Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Way back in 2013, I began noticing a trend. School shootings were starting to happen outside of classrooms and outside the normal operating hours of the school. To avoid lockdowns, killers were attacking large public areas that couldn’t be easily defended during lunch breaks, before school and after dismissal.
Early in 2017, I published an article titled “When Do School Shootings Occur.” I studied every American active killer school shooting over a three year time period from 2013 until the end of 2016. Interestingly enough, I determined that 43% of the school shootings I studied occurred outside of official school hours.
I updated this research in late 2019 with an article titled Timing School Shootings for Higher Body Counts. In the 2016-2019 time period, there were a grand total of 20 school shootings where victims were randomly shot (or shot at). During the period of time between 2013 and 2016, there were only eight shootings that met the same inclusion criteria. That’s a 150% increase in just three years.
Looking at these 20 school shootings that fit the traditional idea of an “active killer attack,” there were eleven attacks occurred during school hours, three were after school, and six happened before school hours. From 2013-2016 we only had two attacks that began before school started and only one attack after school had let out for the day.
As compared to the 2013-2016 time period, the number of attacks timed before class commenced and after classes were finished for the day had increased 300% each.
In total, nine of the 20 (45%) shootings occurred outside of the time period of normal school hours. That’s actually a significant percentage. Why is that number important?
Very few schools practice lockdown/evacuation drills before or after school classes. The staff isn’t all present. Students aren’t in their classrooms. People are hanging out in hallways. An organized lockdown is very difficult at this time. That’s why shooters choose these times to attack. Schools need to practice lockdown/evacuation drills before classes commence to be fully prepared to respond to a realistic threat.
It’s been more than three years since my last school shooting timing research came out. I took a little longer to compose this article because so many schools were not in physical session during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Now that things are back to “normal” again, are the shootings during extra curricular hours still a trend? Have there been more or fewer shootings taking place before and after school in recent years?
I went to Wikipedia’s constantly updated list of school shootings in the United States. As I wanted to look at the most recent trends, I analyzed the reported shootings from the start of 2020 (where my last study left off) through the end of the school year in 2023. Over that time period, there were 140 school shootings listed. That is a 71% increase over the total number of school shootings in the previous three-year period (2016-2019).
As I was primarily interested in elementary school and secondary school shootings, I excluded the shootings that occurred on college campuses. That left me with 107 shootings to analyze.
Of those 107 shootings, the majority were incidents that consisted of fights between two individuals where one suspect shot another on school property. They weren’t random shootings with multiple victims. For my analysis I excluded all the incidents of mutual combat, shootings of a single victim after a robbery /drug deal gone bad, gang shootings, drive by shootings, suicide attempts, and accidental firearms discharges. I also excluded shootings where the “gun” used was a pellet or BB gun. I am not interested in studying any of those incidents for the purposes of this article.
When I excluded all of these irrelevant incidents, it left me with 25 shootings that match the characteristics that most of my readers would consider “active killer attacks.” In the 2016-2019 time period there were 20 shootings that met the same criteria.
Let’s take a deeper look into these 25 “active killer” school shootings:
Adult, 10-Year-Old Injured in Shooting Outside Youth Basketball Game, Police Say– Two people shot after school following a youth basketball game
Man charged in school van shooting sentenced to prison– A man fired shots at a school transportation van taking children to school. Two children were injured.
Multiple gunshot victims including KPD officer at Austin East High School– An armed student barricaded himself in a school bathroom during school hours and fired the gun during a struggle with police.
Shots fired in school building- A student fired several shots into the ceiling of a school hallway while school was in session
Released documents shed new light on what happened the day of the Rigby Middle School shooting– A female middle school student shot several students and a staff member in a hallway before school started.
3 students hurt in shooting in high school parking lot– A 14-year old shot three fellow students in the school parking lot after school let out for the day.
Man fires on school bus- A man fired multiple shots into a school bus taking students home from school
Former student breaks into school and shoots principal– A former student walked into the YES Prep Southwest school and opened fire wounding the principal as he attempted to lock down the school
Bronzeville school shooting– A man fired on students and a security guard outside a school during dismissal.
3 Students Shot- Three students shot by an unknown attacker in school parking lot during lunch break.
2021 Oxford High School shooting– A student shot 11 people in a school hallway in between classes
Bus Driver shot in head– A suspect fired several shots at a school bus transporting children home from school
School Cop, Not Black Student, Shot Principal During Olathe East Shooting– A student opened fire on a police officer in a school office after being confronted for carrying a gun.
16-year-old Edmund Burke School student recalls DC sniper shooting, classmate shot- A sniper fired 239 shots at a high school in Washington DC.
Woman opens fire at school bus in Gwinnett County neighborhood– Woman fires 12 shots at a school bus taking children to school.
