February has brought spate of school shootings

This month alone, at least four shootings of students have occurred in schools across the country, including Monday's deadly attack outside Cleveland, Ohio.

Experts say the spate of shootings may be coincidental and not indicative of a troubling trend. They note that, overall, crime and violence in America's schools have been declining in recent years. And murders are particularly uncommon.

Homicide in a school setting "is a rare event," said Jennifer Truman, a Bureau of Justice Statistics statistician and co-author of a new federal report on school violence.

The study counted 17 homicides of school-age youths at U.S. schools from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, which was "the same as the year before," Truman said. The annual report, released last week, is a joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics.

Even so, the February shootings, along with confiscations of high-powered weapons in other school hallways this year, are noteworthy.

According to news accounts, the following shootings occurred this month:

-- On Feb. 10 in Walpole, N.H., a 14-year-old boy shot himself in the face in a crowded elementary school cafeteria. The teen, who police said was upset by a "relationship issue," survived.

-- On Feb. 20, two teens wielding guns shot at a group of kids at a Murfreesboro, Tenn., school. A 14-year-old student was shot twice in the leg. The shootings allegedly stemmed from a dispute between two groups, police said.

-- On Feb. 22, a .45-caliber handgun that a 9-year-old boy in Bremerton, Wash., had stashed in his backpack accidentally discharged, critically wounding an 8-year-old girl in their elementary-school classroom. Police said the boy found the gun at his mother's house and brought it to school because he wanted to run away from home.

Those were not the only incidents involving guns in the nation's schools in the first two months of the year.

In Las Vegas, authorities confiscated a 9-mm handgun from a 16-year-old student at a high school on Jan. 30, and on Feb. 2, stumbled upon a loaded .32-caliber handgun when they searched a teenage student at another high school who was suspected of stealing property from a classmate.

In Harper Woods, Mich., near Detroit, a 16-yearold student was showing off the 9-mm handgun he had brought to his high school when it went off. No one was injured, but a search of the campus found two more guns.

In Mesa, Ariz., on Jan. 6, a 7-year-old boy on a school bus inadvertently discharged a handgun hidden in his backpack. The single shot missed the 30 elementary students aboard for the ride home. Authorities said the youngster got the weapon from a closet at home, and had it with him all day at school.

Twelve days later, in the same city, a 12-year-old boy was caught with a semiautomatic handgun and a loaded magazine at his junior high school. The seventh grader said he got the weapon from his grandfather's house, and took it to school because he felt threatened there and suicidal, police said.

Experts say a focus on making schools more secure, training to recognize the signs of a potentially violent student, and heightening efforts to curb bullying have been the positive legacy of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two students there killed 12 classmates and a teacher on April 20, 1999.

Even so, the Columbine tragedy continues to fascinate some troubled students.

"Copycat threats are a real serious problem," said Dewey G. Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project and a University of Virginia professor of education and school psychology.

"We see them every springtime around the anniversary of Columbine. We have kids who make copycat threats not only in the United States but in Europe," Cornell said. "The dilemma for schools is how do you tell the difference between someone who is being foolish and someone who intends to commit a serious act of violence?"

(Scripps Howard News Service editor Carol Guensburg contributed to this article. Email Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl@shns.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

 

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

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