Since 2009, at least 177 of America’s schools experienced a shooting. These tragedies are as diverse as our nation, but the depth of trauma is hard to convey. There is no standard definition for what qualifies as a school shooting in the US. Nor is there a universally accepted database. So CNN built our own. We examined 10 years of shootings on K-12 campuses and found two sobering truths: School shootings are increasing, and no type of community is spared.
Over the past decade, there were at least 180 shootings at K-12 schools across the US. They happened in big cities and in small towns, at homecoming games and during art classes, as students are leaving campus in the afternoon and during late-night arguments in school parking lots.
And they are happening more often.
CNN analyzed locations, time of day, type of school and student demographics to better understand how this trauma grips the country. While school shootings disproportionately affect urban schools and people of color, mass shootings are more likely to occur at white, suburban schools.
With little federal data on school shootings, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s behind the recent increase. But law enforcement experts believe one reason could be diminished coping skills, which can prompt people to lash out in violent ways.
“Today we have kids who are so isolated inside -- playing video games and glued to their (tablets) and everything else -- that they don’t learn those problem-solving skills,” says Mike Clumpner, a sworn police officer who specializes in active shooter training.
“We continually see poor coping skills and poor conflict resolution skills,” agrees former FBI agent Chris Cole, director of threat intervention services at the University of Wisconsin. “And as more of them (shootings) occur, it becomes sort of acceptable as ‘that’s a way I can settle my grievances.’”
Regardless of what’s behind this violence, it touches every aspect of school life.
From school drop-off on Monday morning to a Saturday night basketball game, shootings can happen any time. But more often, they happen on Fridays.
Experts suggest this could be due to tensions that build up over the course of a school week.
“If something has transpired to bring you to the breaking point of committing some type of homicidal action … you may not have had any type of decompression time during the school week,” says Clumpner. “And so that’s kind of five days stacked on top of each other.”
These shootings have tragic effects that ripple beyond the victims and their families. Nearly 200,000 students attended schools where one of these shootings occured. At predominately black schools, students are more likely to experience a shooting after 4 p.m., typically during an after-school event.
Meanwhile, shootings at predominately white schools often happen in the morning, as classes begin, or around dismissal time.
And those shootings tend to claim more victims.
CNN’s review found that shootings at predominately white schools have an average of three casualties. That's twice the average of the number of shooting victims at predominantly black and Hispanic schools.
Mostly white schools also have more mass shootings, like the ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Sandy Hook Elementary, typically carried out by young white males while school is in session.
Experts say that while mass shootings are a concern, it's the day-to-day violence that impacts our schools more.
“Those mass shootings, the headline-grabbing ones, are really, really a small fraction of them," says Cole. "It’s more of the everyday violence, that unfortunately I think we’ve become a bit immune to, that produce the large numbers.”
And this violence reaches across America, touching every kind of community.
From the countryside to big cities, 114 people were killed and 242 were injured in shootings at K-12 schools from 2009 through 2018.
To prevent school shootings, experts agree we need comprehensive and reliable data. Without that research, we’re going blind into a “deadly future,” cautions Mark Rosenberg, who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 20 years andled its gun violence research.
“You need those interventions that reduce gun violence and save lives, but that also protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” says Rosenberg. “But we don’t know what works … and we’re not looking. That’s the disgrace.”
Editor's Note: CNN spent more than a year analyzing the rising toll of America’s school shootings. CNN will update its database throughout the school year, with 2019 numbers to come.
CNN reviewed hundreds of reported shootings at K-12 schools from 2009 until 2018. To compile our dataset, we primarily relied on open-source databases, news reports, calls to police departments, information on school websites and 2009-2013 data provided by the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO).
Since there is no single definition for what qualifies as a school shooting, our team set the following parameters: The shooting must involve at least one person being shot (not including the shooter); and the shooting must occur on school property, which includes but is not limited to, buildings, athletic fields, parking lots, stadiums and buses. Our count includes accidental discharge of a firearm as long as the first two parameters are met, except in instances where the sole shooter is law enforcement or a security officer. Our count also includes injuries sustained from BB guns, since the Consumer Product Safety Commission has identified them as potentially lethal.
To analyze the breakdown of schools, including student population and demographics, we relied on data from the US Department of Education and US Census.