American public schools are safe places, perhaps even safer than American homes. The tragic school shootings that are the focus of this report have occurred in less than one-hundredth of one percent of schools. The probability of being shot at school is similarly low. But shootings have occurred at schools, have been largely unpredictable, and have raised the anxieties and concerns of students, families, teachers, and the public at large. Between 1974 and 2000, the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) of the United States Secret Service identified 37 incidents. At least 20 incidents have been reported in the national media since 1992, and eight since 1999, and these do not include several planned shootings that were prevented by authorities. Why do these shootings occur? Why do they occur where they do? What can we do to protect our children?
Few clear answers are forthcoming for these crucial questions. Many experts, academicians, and organizations, including the Surgeon General's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the National School Safety Center, and the U.S. Department of Education have addressed the issue of violence in the schools. Having reviewed most of these materials we have come to endorse the conclusion of the U.S. Secret Service in their "Interim Report on the Prevention of Targeted Violence in the Schools" (October, 2000); that is that "There is no accurate or useful profile of the school shooter."
Alfred University's Division of School Psychology is vitally interested in the causes of teen violence. As those who educate school psychologists, we are often called upon to explain why school shootings occur, as well as how to prevent lethal violence in the schools. In this report, we attempt to add to the existing knowledge on lethal school shootings by tapping a resource heretofore largely ignored - the students themselves. We wanted to know, directly from teenagers, their answers to questions such as these:
- What are the reasons for lethal violence in our schools?
- How widespread is the potential for violence?
- What schools are unsafe? Which students are most dangerous?
- What can we do to prevent school shootings?