The absence of single data collection that “captures the complete picture of the frequency, incidence, and trends in violent crime in U.S. schools” does not allow to evaluate its actual rates across the country. Since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that resulted in the death of a teacher and twelve students, serious measures to provide safety in schools and universities have been taken. As a result, for instance, the percentage of schools that use security cameras increased from 19% in 1999-2000 to 81% in 2015-2016 (Camera, 2019). In addition, the percentage of academic institutions that have strengthened control over access to buildings, including exit doors and locked entrance, increased from 75% to 94% in the same school years (Camera, 2019). As a result, 99% of students subsequently mentioned that they observed “the use of at least one of the selected safety and security measures at their schools” (Camera, 2019, para. 8). In general, the total rates of violence, bullying, and crimes are reportedly decreasing.
However, this tendency reflects neither the total safety of educational institutions nor students’ attitude to it. In 2018, almost 1,300 more threats were registered in schools across the country in comparison with previous school years (Pitofsky, 2018). According to the Educator’s School Safety Network, during the 2017-18 school year, there were 279 violent incidents in schools, “up from 131 the previous year” that is a 113% increase (Pitofsky, 2018, para. 2). In addition, the survey initiated by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that almost 70% of adults think that schools became less safe, and more than half of the students’ parents have doubts concerning the ability of local governments to prevent mass shootings (Camera, 2019). Notably, a considerable number of respondents admitted that violent accidents may be caused not only by poor safety but by multiple other factors, including bullying, the gunman’s mental issues, and the availability of weapons for citizens.
Common Reasons for Mass Shooting in Schools and Universities
Regardless of the fact that the motivations and profiles of shooters widely varied, it is possible to distinguish several common reasons for mass shootings in educational institutions that should be considered for its prevention in the future. Mental health problems are frequently defined as the main cause of mass shootings in schools. People’s daydreams and fantasies sometimes have a dark and violent content. At least one time, a prevalent number of people have imagined murderous scenarios, especially after frustrating or painful experiences, however, without any intention to realize these dreams. At the same time, what is clear for a healthy mind can substantially affect an unhealthy psyche. In general, the major signs of mental health problems that were demonstrated by school shooters included a lack of social attachments, low self-esteem, and being extremely introverted, depressive, and quiet. Although time-sensitive psychiatric support could prevent violent crimes, mental issues were not properly diagnosed and treated in most cases.
Bullying may be regarded as a typical motive of violence and cruel crimes in schools, as well. A substantial number of killers previously were the victims of bullying, mobbing, biased attitude, rejection by peers, school suspension, and psychological terror that subsequently turned into aggression, frustration, and wrath against teachers and classmates. It is necessary to mention that the negative emotions of shooters may be based on their interpretation of other people’s actions and imaginary grievance. In other words, such people due to their psychological peculiarities believe that they are harmed, insulted, or treated unfairly even if it does not correspond to reality. In this case, attacking peers in schools is regarded as revenge.
Talking about the reasons for violent crimes, current gun control should be considered. According to many experts, the availability of weapons in the United States determines the increasing number of cruel acts in educational institutions. There are thousands of gun shops across the country, a lot of families have several weapons, and children are frequently taught to use them. The situation when school shooters possess not only one pistol but the whole arsenal is impossible in countries where gun regulation is more strict.
The search for a role model or notoriety and the desire to copy well-known criminals if their image seems desirable are other reasons for violent crimes in schools and universities. Their validity is determined by the fact that attacks with much media attention are frequently followed by similar incidents in other places in a short time as some shooters imitate previous killers’ activities. In addition, copycats frequently wear similar clothes as their idols and use the same weapon. The culture of violence in mass media, advertising, and entertainment also contribute to the occurrences of school shootings as music, movies, video games, and comic book may excuse and even glorify violent behaviors.
Mass Shooting in the University of North Carolina
The mass shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2019 shocked not only students and the state’s authorities but a considerable number of people in the United States as well. It occurred in one of the classrooms of the Kennedy Building on the last academic day of the spring semester. In general, the majority of students on the campus were preparing for upcoming exams and waiting for the concert of rapper Waka Flocka Flame (Karimi, 2019). In the classroom, where the tragedy happened, approximately 30 students had a course on the philosophy of science and anthropology around 6 p.m. local time (Karimi, 2019). They were delivering final group presentations when a man armed with a gun entered and opened fire. According to Rami Alramadhan, one of the survivors, the anthropology classroom has two entrances, in the front and the back of the room, and this person appeared through the front entrance (O’Connor, 2019). He did not act, show any emotions, react, say, or do anything – he opened the door, smiled, and suddenly took out the pistol and tried to shoot randomly.
