National Academies Press: OpenBook

Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence (2003)

Chapter: Part II: Understanding and Preventing Lethal School Violence

« Previous: 8. A Cross-Case Analysis
Suggested Citation:"Part II: Understanding and Preventing Lethal School Violence." National Research Council. 2003. Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10370.
Page 285
Suggested Citation:"Part II: Understanding and Preventing Lethal School Violence." National Research Council. 2003. Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10370.
Page 286

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285 The cases presented in Part I present very specific, concrete imagesof lethal school violence in America in the 1990s. The images aretragic and compelling. They force one to ask why. But even with the benefit of hindsight, the answers seem exceedingly mired in com- plexity. In each case, there seem to be so many factors that give impetus to the events; so many things that if they had not been present might have lessened the likelihood that the events would have occurred; so many moments when a particular small intervention might have averted tragedy. However, for purposes of stimulating the imagination about the fac- tors that might be important causes, and the kinds of interventions that might be effective in preventing and controlling such tragic events, the very richness of the cases is their value. One’s mind is opened to a variety of possibilities. Stereotypes and confident assumptions with which one began the inquiry are undermined. One emerges from these cases less confident that one knows anything for sure, at least partly because many more things now seem potentially important. Even though it sounds paradoxical, learning that one knows less than one thought, that there are many more possibilities than one imagined, that one’s favorite theory is not particularly well supported by a confrontation with the detailed facts of these cases, represents a gain in knowledge. But there is another use of the cases as imperfect pieces of evidence that allow distinctions among different kinds of violence, as well as the development of some hypotheses that may seem a bit more likely than Part II Understanding and Preventing Lethal School Violence

286 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE others. In order to use cases in this way, we had to find a way to put them in an aggregate context, to see where these particular incidents of violence might fit in a broader overall pattern, and to decide how the different kinds of violence that appeared in the cases might be related to one another. It also is important to put these cases in the context of theoretical literatures that help sort different kinds of violence into different classes distinguished from one another in terms of their character, causes, and effective modes of prevention and control. In this part of the report, we put the cases in context, first, by looking at where they fit in the aggregate patterns of violence that have beset the country, and, second, by seeing where they seem to fit in the academic literature on violence, and what that literature says about the causes and effective means of controlling such incidents. Part II ends with the committee’s observations about potentially im- portant strategies for preventing or controlling the violence and recom- mendations for future research. In offering these, we have stretched to the breaking point the evidentiary power of the sources at our command. We do so because we think the nation needs some considered observa- tions about the nature of this problem, and that it cannot necessarily wait to get more information before it acts. Already, communities have begun to take steps to guard themselves from these incidents. Costs are being incurred; consequences—intended and unintended, good and bad—are beginning to accumulate. We therefore recommend an agenda for addi- tional research, and that it be done quickly to ensure that the nation is better off a year from now, and five years from now, in terms of the ability to understand and control these events.

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The shooting at Columbine High School riveted national attention on violence in the nation's schools. This dramatic example signaled an implicit and growing fear that these events would continue to occur—and even escalate in scale and severity.

How do we make sense of the tragedy of a school shooting or even draw objective conclusions from these incidents? Deadly Lessons is the outcome of the National Research Council's unique effort to glean lessons from six case studies of lethal student violence. These are powerful stories of parents and teachers and troubled youths, presenting the tragic complexity of the young shooter's social and personal circumstances in rich detail.

The cases point to possible causes of violence and suggest where interventions may be most effective. Readers will come away with a better understanding of the potential threat, how violence might be prevented, and how healing might be promoted in affected communities.

For each case study, Deadly Lessons relates events leading up to the violence, provides quotes from personal interviews about the incident, and explores the impact on the community. The case studies center on:

  • Two separate incidents in East New York in which three students were killed and a teacher was seriously wounded.
  • A shooting on the south side of Chicago in which one youth was killed and two wounded.
  • A shooting into a prayer group at a Kentucky high school in which three students were killed.
  • The killing of four students and a teacher and the wounding of 10 others at an Arkansas middle school.
  • The shooting of a popular science teacher by a teenager in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
  • A suspected copycat of Columbine in which six students were wounded in Georgia.

For everyone who puzzles over these terrible incidents, Deadly Lessons offers a fresh perspective on the most fundamental of questions: Why?


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