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“Never Again!” These words are often heard across the nation and reflect the increased anger and frustration over the continued gun violence and school shootings that plague the country. From Columbine to Sandy Hook, hundreds of young children and adolescents have lost their lives in school shootings in places once considered safe havens. Nearly every parent across America sends their child to school with the expectation that they are in a safe learning environment and that their son or daughter will return back home at the end of the day.
Sadly, this is no longer a guarantee.
Multi-victim school shootings are on the increase. These events have a long and traumatic impact on students, families, and school personnel. Communities and families are shattered, first responders and police officers suffer post-traumatic stress responses, and political leaders are left to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and laws that address issues of mental health, second amendment rights and access to guns, and other social conditions that contribute to the well-being of children and families including poverty, access to health care, and availability of afterschool recreational opportunities.
School shootings receive a tremendous amount of media attention that has helped create a culture of fear and anxiety within our educational institutions. Students and school personnel practice “code red” drills, lock down drills, and active shooter drills in an effort to prepare for the possibility that their school might be the site of the next multiple-victim shooting. Teachers are encouraged to be on the look out for students who might present with violent tendencies, mental health concerns, or potential victims of bullying who may be at risk of becoming the next school shooter.
Although few guidelines and screening tools are available that have proven effective in identifying future perpetrators of school shootings, the message given to students and teachers is clear—if you were only paying attention you could have prevented such a tragedy.
In addition to creating a culture of fear, school discipline procedures and suspension and expulsion policies that negatively impact youth are developed by administrators in the hope of removing students who pose a potential risk to the safety of others. This has led to large numbers of “no tolerance” policies that result in the removal and isolation of students for nonviolent or noncriminal acts. This is especially harmful for students already on the fringe who may be struggling academically, socially, or behaviorally. Finally, the climate of fear that school shootings produce within a school community has a negative impact on every student’s readiness and capacity to learn and has long-lasting effects on their future decisions regarding college and career.
This study will examine the factors that contribute to the increased number of multiple-victim school shootings in the United States. It will identify risk factors known to influence the perpetrators of this devastating and long-lasting violence, including individual factors, family factors, school or peer factors, and societal and environmental factors. It will examine specific cases of school shootings and analyze available data to determine if a profile of a prospective school shooter can be developed that will aid school personnel, parents, mental health professionals, and law enforcement in preventing future multi-victim school shooting events. It will examine past responses to school shootings by law enforcement and school personnel to determine if a more effective response can be developed that protects students and teachers from this violence. It will examine the availability of guns in America, the impact of the Second Amendment on gun control policies, and the role of student protests in policy development. Finally, this study will explore the treatment services available to assist the survivors of multi-victim shooting events, families and communities, and the first responders. It will explore the need to coordinate mental health, law enforcement, and educational services to prevent and respond to school shootings.
Multi-victim school shootings are on the increase leaving behind traumatized victims, families, school personnel and first responders. While most perpetrators of multi-victims school shooters are male, little is known about the individual, family, peer and societal conditions that currently exist that formulate the conditions that make it likely an individual will act in such a violent act. Most perpetrators commit suicide or die in the event leaving law enforcement with limited first-hand information as to the “why” behind the act. Schools have become institutions of fear and anxiety in which students, staff, and administrators must practice active shooter drills, determine if teachers should carry guns to protect students, and spend millions of dollars to enhance school security in the hope of preventing a mass shooting from happening in their hallways. As a society, we must do a better job of identifying, treating, and responding to these events in order to protect our next generation of students.
The purpose of this research paper is to identify the individual, family, peer and social factors that are common to multi-victim shooters. It will determine if a profile can be developed that identifies the risk factors that school personnel, mental health workers, parents, and law enforcement officers can use to determine if an individual has a high likelihood of engaging in such behavior. In addition, this research will examine the current response to multi-victim events to determine the effectiveness of the current policies and procedures and identify safety protocols. Finally, it will examine cases where school-shooters have been thwarted and identify any steps taken in these cases that might be replicated.
Hypothesis: By identifying common individual, family, peer, and social factors of past multi-victim shooters, researchers will be able to develop a profile of risk factors that can be used by school personnel, mental health workers, family members, and law enforcement officers to prevent and respond effectively to school shooters.
This study seeks to provide answers to the following questions:
This research paper will not address issues related to the second amendment and the right to bear arms. It will not tackle the issue of gun control, the access and availability of guns in society, and mass shootings that occur outside of the school setting. In addition, this research will not include incidents that were part of rival gang violence or that involved intimate partner violence that occurred on school property.
This research study will be conducted by completing a literature review of multi-victim school shootings from multiple perspectives, including victim and family, school personnel, communities, mental health personnel and law enforcement. It will include a survey of local high school students and staff members to determine the safety measures currently in place and determine their perception of preparedness. Finally, it will seek to interview past victims of multi-victim school shootings and First Responders to gather their perspectives on this very important topic.
The media has covered multi-victim shootings with fervor. It is the assumption of this researcher that readers will have an awareness of the devastation and impact of this crime on individuals, families and communities. It is also the assumption that readers will have an understanding that this crime is on the rise and there is a need for society to understand it further in order to coordinate educational, community mental health, and law enforcement services.
Multi-Victim School Shooter -For the purpose of this paper the term multi-victim school shooter will use the FBI definition of mass shooting, “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, at an educational institution such as a school or university.” (Blair, J Pete, 2014)
All children and adolescents have the right to a safe education. Parents send their children to school with the expectation that they will return home safely at the end of the day. The rise of multi-victim school shootings and the devastating impact they have on students, school personnel, and communities requires that the agencies responsible for the safety of students do whatever possible to protect these students. School personnel, mental health organizations, and law enforcement agencies must collaborate together to identify risk factors and develop screening tools to more effectively respond to multi-victim school shooting events.
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