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Press Briefing Transcript

Telebriefing Transcript: School Associated Violent Deaths Study

December 4, 2001

CDC MODERATOR: Hi. Welcome to CDC's briefing for Tuesday, December 4. This briefing today is on a single topic. It is a study that has been done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, and it will be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The title of the study is "School-Associated Violent Deaths in the United States, 1994-1999."

I would like to remind everyone that this is an embargoed briefing, as the JAMA study will be released today at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. We appreciate your cooperation to abide by this embargo.

From CDC today, we will have the lead author of the study, Dr. Mark Anderson. He's a medical epidemiologist from CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Dr. Anderson will briefly discuss the overall findings of the study, then open the session for your Q&A.

We also have two other study authors with us here today to address your questions. I would like to introduce Mr. William Modzeleski. That is spelled M-o-d-z-e-l-e-s-k-i. He is the director of the Safe and Drug-Free Programs in the Department of Education.

We also have Dr. Thomas Feucht. That is spelled F-e-u-c-h-t. He is the deputy director of the Office of Research at the National Institute of Justice, Department of Justice. 

I would now like to turn the briefing over to Dr. Anderson.

DR. ANDERSON: Thank you very much. I will take just a few minutes to summarize the key findings from our study on school-associated violent deaths. This study represents a collaborative effort between CDC, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice. It's an extension and expansion of an earlier CDC study.

The study collected information about all school-associated violent deaths that occurred between 1994 and 1999. In the study we defined the school-associated violent death as any homicide, suicide, legal intervention or unintentional firearm death that occurred on school property on the way to or from school or either at or on the way to or from a school-sponsored event.

During the study period we identified 220 school-associated violent death events that involved the deaths of 253 victims. Sixty-eight percent of the victims were student, 37 percent of the perpetrators were students.

The key findings of the study include, first, school-associated violent deaths are rare events. Schools remain safe places for students. Of all homicides and suicides that occur among school-age children, less than 1 percent are associated with a school. The risk for violent death that a child faces while in school is less than one in a million.

Second, the number of school-associated violent death events has decreased since 1992. However, the number of events that involve multiple victims has increased.

In other words, there are now fewer events but more deaths per event.

Other key findings involve the differences that we found when we looked at student offenders and compared them to their victims. When we compared the characteristics of student homicide offenders to student homicide victims, offenders were nearly seven times as likely to have expressed some type of suicidal behavior before the event. These behaviors might have included suicidal thoughts, making plans for suicide or actually attempting suicide.

In addition, offenders were more than twice as likely as victims to have been bullied in the past.

More than half of the events examined occurred during three critical periods of the school day. These periods were the hours near the start of the school day, those around lunchtime, and the hours at the end of the school day.

These periods may represent what we call transition times, when students are congregating in the common areas of the school, such as the cafeteria, the lobby and the hallways.

These are relatively unsupervised times which may contribute to the increased number of events occurring during these hours.

More than half of the events were preceded by some type of signal in the form of a note, a threat, a journal entry or some other action that had been given prior to the event.

In fact, in one-third of the events a direct threat had been made. Just about half of the events were motivated by interpersonal disputes and 75 percent of the events involved a firearm. Nearly three-quarters of these events involved handguns.

So what do these findings tell us?

First of all, school-associated violent deaths are preventable. We believe that the results of this study highlight several potential avenues for the design and implementation of violence prevention programs in schools.

For instance, many of the events were preceded by a signal of some type. School administrators, teachers and parents need to develop mechanisms for reporting threats and other actions that may warn of a potential event.

Many of the events were motivated by an interpersonal dispute. We have effective programs that can teach children the social skills necessary to resolve conflicts in a non-violent way.

Being bullied was significantly higher among the perpetrators in the study. Programs have been developed that are effective at reducing bullying behavior. These programs need to be continued and implemented in schools in the United States. 

The overwhelming majority of these events involved firearms. We need to limit children's unsupervised access to firearms.

These are a few ways that the findings of this study might be used to protect children in school, and it is important to keep in mind that while school-associated violent deaths are rare, they are also quite complex. There are no simple solutions. If we are going to prevent violent deaths in schools, we need to look beyond the schools to address the risks to young people at home, in their communities, as well as school.

Thank you, and I would be happy to answer any questions at this time.

CDC MODERATOR: We are now ready for questions. 

AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you. And, ladies and gentlemen, once again, if you have a question at this time, please press the one on your touchtone phone.

