Political Science

What We Know About Mass School Shootings in the US – And the Gunmen Who Carry Them Out

What We Know About Mass School Shootings in the US – And the Gunmen Who Carry Them Out

The Columbine High School tragedy, which occurred in 1999, was a watershed point in American history, since it was the country’s deadliest mass shooting at a school. It is now ranked fourth. The three school shootings that have surpassed the 13-person death toll — 12 pupils and one teacher – have all occurred in the recent decade: The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, in which a gunman killed 26 children and school staff; the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died; and now the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which at least 19 children and two adults were killed on May 24, 2022.

We are criminologists who research the lives of public mass shooters in the United States. We constructed a comprehensive database of major public shootings using public data, with shooters classified on over 200 different criteria, such as location and racial profile, as part of that research. For the purposes of our database, mass public shootings are defined as occurrences in which four or more people are killed, at least one of them is killed in a public area, and there is no link to underlying criminal activity like gangs or narcotics.

Since 1966, when our collection began, there have been 13 similar shootings at schools in the United States, the first of which occurred in Stockton, California, in 1989. Four of the shootings, including the one at Robb Elementary School, featured a murder at a different place, usually involving a family member at a home. Prior to going to school in Uvalde, the most recent culprit shot his grandma.

The majority of mass school shootings were committed by a lone shooter, with only two exceptions — Columbine and the 1998 massacre at Westside School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. In total, 146 people were murdered and at least 182 others were injured in the assaults. The term “gunmen” was used to characterize the offenders since all of the major school shootings in our database were committed by men or boys. The average age of individuals participating in the attacks was 18 years old.

This is consistent with the image of the Robb Elementary School shooter that has surfaced. He recently turned 18 and is said to have purchased two military-style guns. Authorities suspect the gunman used a single military-style weapon in the incident on May 25, 2022. The motive for the shooter’s killings of children and adults at Robb Elementary School has yet to be revealed, according to police. In some respects, the picture of the shooter that has emerged matches the profile we’ve built up from previous culprits, but it differs in others.

We know that the majority of school shooters have ties to the school they attack. Prior to the most recent incident in Texas, 12 of the 14 school shooters in our database were either current or past students of the school. There has been no information published about a previous relationship between the new attacker and Robb Elementary School. According to our research and scores of interviews with convicted mass shooting offenders, the mass shooting incident is meant to be a last act for most perpetrators. 

The majority of school shooters die as a result of the attack. Only seven of the 15 mass school shooters in our database were caught. The remaining victims perished on the site, practically all of them by suicide — with the exception of the Robb Elementary gunman, who was shot and killed by police. In addition, school shooters frequently warn of their impending assaults through social media postings, texts, or videos.

Some culprits are looking for fame and infamy, inspired by previous school shooters. Most school shooters, on the other hand, are driven by a broad rage. Their route to violence is marked by self-hatred and despair directed outward at the world, and our study shows that individuals frequently disclose their desire to injure as a last, desperate plea for help. The key to preventing these disasters is for society to be aware of the warning signals and to act quickly to address them. Jillian Peterson, Professor of Criminal Justice at Hamline University, and James Densley, Professor of Criminal Justice at Metropolitan State University. The Conversation has given permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license. Read the full story here.