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School Violence

School Shootings

In the early twenty-first century, the top school violence concern among students, parents, and school officials was shootings, though theft and other crimes were the most common. Before 1995 school shootings were infrequent and usually did not lead to multiple deaths. One early school shooting occurred in San Diego, California, in January 1979. Seventeen-year-old Brenda Spencer used a rifle she had just received for Christmas to shoot at an elementary school across the street from her house.

During a six-hour standoff, Brenda killed two men trying to protect the schoolchildren and wounded eight children and a police officer. Spencer showed no emotion when finally captured. In March 1987 in Missouri twelve-year-old Nathan Ferris, an honor student, grew tired of being teased. He took a gun to school and when teased shot and killed the student and then himself.

The rash of school shootings of the 1990s began in Giles County, Tennessee, on November 15, 1995. Seventeen-year-old Jamie Rouse, dressed in black, took a firearm to school and shot two teachers in the head, killing one, and killed another student while attempting to shoot the school's football coach. Rouse had told several of his classmates beforehand about his intentions, but none reported the conversations to authorities.

Less than two months later on February 2, 1996, in Moses Lake, Washington, fourteen-year-old Barry Loukaitis walked into a mathematics class wearing a long western coat. Under the coat he concealed two pistols, a high-powered rifle, and ammunition. Loukaitis killed two classmates and the teacher while wounding another student. He took the rest of the class hostage. Another teacher rushed Loukaitis, ending the standoff. Loukaitis, like Rouse, had shared thoughts of going on a shooting spree with another student. The same day Loukaitis attacked his fellow schoolmates, a sixteen-year-old in Atlanta, Georgia, shot and killed a teacher.


The April 1999 Columbine shooting spree and other occurrences of school violence triggered greater efforts to curb bullying in schools. Bullying, which includes a range of behavior including teasing and threats, exclusion from social activities, and more physical intimidation, has been widespread in American schools. It was often considered a normal part of growing up. When bullying repeatedly surfaced as a cause of deadly school violence through the 1990s, parents and schools took a renewed interest in the consequences of bullying and how to restrict it.

Studies in the 1990s showed that bullying was far from harmless and actually posed serious lasting effects. Victims of bullying suffered significant negative social and emotional development. In the short term victims suffered from low self-esteem, poor grades, few friends, and had school attendance problems. Such emotional problems as depression and anxiety could also develop and last a lifetime. In addition, those doing the bullying often progressed to more serious aggressive behavior when not confronted about their actions.

Schools responded with aggressive antibullying programs and instituted stricter rules and discipline. Discipline was enforced through monitoring student behavior in all parts of the school grounds by school staff. Some new school programs taught anger control, ways for a victim to cope with bullying, and overall greater appreciation of student diversity in a school. Police also became more interested in threatening behavior at schools. Many school districts that adopted these measures reported significant declines in aggressive behavior. Web sites about bullying and its effects were also created to help students as well as provide support to school staffs.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawSchool Violence - The History Of School Discipline, School Shootings, Bullying, Shootings Become More Frequent, The Spring Of 1998