There are 294 incidences of attempted or actual multiple killings in schools in a database compiled by The Academy of Critical Incident Analysis at John Jay College.   These incidents occurred in 38 countries between 1764 and 2009. A total of 672 people, mostly children, were killed.

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The database provides a set of facts that both defy and define speculation.  As we try to process the unthinkable and engage in sometimes bitter debate about how to thwart future atrocities, I think it is useful to ground the discussion of the unknowable in the things that are known.

Quartz, the new digital pub from Atlantic Media, ran an analysis of the ACIA database that points out a chilling anomaly. The United States has 10% of the population of the 36 other countries in the analysis, but accounts for only one fewer incident.

That is not an abstraction.  It is a fact.  Such an imbalance requires that a democracy engage in a fair and open dialogue, based in fact, that determines what about our culture creates a disproportionate likelihood that multiple homicides will happen in our schools.

This dialogue would start with understanding what the perpetrator looks like.

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There is not much confusion about what school killers look like.

  • They most often act alone: 85% of the incidences in the database were perpetrated by one individual.  
  • They are young: the average age of the shooter was 23 and 50% of the shooters in single perpetrator incidents were between 13 and 20.  
  • They have been bullied.  85% of the perpetrators were deemed by the researchers to have been exposed to bullying.
  • They target their peers or those weaker than them: 31% of the incidences occurred in an elementary or middle school.  45% occurred in a high school. 
  • They come armed to kill.  The perpetrators used two or more weapons in 94.9% of the incidences.
  • They kill themselves.  71% of the perpetrators turn their weapons on themselves at the conclusion of the incidence and commit suicide.

These data points make it clear that any discussion of Sandy Hook starts not with the question of “How could this happen?,” but with the specific and constructive question, “What can we do to diminish the likelihood that our schools will be vulnerable to homicidal attacks upon our children by their peers?”

The answer to that question requires balance and self-examination.  It means restricting the access to the means of violence.  It means increasing security at our schools.  But above all it means working to understand how to keep children from experiencing the environmental stressors that drive them to the unthinkable.  That requires an astounding amount of empathy, the single attribute that was never present, or had been extinguished, in these solitary and volatile killers.

If we want to contribute to a debate, these are the issues we have an obligation to discuss.

Here is a list of some of the incidents examined in the database.  They should never be forgotten.

  • Aarhus University Shooting
  • Amish School Shooting
  • Appalachian School of Law Shooting
  • Arvada Missionary Shooting
  • Bath School Massacre
  • Bremen School Schooting
  • Campbell County High School Shooting
  • Centennial Secondary School Shooting
  • Cleveland School Massacre
  • Cokeville Elementary School Hostage Crisis
  • Cologne School Massacre
  • Concordia University Massacre
  • Dawson College Shooting
  • Delaware State University Shooting
  • Dendemonde Nursery Attack
  • Dunblane Massacre
  • East Carter High School Shooting 
  • Ecole Polytechnique MassacreEmsdetten School Shooting
  • Eppstein School Shooting 
  • Erfurt Massacre
  • Frontier Middle School Shooting
  • Heath High School Shooting
  • Heritage High School Shooting 
  • John McDonogh High School Shooting
  • Jokela High School Shooting
  • Jonesboro School Shooting
  • Kauhajoki School Shooting
  • La Trobe University Shooting
  • Lindhurst High School Shooting
  • Mercaz HaRav Massacre
  • Monash University Shooting
  • Nic Diedrichs Technical High School Slashing 
  • Northern Illinois University Shooting 
  • Osaka School Massacre
  • Parker Middle School Dance Shooting 
  • Pearl High School Shooting
  • Pine Middle School Shooting
  • Pinellas Park High School Shooting 
  • Platte Canyon High School Hostage Crisis 
  • Pontiac’s Rellion School Massacre
  • Red Lake Massacre
  • Richland High School Shooting
  • Rocori High School Shooting
  • St. Pius X High School Shooting
  • Successtech Academy Shooting 
  • Thurston High School Shooting
  • University of Central Arkansas Shootings
  • University of Iowa Shooting
  • University of Texas Clocktower Shootings
  • Virginia Tech Massacre 
  • W.R. Myers High School Shooting
  • Weston High School Shooting
  • Winnenden School Shooting