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School-Associated Student Homicides --- United States, 1992--2006
School-associated student homicide events, especially those involving multiple victims, generate considerable media attention, prompting questions regarding whether rates of school-associated violent deaths are increasing and regarding the characteristics of such events. During the 1990s, the rate of school-associated single-victim student homicides decreased significantly, whereas rates for school-associated homicides in which two or more students were killed (i.e., multiple-victim homicides) increased (1). Additional studies of such events during the same decade documented the rarity of lethal school-associated violence (2,3). To 1) update temporal trends in rates for school-associated student homicides during July 1992--June 2006 and 2) describe the epidemiologic characteristics of school-associated student homicides that occurred during July 1999--June 2006 (the period for which the most recent data are available), CDC analyzed data from the School-Associated Violent Death (SAVD) study.* This report describes the results of that analysis, which indicated that rates of school-associated student homicides decreased during the overall period, July 1992--June 2006, but stabilized during July 1999--June 2006, when 116 students were killed in 109 school-associated homicide events. Although school-associated student homicides are rare and represent approximately 1% of homicides that occur among school-age youths, schools should expand use of comprehensive measures to prevent behaviors that often precede fatal violence. In addition, comprehensive approaches that address risk factors and protective risk factors for violence at the individual, family, school, and community levels will help address violence both on and off school grounds.
The SAVD study is conducted by CDC in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice. The cases of school-associated homicide described in this report involved the homicide of a student in which the fatal injury occurred 1) on the campus of a functioning public or private elementary or secondary school in the United States, 2) while the victim was on the way to or from regular sessions at such a school, or 3) while the victim was attending or traveling to or from an official school-sponsored event. Cases involved the death of at least one student but might have included the deaths of nonstudents (e.g., faculty, school staff, family members, or community residents). Cases were identified through a systematic search of two computerized newspaper and broadcast media databases (i.e., Lexis-Nexis and Dialog) (2,3). To confirm the facts of each event, a brief interview was conducted with at least one law-enforcement officer or school official familiar with the event.
Rates were calculated to estimate the risk for student school-associated homicide. Denominators for rate estimates were obtained from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Current Population Survey,§ which provide national school-enrollment data. Mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) for the period July 1999--June 2004¶ were used as the denominator to estimate the proportion of homicides among all school-age children (i.e., aged 5--18 years) that were school associated. Trends in school-associated homicide rates for two periods, July 1992--June 2006 and July 1999--June 2006, were assessed using Poisson regression models, with a systematic component incorporating year as a linear term.
During July 1999--June 2006, a total of 116 school-associated homicides occurred among students (an average annual homicide rate of 0.03 per 100,000 students) and were associated with 109 events (Table); approximately 78% of these deaths occurred on a school campus. Eight of the 109 events included more than one death. Most homicides included gunshot wounds (65%), stabbing or cutting (27%), and beatings (12%). Calculations using NCHS mortality data for July 1999--June 2004 indicated that the proportion of homicides among school-age children that were school associated was 0.96% (i.e., 79 of 8,236 total homicides).
The mean and median age of decedents was 15 years (range: 6--18 years). Male students, students in senior high schools (or schools that combined high-school grades with lower grades), students attending schools in central cities, and public-school students accounted for the largest proportions of victims. However, rates did not differ significantly in rural areas compared with urban fringe/large town** areas or in public schools compared with private schools.
Overall and single-victim school-associated student homicide rates decreased significantly during July 1992--June 2006; both decreased from 0.07 per 100,000 students to 0.03 per 100,000 students (p<0.001 and p = 0.004 by chi-square test, respectively). However, rates for overall and single-victim school-associated homicides during a more recent period, July 1999--June 2006, did not change significantly (Figure). During both periods (July 1992--June 2006 and July 1999--June 2006), multiple-victim student homicide rates remained stable.
