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Understanding School Shootings

Prof. Donald Shoemaker presented a lecture "School Shootings: Virginia Tech and Beyond" last February 27, 2014 in UP Diliman.
Prof. Donald Shoemaker presented the lecture “School Shootings: Virginia Tech and Beyond” last February 27, 2014 in UP Diliman.

Violence in schools can happen in any form, anytime, and in any campus. The most violent form of such violence is school shootings, cases of which are increasing in the United States.

Donald Shoemaker, a sociology professor from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) presented a lecture last February 27 in the University of the Philippines Diliman. In the lecture “School Shootings: Virginia Tech and Beyond,” Shoemaker recounts the incident in Virginia Tech and discussed the trend of the increasing number of school shootings in the US.

Remembering Virginia Tech

The shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia happened in April 16, 2007 when a senior student shot and killed 32 people and wounded several others. The incident was tagged as the most serious school shooting incident in the US.

Shoemaker was witness to the incident. He recalled how he and other professors locked themselves in their offices and stayed hidden from the shooter. There were students and staff running and hiding. During the incident, hundreds of police cars were in the campus but it took hours before the incident ended.

Shoemaker recounted that “it was a very hard time for everyone” after the shootings. It was also hard as the shooting occurred near the ending of the academic semester and everyone had to push through. Also, professors would act as counselors even as they themselves were emotionally affected.

Shoemaker explained that violent incidents like what happened in Virginia Tech will invite copycats who will reenact the violence. He cited several cases in which copycat incidents were reported.

Moving On

Virginia Tech has created a 32-stone memorial dedicated to the 32 victims of the 2007 shooting. Also, a day of remembrance is held each year in honor of the victims.

In terms of campus security, Shoemaker noted that an alert system was established to inform everyone on campus when an emergency is happening. Also, closer coordination was established by the campus with local law enforcement.

There were no more classes held in the school buildings where the shooting occurred. The building where 30 victims and the shooter were killed was made into a Peace Center. The building, Norris Hall became home to Virginia Tech’s Center for Peace Studies & Violence Prevention that promotes initiatives and studies for peace.

Also, Crisis Tragedy and Recovery Network Digital Library was established to collect data on emergency incidents like school shootings, disasters, and civil unrest. The data is open for the use of researchers, emergency responders, and other humanitarian and emergency managers.

Increased Cases of School Shootings in the US

School shootings is not a new phenomenon n the US. Shoemaker said that the first ever recorded school shooting in the US was in 1764 when four people shot nine people dead. There were few recorded incidents of school shooting until the 1960s. He further tallied the number of recorded school shooting incidents in the previous decades.

1970s – 8
1980s – 9
1990s – 33 (which culminated in Columbine High School)
2000s – 49
2011 – 8
2012 – 7
2013 – 24

And the number continues to increase. For 2014, The Guardian reported 13 school shootings in the first six weeks of the year. This brings the number to at least 52 school shootings for this decade.

But despite the increase in the number shootings in schools, Shoemaker said that school safety and security in the US has increased in the past 20 years. Meaning, schools are relatively safer now, citing statistics that “chances of being murdered are 70% lesser inside schools.”

Shoemaker presented the demographics of shooters in school shootings which appear to be mostly young Caucasian males. Some are victims of bullying and abuse and most are students or former students who either failed or were humiliated. Such individuals have problems growing up, fitting in and socializing. In most cases, such individuals just don’t ‘snap’ immediately. Most cases see the shooter already giving out signals over a period of time. Such signals are talks and intentions of murder, suicide and violence.

But Shoemaker said that despite the patterns of behavior, one should not generalize individuals who have similar environments and experiences. He said that “people react differently to situations.”

Shoemaker also noted that most of the shootings occur in small towns rather than large cities. It was brought out during the discussion that incidents happen in towns because it provide less space and opportunities to vent out emotions unlike cities that provide many options to be busy with. He also cited the availability and accessibility of guns in the US. In school shooting cases, firearms used were brought from home or were bought.

During the discussion, it was brought up that strict gun control in the Philippines can be attributed as a reason why there are almost no incident of school shooting in the country. Shoemaker ended his lecture saying that school shootings are not likely to be duplicated in the Philippines but remain something the US needs to deal with.

School Violence in the Philippines

Shoemaker said that the phenomenon of school shootings are rare in the Philippines but the most common incidents of school violence in the country are fraternity-related violence.

Frat-related violence occurs mostly in tertiary level campuses and in the form of hazing and frat wars. Shoemaker cited that such violence makes use of non-lethal weapons like fists and metal pipes. The weapons are intended to hurt and not kill, but can be fatal and deadly. Firearms are rarely used.

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