Adam Johnson, an anthropology professor and course instructor, who presented in the classroom were initially taking notes and did not hear how the gunman entered (“UNCC teacher in classroom that was attacked details shooting in blog post,” 2019). When the shooting started and panic arose, he quickly opened another door and helped students to exit. Unfortunately, in the result of the incident, two persons were killed (Riley Howell and Reed Parlier) and four others seriously injured (Rami Alramadhan, Sean DeHeart, Emily Houpt, and Drew Pescaro) with three of them in critical condition (Karimi, 2019). There could be more victims, however, Riley Howell, one of the two killed students, jumped at the criminal giving time for others to escape (O’Connor, 2019). According to his parents, “he tackled the gunman so forcefully that the suspect complained to first responders after he arrested internal injuries” (Dwyer & Ward, 2019, para. 2). Howell was subsequently defined as a hero as he sacrificed his life to save his peers.
The shooter was Trystan Terrell, a 22-year-old former student who withdrew from the university several months before the attack (Davenport, 2019). According to campus police, he was immediately disarmed and arrested by officers once they received reports of a gunman that had entered the campus and opened fire injuring and killing students. Terrell was subsequently charged “with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of firearm on educational property and discharging firearm on educational property” (Davenport, 2019, para. 10). During the investigation, he made a full confession telling that he had planned his attack. Terrell had investigated in details the mass shooting in the Sandy Hook elementary school occurred in 2012 and considered three locations before choosing the university at Charlotte (Davenport, 2019). All victims were chosen randomly, as he did not have any specific target.
At the same time, neither the police nor Terrell’s neighbors or any other people who knew him had satisfactory arguments concerning the motives of this crime. According to Paul Rold, the gunman’s grandfather, despite the fact that Trystan was on the autism spectrum and socially reserved, his intelligence allowed him to study and even learn foreign languages (Foreman & Morgan, 2019). Moreover, he had never been interested in weapon or gun collecting. In addition, as Terrell withdrew the spring semester, he was never regarded as a potential threat. Nevertheless, his reasons for his violent crime remain unexplained and unknown. The killer was subsequently sentenced to imprisonment with two life sentences and the possibility of parole for him was canceled.
Response to the Incident
The direct response to the mass shooting was the coordinated actions of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the FBI to clear buildings. Students were escorted by officers and asked to follow specific instructions and warn others to refrain from visiting the campus until the investigation will finish (Helsel & Fichtel, 2019). All exams were immediately canceled after the shooting, and young people were provided with an option to take online exams or keep their current grades without taking exams (“Classroom where deadly UNC Charlotte shooting happened will not be used, chancellor says,” 2019). In addition, the classroom where the tragedy happened, was closed for the next academic year.
The University of North Carolina Charlotte Chancellor Philip L. Dubois subsequently formed a Niner Nation Remembrance Commission consisting of fourteen members. Later, he established a targeted website for victims to investigate the incident, honor Riley Howell and Reed Parlier, support injured students, and provide guidance on the next steps (WBTV Web Staff, 2019). In addition, the website allowed students to share their reflections and thoughts concerning the tragedy. The National Police Foundation (NPF) and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) “conducted the external after-action review and submitted their final report to Dubois” (WBTV Web Staff, 2019, para. 4). It focused on main areas, including relationships, preparedness, leadership, threat assessment, crisis communication, resilience, mental health, and recovery. According to the report, the university could not identify the shooter and a potential threat to prevent the incident due to a lack of prior information.
The university authorities stated that several essential changes would be observed, including the review of the institution’s crisis communication plan, the revision of its emergency operation plan, and research dedicated to the possibilities of improvement. However, regardless of the fact that the university did not make any mistake, particular actions should be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future. Potential solutions that were proposed included:
- the creation of anonymous hotlines and reporting systems;
- monitoring social media for the detection of potentially dangerous individuals;
- the establishment of special training for teachers and students dedicated to the rules of conduct in the case of the mass shooting
- provision of teachers with basic life-saving equipment for premedical first aid.
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Dwyer, J., & Ward, M. (2019). Riley Howell’s parents say he was shot 3 times while tackling the U.N.C. Charlotte gunman. The New York Times. Web.
Foreman, T., & Morgan, S. B. (2019). Student tackled campus gunman, slain while saving lives. AP. Web.
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Helsel , P., & Fichtel, C. (2019). University of North Carolina at Charlotte shooting kills 2, injures 4. NBC News. Web.
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UNCC teacher in classroom that was attacked details shooting in blog post. (2019). Web.
WBTV Web Staff. (2019). Strengths, areas of growth identified in external review of 2019 UNC Charlotte shooting response. WBTV. Web.