And our first question is from the line of Aaron McClin with The Associated Press. Please go ahead. 
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thanks for holding the telebriefing. I'm curious about the finding that there are fewer events of school violence but more deaths per. Have you all looked at why that might be, why that might have changed that way over these five years?

DR. ANDERSON: In the study we do report that the overall number of events is decreasing, but the number of multiple victim events is increasing, and one possible factor that's involved here is the unsupervised access that children might have to firearms. The ability to access firearms can--with that ability there is greater potential to turn an event that might have involved a single victim into a multiple-victim event more easily, and that may contribute to the fact that we're seeing a rise in these type of events.

CDC MODERATOR: Next question. 

AT&T MODERATOR: And just as a quick reminder, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press the one at this time.

And this--excuse me, we do have a question from the line of Ellen Beck with The United Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Can you go into a little more detail on the programs that are there for bullying and how they are integrated in the school systems and what they are like?

DR. ANDERSON: The bullying programs that have shown effectiveness were originated in Europe and have shown that bullying behavior in schools can be reduced by up to 50 percent. In general, these programs address several factors.

First of all, the social climate in the school, both among teachers, administrators, as well as among students, in order to change the atmosphere so that bullying behavior is not either indirectly or directly condoned. And then also they involve working with individual students to try to change these behaviors so that they realize the seriousness of bullying and the repercussions of bullying behavior and in that way prevent bullying behavior.

AT&T MODERATOR: Our next question is from the line of Sharnice Huggins with Reuters Hill. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Can you comment about the finding of the increase and the proportion of school-associated student homicides that involved more than one victim and the decline in the rate of single-victim student homicides?

DR. ANDERSON: That is a trend that is one of our key findings in the study, that the number of--


. . . in recent times, and with that--to explain that in another way, when we looked at the proportion of events that involved multiple victims in 1992, there were no events that involved more than one student. But in 1999, 42 percent of the events involved more than one student. And as I mentioned before, part of the contributing factor to these events may be the unsupervised access that children have to firearms and the ability to be--the potential becomes greater to go into a school and carry out an event that would involve more than one victim.

AT&T MODERATOR: And we have a question from the line of Karen Jacobs with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I have a question about going back to what you said about the warning signs. I was hoping you could give some more information about the nature of these signals. I mean are they--were these signs that were more clearly discernible or were they just things that were found after the fact?

DR. ANDERSON: The way the study was conducted, we asked school officials and police officials to recall whether an event--whether there was an action that could be construed as a signal, and it could have been something that they realized in hindsight. And we don't know how many of these signals administrators or others were aware of prior to the event. That's an important issue to keep in mind.

Some of the signals included notes, direct threats, and other actions such as stalking behavior, gang activity, weapon-seeking behavior, things like that. 

AT&T MODERATOR: And we have a follow-up question from the line of Aaron McLinn. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could just talk more about overcrowding and how that plays into these deaths. Is it simply an issue of lack of supervision that we're talking about here, or does it also have to do with more children being closer together, that sort of thing? 

DR. ANDERSON: During these transition times in the school day that were--the feeling is that these are times where there's increased crowding in school, and because of that, relatively, the supervision may be diminished because of the increased number of students in certain areas of the school, and that may lead to the greater potential for conflict, and then if conflicts occur, resulting in violent behavior.

AT&T MODERATOR: And, ladies and gentlemen, as another reminder, if you do have a question, please press the one.

MR. MODZELESKI: Let me--this is Bill Modzeleski, and I plan to just pick up on one of the things Mark said, just as a point of clarification. I don't know whether the reporter was asking about whether or not schools were overcrowded or not. I think we want to make it clear that what Dr. Anderson was talking about is certain points of the day is that in any school environment what happens is that kids pour of classrooms and they tend to congregate in groups, before school, at lunchtime, and after school. This congregating of large number of kids is the times and periods when you see the increase in school homicides. It's not overcrowding of schools that we're talking about.

CDC MODERATOR: Next question. 

AT&T MODERATOR: And, Ms. Hayes, no further questions. Thank you. 

CDC MODERATOR: All right. Well, I thank everyone for coming in. Let me just remind you that if you joined us in progress that this teleconference today supports a JAMA-embargoed study, and that study will be releasable today at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. We appreciate all the news media on the call honoring that embargo. And thank you very much.

AT&T MODERATOR: And, ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today. Thank you for your participation and you may now disconnect.

[End of briefing.]


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