jackson Memorial Middle School". I heard that report on the news and it turned out to be an accidental shooting and not a suicide attempt...at least for now.
The Wikipedia school-shooter article went on to reference "A 2015 investigation by CNN identified 'more than 40 people...charged with Columbine-style plots since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and found that almost all were white male teenagers and almost all had studied the Columbine attack or cited the Columbine perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as inspiration".
The "edited" list I gleaned included those only events that currently reflect the "criteria" of a school shooting. These instances from 1980 onward are more competently documented. However, I still found several events that were not appropriate for the list and have excluded them in the "totals" outlined below.
Students of all ages, including an adults as old as 71 have committed school shootings and the youngest was 6. Six-year old Kayla Rolland shot and killed her 6-year old classmate, Dedrick Owens at the Buell Elementary School in Flint, MI on February 29, 2000.
I read that for every person who dies, 20 people feel the impact of that loss Do the math. And, as for the injuries, a good many are likely to have lifelong impact. Certainly, we know that experiencing trauma as a child has a powerful impact, powerful enough to shorten a child's life span.
I state this number because no one in charge has a clue about the potential scope of the school-shooter problem. If there's just one "dangerous" high schooler in each of these schools, that's 37,000 potential school shooters. Two potential shooters in each school and it's 74,000.
As of fall, 2017, there were estimated to be 15.1 million kids in public high schools each of which can have as few as 500 students (big cities, more choices) to enrollments of 4000 in regional schools.
In order to quickly estimate the potential scale of this problem, I put up the following post on my website:
I can tell you this, the next several shooters are out there, planning and the images from the current shooting are serving as fantasies for "how" it's going to feel "when it's my turn". The anticipatory thrill is almost more than they can bear. Revenge is a mighty powerful motivator.
Revenge on being ostracized, given unfair grades, not getting dates, being bullied or whatever. There's always something. It's either real or imagined. Doesn't matter. Look at the stories in the list. What pattern do you see?
This isn't a match; this is a wildfire. So, what to do?
The mindset of a teacher in American culture is very different from that of a soldier or police officer and this is not likely to be effective when an attack comes. Intensive, intensive training would need to undertaken in order to develop situational awareness and the kind of "Oh, I just relied on my training" response that we hear from first responders.
I am also concerned about students taking weapons away from teachers. Highly trained people need to be doing the protecting. And even they need to undergo regularly-scheduled and intense training to keep their skills sharp.
Perhaps it is time to look at creating a branch of service that protects schools. We surely need metal detectors and armed, trained, highly-skiied personnel inside and outside. These schools are so big, we'll need a lot of officers. Maybe a moat and razor wire. Sound ridiculous? Did you see all those bodies in Parkland? Layers of protection.
I'm all for any suggestion. Don't send me hate mail, but considering that there are 27,000 public high schools alone, doesn't a force designed to protect them sound "army-size" to you? Don't forget the colleges, middle and elementary schools. It's not safe in any school, public or private.
1. Get a sense of the scope of the problem by making it possible, right now, for teachers, guidance counselors and school psychologists to express their concerns, starting now and at any time without having to get permission from their administrators who are all too concerned about rocking the boat with the district or tarnishing the image of their school. There's nothing like 30 bodies and bleeding students to tarnish a school's image. School administrators and districts share the same false security as do parents who say, "It won't happen here".
The "hot line" or website needs to be made available to the community and to students. The whole "see something, say something" school-shooter theme needs to have its own nationwide campaign. Nationwide. Intensely nationwide.
Nobody may see a kid until s/he blows, but the neighbors have heard the screaming fights, the bullying, the vandalism, the stress. The more eyes and ears, the better.
2. Immediately hire more counselors, school psychologists, social workers and armed protection for the students. Immediately. If it means putting the National Guard in place until the protection plan can be set up, then do it. I just told you the next shooters (yes, that's plural) are out there and they're gathering momentum. Let's treat this like the national crisis that it is.
