Written by: Greg Ellifritz
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.
Last week’s shooting at Saugus High School happened before class began. It got me thinking about timing issues again. It’s been almost three years since my initial research came out. 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 three-year period ending November 24, 2019. Over that three-year period, there were 82 school shootings listed. That is a total 15% greater than the number of school shootings in the previous three-year period.
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 63 shootings to analyze.
Of those 63 shootings, the majority were incidents that consisted of fights between two individuals where one suspect shot another. 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 a grand total of 20 school shootings where victims were randomly shot (or shot at) by a single suspect. 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 the 20 school shootings that fit the traditional idea of an “active killer attack”, we see that 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 are finished for the day have 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.
Let’s take a deeper look into these 20 “active killer” school shootings:
- At North Park Elementary School, a teacher’s husband entered the wife’s classroom and fired 10 rounds. He killed his wife and shot two other students before taking his own life.
- A student at Freeman High School opened fire in a hallway before classes began, striking four other students.
- A student fired several rounds during lunch in the school cafeteria at Mattoon High School, injuring one person.
- An active killer shot victims at eight different locations, one of them being a Rancho Tehama elementary school. At the school he fired over 100 rounds from outside the building, striking two students and a staff member.
- A former student returned to Aztec High school and opened fire in a hallway at 8:00 am. Two students were shot and killed.
- A student in Marshall County High School opened fire on his classmates in a common area at 7:55 am before classes began. He killed two and wounded 18 more.
- The Parkland Florida school shooting commenced in a school hallway around 2:21 pm after the killer pulled a fire alarm to get students to evacuate their classrooms. Seventeen people were killed and an additional 17 were injured. (ART analysis #1, #2, #3)
- A student shot two people in Birmingham, Alabama immediately following the school’s last dismissal bell while students were leaving the school building for the day.
- A student at Great Mills High School shot two people and then killed himself in a school hallway just before classes began.
- A 21- year old former student at Forest High School entered the school at 8:30 am on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and fired a single round from a sawed off shotgun into a classroom door, injuring one person.
- A former student at Highland High school fired 10 shots from an SKS rifle from a school bathroom into classrooms at 7:00 am before classes started, injuring one person.
- A former student at Dixon High school fired rounds in the school gymnasium during graduation practice at 8:00 am. He fired on a responding school resource officer who returned fire. Only the shooter was injured. (ART analysis)
- A student at Santa Fe high school opened fire in an art classroom at 7:40 am, killing 10 and wounding 14 more.
- A Noblesville, Indiana middle school student asked to be excused to go to the restroom at 9:00 am during a science test. He returned to class armed with two handguns, opened fire and wounded three people.
- A Richmond, Indiana student took his mother’s boyfriend hostage and forced him to drive to the Dennis Intermediate school. The student’s mother called police to report the hostage situation. Police locked down the school. At 8:18 am the student entered the school by shooting out one of the locked doors, exchanged gunfire with police, and then killed himself.
- A student at Cleveland High School fired a single shot at other students in a hallway before classes began. No one was injured.
- At 1:53 pm two students opened fire in separate areas of the Highland Ranch STEM school in a coordinated attack. One student was killed and eight others were injured. (ART analysis)
- A student shot nine people during a after-school football game in Mobile, Alabama.
- A student at Saugus High school shot five people in the school “quad” before classes began at 7:38 am. (ART analysis)
- A 31-year old man shot three people during an after-school high school football game in Pleasantville, New Jersey.
What can we learn from these shootings?
One of the most important facts is that only four of the 20 shootings occurred in a classroom. Nine attacks happened in school hallways. Four happened in common areas like lunch rooms. Two happened at after-school football games.
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. We saw two attacks in this database that commenced outside the school. 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 overall active killer attacks. 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.
Most school attacks happen in the morning. Fourteen of the 20 shootings happened earlier than 10:00 am. I think the killers act in the morning because the longer they delay their attack, the greater the risk that their weapons/explosives will be discovered. There is also a greater chance that the attackers will develop “cold feet” and abort the attack.
Based on this fact, I think it is reasonable for schools to direct the majority of their security countermeasures to arriving students and have a greater security presence at the school before 10:00 am.
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 as early as possible.
Definitions matter. Everyone must pay very close attention to how “school shootings” are defined in research studies and news articles. Check out this recent inflammatory article from CNN: In 46 weeks this year, there have been 45 school shootings.
The title makes it sounds as if active killer attacks on schools are a weekly event in this country. They are not. This list of school shootings include drug deal ripoffs, domestic violence incidents in college dorm rooms, random drive-by shootings on a college campus, kids shot with BB guns at school, lots of accidental gun discharges, and quite a few after-school fights between adults on playgrounds and basketball courts on school properties.
Just like with the Wikipedia list I referenced earlier in the article. most of these “school shootings” were not active killer attacks. They were incidents of random interpersonal violence that just happened to occur on school property. Only four of the 45 “school shootings” would meet my criteria for inclusion into this list of school active killer attacks.
Talk to your kids’ school administrators. Ask them what plans they have in place for an attack before classes begin. 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.