Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence


Following a decade of unprecedented school violence – between 1992 and 2001, 35 incidents occurred in which students showed up at their school or at a school-sponsored event and started firing at their schoolmates and teachers – Congress turned to the National Research Council. In 2001, Congress requested that the National Research Council study the growing incidence of lethal school violence in urban, suburban, and rural schools, and that a committee develop case studies of the circumstances that led to extreme lethal violence in schools. While the limitations of the available evidence made it impossible for the committee to reach firm, scientific conclusions about either the causes and consequences of the shootings in rural and suburban schools or the most effective means of preventing and controlling them, it did develop some hypotheses that seem strong enough to guide action and research while better information is being developed:

  1. The committee found significant and long-lasting harm in each of the communities studied.
  2. Although the lethal shooting sprees of the 1990s followed closely on and even seemed to emerge from or be influenced by the earlier violence — and may stem from similar underlying factors — the committee also considers it possible that these events represent a separate strain of violence.
  3. Whereas events that could be described as rampage violence are only a small component of all violence and seem to move independently of other forms of violence, the committee found a spike for all kinds of rampage killings in the late 1990s. This raises the possibility that there may have been some kind of epidemic of rampage shootings in the late 1990s that cut across all ages, including youth.

The committee recommends that new research be undertaken to further improve understanding of the factors that might influence school shootings, particularly school rampage shootings, and to develop knowledge on the impact of interventions.