3. Let the professionals do their jobs. School psychologists are very limited in what they are allowed to do and say. I know, I was one. Same goes for guidance counselors, and, of course, teachers. Administrators need to get out of the way.
4. A group of mental health workers outside of the bureaucracy of the schools need to evaluate, even if it is a "paper" and "interview" review, any students who have caused problems in the past and for whom the school staff has current concerns, even those students who are not currently attending, but perhaps have graduated and may still be looking for revenge.
5. School districts are very closed bureaucracies. Very, very closed. As a result, they do not tap the significant resources in the communities. They rarely seek out psychologists, psychiatrists and behaviorists in the community who can provide support. They always, always say they can do it all. That's just not true.
Each school needs to have a go-to team of professionals who are licensed, are actively working in the community and are unrestricted in their ability to do what has to be done at the time it needs to be done.
6. I'm concerned about four of the last school shooters and I expressed those concerns in an article I wrote about Schizotypal Personality Disorder which I will not review here. The bottom line is that those students who were identified through middle school years as being autistic, may, indeed, be in the emerging stages of Schizotypal which is a combination of autistic-like behaviors and schizophrenia. If a teen who's been identified with autism begins to demonstrate paranoia, becomes aggressive and takes on an "odd/peculiar" presentation, this isn't autism, it's something else.
- Although Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook) was allegedly identified as autistic, his father reported that he may have been schizophrenic.
- Nikolas Cruz was allegedly identified with autism, yet began to develop highly aggressive and "odd" behaviors and according to his friend, began to speak of revenge. This is not autism.
- Elliot Rodger's parents reported that he had been diagnosed with "high functioning autism".
- Chris Harper-Mercer attended a school I knew well, Switzer Center, for those students on the autistic spectrum and for those with emotional problems.
Every one of these young men had severe problems from early ages and interventions from even the most elite clinicians did not help.
Elliot Rodger (Santa Barbara/Isla Vista) and Chris Harper-Mercer (Umqua Community College) clearly had social isolation and severe social dissatisfaction and did not demonstrate social competences consistent with their age, gender or their economic status.
7. Because of the way brains develop over the life span, adolescence is the time when serious problems begin to show in ways that are undeniable and public. Though it would be wonderful to have doctors conduct mental health screenings, they're not experts in this area.
Every student coming into middle school needs to be screened. This means that parents need to come in to be interviewed after completing the kind of intensive developmental history that I have on the Resources page of this website. It is downloadable. It is FREE. But, school psychologists need to know "how" to interpret this information, which is where community support professionals come in to play.
We're simply not catching these kids early enough. I know this because I evaluated over 1200 kids, teens, and young adults and I saw, first hand, how serious problems went undetected until it was catastrophic.
8. PARENTS NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE BEHAVIOR OF THEIR CHILDREN. NO MORE EXCUSES ABOUT THEIR LITTLE DARLINGS. School administrators are terrified of wealthy and powerful parents and their kids' behaviors are minimized, marginalized and denied. Interesting, isn't it, that Lanza, Rodger and Cruz did not come from deprived backgrounds?
I've told you anecdotes about this mind set in relation to the severe and potentially fatal bullying of some of my clients. Administrators need to take a more aggressive and affirmative stand with kids and they need to be supported by parents.
9. Social media needs to get on board with governmental agencies and identify those kids who are "acting out" online.
My father used to say, "Don't just stand there, do something". We guard our celebrities and our politicians (The Untouchables), our banks, our jewelry stores, our high-end handbag stores, our monuments, but we don't guard the kids. Why is that?
Because we haven't placed the kind of value on kids' lives as we do the Hollywood A-listers, that's why.
Kids are not commerce and so, their worth, at least until they are of "spending age", is not significant, except to us, their families.
As a result of our negligence, there will be more bodies, more destroyed families, communities and our nation. Can you live with the consequences?
We need to shine a bright light on this. There are monsters in our midst. Our kids are in their crosshairs and bulletproof backpacks are no match for an assault rifle.
You know what to do...copy and paste the plan in an email to your Congressional representative.
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