Reported by: W Modzeleski, MA, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, US Dept of Education. T Feucht, PhD, M Rand, US Dept of Justice. JE Hall, PhD, TR Simon, PhD, L Butler, A Taylor, M Hunter, MPH, Div of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; MA Anderson, MD, Div of Emergency and Environmental Health Svcs, National Center For Environmental Health; L Barrios, DrPH, M Hertz, MS, Div of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.
Homicide is the second leading cause of death among youths aged 5--18 years in the United States (4). The finding that <1% of all homicides in this population during July 1999--June 2004 were school associated is consistent with estimates from previous studies (1,2) and indicates that the risk for student-associated homicides in schools is very low.
Overall rates of school-associated student homicide during July 1999--June 2006 are lower than those reported when the SAVD study was first conducted (July 1992--July 1994). Data for 1999--2006 have patterns that are similar to those documented previously, with substantially higher homicide rates among male students and students in urban areas, and homicides involving single victims occurring more frequently than those with multiple victims (1). SAVD data continue to indicate that individual violent events involving numerous homicides, such as the 1999 event that involved 15 deaths at Columbine High School in Colorado, are rare. Most school-associated student homicides continue to involve a single victim and a single offender.
The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, cases were identified through news media reports. Therefore, cases not reported in the media were not included, and changes over time in media coverage of school-associated violence might have affected the trends identified in the study. For example, events involving fewer victims might have been less likely to appear in media reports and might have been excluded. Second, because only cases involving students at public or private U.S. schools were included, changes in overall schooling patterns (e.g., greater use of home schooling or cooperative teaching arrangements) might have resulted in certain student deaths not being included. Finally, the lack of NCHS data for 2004--2006 precluded the use of numerator data for these study years when calculating the proportion of homicides among school-age children that were school associated.
Because each incident of school violence is different, lethal school violence cannot be eliminated using a single approach. However, research on school-associated violent deaths has described patterns in the timing of violent events and the characteristics of incidents and behaviors that precede violence (e.g., bullying experiences, suicidal ideation, and a high prevalence of threats and warning signs) that could be targets for prevention measures (1,5--7).
Most lethal youth violence does not occur in schools, and most acts of youth violence do not lead to death. Therefore, youth violence prevention measures should focus on a range of aggressive behaviors by addressing risk factors at individual, family, and community levels and in a range of locales. Such strategies should be guided by reviews of empirically validated prevention programs and guidelines for promoting school safety, reducing risk for youth violence and suicide, and comprehensive crisis planning (8--10). The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center provides information about youth violence prevention for students, parents, researchers, and others (available at http://www.safeyouth.org).
Partnerships between researchers and community agencies can help promote use of evidence-based prevention strategies. CDC funds eight to 10 National Academic Centers of Excellence (ACE) on Youth Violence Prevention. ACEs involve collaboration among community members and educational, justice, and social work partners to develop action plans, partnerships, and priorities to prevent youth violence in local communities. For example, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence has developed a comprehensive program to reduce youth violence. Projects include evaluating community-based violence interventions and schoolwide systems for enhancing positive behaviors, collaborations to improve home-visiting programs for families with young children, research on alternative strategies for supporting parents and family members, community programs for youths involved in the juvenile justice system, and collaborations to increase youth development programs and youth-driven solutions to problems. Such partnerships among students, parents, schools, law enforcement, research institutions, and community mental health and social service agencies can improve understanding of local needs and selection and implementation of prevention strategies.
* Additional information available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/sch-shooting.htm.
Common Core of Data, Private School Universe Survey, available at http://nces.ed.gov/ccd.
§ Aavailable at http://www.census.gov/cps.
¶ During the period in which this study was conducted, NCHS mortality data for July 2004--June 2006 were not available for use. Therefore, calculations were based on homicides that occurred during July 1, 1999--June 30, 2004.
** A composite category including 1) territories within a consolidated metropolitan statistical area (CMSA) or metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of a large or midsize city defined as urban by the U.S. Census Bureau and 2) incorporated places or U.S. census--designated places with a population >25,000 and located outside a CMSA or an MSA.
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Date last reviewed: 1/16/2008