School stabbing: Are parents desensitized to school violence?

As the nation learns of a school stabbing in Pennsylvania and prepares to mark the 15th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, a question creeps into mind: Are parents and kids used to bracing for violence in schools?

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
A 16-year-old student wielding two knives wounded 22 people in the hallways Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburgh on Wednesday. People hold candles during a prayer vigil for victims at Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Murrysville, Pennsylvania on April 9.

When a high school boy in Murrysville, Pa., stabbed and injured 22 people, many of us reading the news may have expressed the post-Columbine world view of, “At least it wasn’t a gun.”

Reports says Alex Kribal, a sophomore, used two kitchen-type knives in the attack, which started shortly after 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

By late Wednesday afternoon, I began to see postings by parents on Facebook and Twitter, not expressing fear, outrage, or support, so much as dark humor.

One mom on Facebook actually commented on the incident, “Well they don't say ‘he brought a knife to a gun fight’ for no reason.”

As I watched the news and read reactions on Facebook and Twitter, I began to see a pattern emerge which suggests that, culturally, we have become more desensitized to this kind of mass school attack by a student.

This morning, Twitter was already a place to find mock reactions of concern for school violence, rather than a place to pour out fears.

Michael McClead, a Twitter user from Chicago, tweeted, “In light of yesterday's school stabbing, we must ban all sharp objects including eye glasses as demonstrated in Godfather III.”

I did find at least one concerned tweet from a non-media account that lamented, rather than mocked, those who are still sensitive to school violence.

Sammi Milheiser of Mankato, Minn., tweeted, “There was another school stabbing?! Why does this keep happening and who actually wants to send their kids to school anymore?!”

It seems as if parents nationwide are becoming more desensitized to this kind of school violence, and the National Parent Teacher Association, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., has noticed the cultural shift as well.

“We hate to say ‘desensitized,’ but from a cultural perspective it does seem like people just aren’t having the same kind of reaction they did to Columbine,” says Heidi May, National PTA media relations manager. “This is still a very key national issue for us, even if, culturally, many people are tending to react to it as a localized event.”

Ms. May adds, “I remember when Columbine happened, my whole world changed. Kids weren’t allowed to carry backpacks any more, there were metal detectors, and any time an incident happened anywhere in the country, all others schools went on alert and heightened security.”

As a journalist and mom living in New Jersey when the Columbine High School massacre took place in the suburbs of Denver on April 20, 1999, I remember the immediate fear of copycat attacks triggering lock-downs and higher security at our local schools.

Our oldest son was just 5 years old when high-school seniors, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked the halls of their high school with guns, knives, and homemade bombs, killing 12 students, one teacher, and injuring 21 others.

For days, parents were in a state of what I called “horror hypnosis” and could not get enough news on what had happened.

For years afterward, every time something happened at a school, no matter where it happened in the country, my phone didn’t stop ringing as friends, neighbors, and relatives called to talk about the news.

Schools were awash in metal detectors, guards, and new policies designed to keep our kids safe.

Now, nearly 15 years later to the day, it seems that parents were over this school stabbing news faster and with less debate than an incident involving a pop star’s indiscretion.

We’re interested in motive and heroes, but parents I have seen on Facebook and Twitter are already on to the next topic of the day.

The National PTA says that safety in schools is still a top priority.

“Our country has experienced far too many of these tragedies, and the threat of violence has grown in schools across the country," writes National PTA President Otha Thornton in a statement released Wednesday. "The protection of students is of utmost importance, and it is critical that parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders and Congress work together to make meaningful changes and find the most effective ways to ensure that all children have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn.”

In addition to the statement, the National PTA is providing resources to help students, families, schools, and PTAs in coping with and preventing violence that can be accessed and downloaded at

While I don’t want to be alarmist, I believe we need to take the time to absorb and react to these ongoing acts of violence in our schools.

My kids often read my Facebook news feed containing posts by my friends and others.

Today, however, I am making a point of waiving them off my wall in order to avoid affecting them with the casual response I am seeing from some parents in regard to this incident.

Gallows humor may be some people’s way of coping with this kind of shocking violence by a student, but when it comes so close on the heels of an attack, perhaps we need to reevaluate the ripple effect these kinds of posts have on our culture and our kids.

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