Four people shot at school graduation- Three people were hospitalized after a shooting where students at Hammond High Magnet School were leaving their graduation ceremony.
Uvalde– 38 students and staff members shot by a former student
2022 Oakland school shooting– Two shooters entered the school and fired 30 rounds in the school hallway.
2022 Central Visual and Performing Arts High School shooting- A former student shot his way into the school and attacked students in several classrooms.
12-year old fires gun- A student fired a gun in a classroom before school started for the day.
Juvenile charged with murder in Chicago school shooting in December that left 2 dead– A high school student shot four fellow students as they walked out of school after dismissal
Shooting of Abby Zwerner– A six-year old student intentionally shot his teacher
4 students shot outside Westinghouse Academy– An unknown suspect shot four students in front of the school just after dismissal for the day.
“East High School shooting suspect found dead near car in Park County”– A student shot two school administrators as he was being searched for weapons in the school office.
2023 Nashville school shooting– A former student shot his way into the school and killed six people.
What can we learn from these shootings?
Almost half of the attacks happened either before or after school. Twelve of the 25 shootings happened outside of school operating hours. Shooters initiated four attacks before school and eight attacks after school. This is a change as compared to the 2016-2019 time period where 70% of all attacks happened in the morning.
Non-active killer school shootings also frequently occur outside of normal school hours. Of the 82 shootings that were not at a college and not included in my “active shooter” list above, 40 occurred either before or after school with 18 of those 40 happening at or after school football or basketball games.
Based on this fact, I think it is reasonable for schools to focus a significant amount of their security countermeasures on protecting arriving and departing students.
If schools employ random metal detecting activities, most should be conducted during the early morning hours. Having additional staff available in hallways and public common areas during mornings would also likely have a deterrent effect. Schools with part-time school resource officers should attempt to have the officer present in the school during arrivals and dismissals.
One of the other most important facts is that only five of the 25 shootings occurred in a classroom. In 2026-2019 four out of 20 attacks happened in the classroom. That’s the exact same low percentage (20%) of school attacks where students or staff members were shot in classrooms. The rest of the attacks occurred in the following locations:
– Five attacks occurred in hallways before or between classes
– Five attacks occurred in school parking lots during lunch breaks or after dismissal
– Four attacks on school buses when students were being transported to and from school
– Two attacks were initiated from outside the school and consisted of the shooter firing shots through the school windows
– One attack was in the school office
– One attack in a school bathroom
– One attack was during an after school basketball game
– One attack was at an off-premise high school graduation ceremony
I think that tells us that many school security measures are working. Kids know that most school classrooms can be quickly secured to limit access to the victim pool. The classrooms have been hardened and the killers know an attack there is relatively futile. The attackers are now depending on the natural chaos that occurs during lunch periods or while students are moving between/before/after classes to kill more victims.
The problem is that schools are still preparing for the last threat. They are training to lock down classrooms in response to a school shooting. But the classrooms aren’t where the shooters are operating. Schools need to take the next step to secure their “public” areas (like lunch rooms) containing large numbers of students and train to respond to attacks both before and after school hours. School staff needs to train lockdown/evacuation drills between classes as well.
Getting victims out of unsecured hallways and common areas is a vital task that few schools are practicing.
Another disturbing new tactic is that shooters are initiating their attacks from OUTSIDE the building. There were six attacks in this database that commenced outside the school. In the 2016-2019 time period there were only two such attacks. There have been many school attacks where victims have been shot outside a school, but this new trend involves actually firing into the school building from outside.
This is a rapidly increasing trend in active killer attacks across all locations. I would expect to see more attacks like this in future school attacks as well.
As school security improves, killers recognize there is a genuine risk of being caught carrying weapons into school. More and more will focus their attacks on the outside of the building where there are limited or no security measures in place.
I first identified this trend in late 2017. Defending an attack from outside the building requires a different skill set than defending against a killer who is inside the school. Read A New Active Killer Trend and Eight Ways to Counter It for more information about responding to an exterior threat. Schools need to consider these threat countering suggestions and begin to work to implement them.
Talk to your kids’ school administrators. Ask them what plans they have in place for an attack before classes begin. Ask about security precautions as students leave for the day or are attending after school sports games. Ask them how they would keep a large lunch room full of students safe from an active killer who had already entered the room. Ask about plans to lock down or evacuate busy hallways full of students. Ask about specific countermeasures to defend against exterior attacks on the school building. Don’t be surprised if the school administrators don’t have an acceptable answer. Very few schools are preparing as they should.
Encourage the school staff to revise their policies to reflect the most recent threats schools are experiencing. Urge them to conduct training drills at “inconvenient times” focusing on difficult to secure public common areas.