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Chardon High School shooting: what we've learned since Columbine

Despite the horrific events of the day, the Indicators of School Crime and Safety report puts recent school-related violent deaths at an all-time low since it began tracking them in 1992. 

By Staff Writer / February 27, 2012

Parents take their children from Chardon Middle School in Chardon, Ohio, Monday, Feb. 27. Students were released after a gunman opened fire inside the nearby high school's cafeteria at the start of the school day Monday.

Mark Duncan/AP

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At this point, it’s still unknown why a Chardon High School student walked into his school cafeteria Monday morning in a suburb of Cleveland and shot into a group of students, wounding four and killing one.

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While reports and rumors fly as to whether or not the gunman had given any warning signs of what he was planning, or whether the students he shot at were targeted for a particular reason, it will take days and weeks to sort out just what happened, and what could have been done to prevent it.

Still, in the 13 years since the Columbine massacre pushed school shootings to the front of media headlines and many parents’ concerns, the trends seem to be improving in terms of student-initiated shootings. One possible reason: heightened awareness of the problem on the part of parents, teachers, and fellow students, who may be more willing to act on early warning signs.

“After the mid-90s when this became a major issue, I think now people have seen what can happen when you don’t report things and aren’t coming forward, and there’s a lot more awareness,” says Kevin Quinn, first vice president and public information officer for the National Association of School Resource Officers, and a resource officer at an Arizona high school. “I don’t think kids are as apt to keep things quiet anymore.”

This month, the federal government released the most recent Indicators of School Crime and Safety report, which puts school-related violent deaths at an all-time low since it began tracking such deaths in 1992. It reported 33 such deaths for the 2009-10 school year. Twenty-five of those were considered homicides – also the lowest since 1992 (tied with the 2002-03 school year). The 2006-07 school year had the highest number of deaths, with 63. 

Still, those numbers – while the most comprehensive statistics available – don’t shed much light on school shootings, or on the specific sort of student-led shooting that seems to have occurred in Chardon. No central database of shooting incidents exists, and the incidents can vary so much by type – accidental shootings and suicides; gang-related shootings and those carried out by an adult shooter near a school or in a parking lot; those that don’t result in any deaths – that it can be hard to pin down exact numbers.

In the years leading up to Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed in a carefully orchestrated attack by two seniors who then killed themselves, such shootings first started to gain attention. There were random shootings in places like Springfield, Ore.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and West Paducah, Ky., in which students killed and wounded dozens of fellow students and teachers.

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