Elementary School Shootings Are Very, Very Rare

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Dec. 14 2012 2:29 PM

Elementary School Shootings Are Very, Very Rare

Newtown school shooting
In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a reported shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

Photograph by Shannon Hicks, Newtown Bee.

Earlier this morning, a gunman opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school. According to the latest reports from the AP, an unnamed official says that 27 are dead, 18 of whom are children. The alleged shooter, said to be the father of one of the school’s students, is dead. If current reports hold up, this is one of the deadliest school attacks in American history, behind the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, which claimed 32 lives, and the Bath School bombings in 1927, which killed 45 people.

Attacks like this one at elementary schools are exceedingly rare. Jessie Klein, author of the 2012 book The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools, has compiled extensive data on 191 shootings that took place in American schools between 1979 and 2011. Just 18 of the 191 shootings (around 9 percent) were at elementary schools. In those 191 total shootings, 95 percent of the perpetrators were male but only around 25 percent of the killers were adults. (The CDC also has data on school-associated homicides perpetrated between July 1999 and June 2006. Just 25 of the 116 killed—22 percent—in those shootings were elementary of middle school students.)

Advertisement

We don’t yet know much about the Newtown shooter, but history tells us he was likely very mentally disturbed.

In 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer shot 11 people at a San Diego elementary school; when caught, she explained her crime with a terse “I don’t like Mondays.” In 1996, also on a Monday, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton killed 17 people at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland; Hamilton, a notorious creep, had been suspected of making advances toward boys in his Scout troop. In 2006, a milk truck driver named Charles Roberts shot ten Amish girls at a one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Penn. Before he died, he called his wife and admitted to being wracked by guilt over having molested two young girls 20 years ago. (The confused relatives later denied they had ever been molested.)

In 1988, a deranged woman named Laurie Dann entered the Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, Ill., and shot six young children, killing one. I was in second grade at the time, attending a school 15 miles north of Hubbard Woods. The incident is one of my earliest, most-vivid memories—your first experience with horror tends to stick with you. Dann escaped from the school, and there was a period when her whereabouts were unknown. I was absolutely terrified that she was making her way up Sheridan Road in search of more victims. The news of her suicide later that day didn’t help. Even today, I’m still freaked out by her name.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.