Incidence of school-associated homicides (mainly school shootings) with multiple victims rose significantly in recent years, while rates of school-associated homicides with a single victim remained stable, researchers found.
From July 1994 to June 2016, there were 30 multiple-victim incidents accounting for 90 youth homicides; eight more occurred from July 2016 to June 2018 with 31 additional youth deaths, reported Kristin M. Holland, PhD, of the CDC, and colleagues, who called the numbers “unacceptably high.”
Moreover, 95% of multiple-victim school-associated homicides were due to firearm injuries versus a little over 60% of school-associated homicides with only one victim, the authors wrote in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
While multiple-victim homicide deaths evenly split among boys and girls, and almost a quarter were young children, single-victim school-associated homicide victims were mostly older boys, and the incidents occurred disproportionately in urban settings, they noted.
Researchers examined data from the School-Associated Violent Death Surveillance System for single-victim incidents from July 1994 to June 2016, and for multiple-victim incidents from July 1994 to June 2018. While the incidents had to involve the homicide of ≥1 youth ages 5-18, they could also include non-student victims, such as school staff or family members, though the authors said data on adult homicides was not included.
There were 423 school-associated homicides from 1994 to 2016. Of these, 393 were single-victim homicides and 30 were multiple-victim homicides, which the authors said represented 1.2% of all homicides among youths ages 5-18 in the U.S. during this time period.
There were fluctuations in the rates of single-victim homicides from 1994 to 2016, the authors said. However, they noted that incidence of multiple-victim homicides declined from 1994 to 2009, then increased steadily through the 2017-2018 school year.
For multiple-victim homicides, youth deaths were evenly split between girls and boys, and nearly a quarter were ages 5-9. “Strangers” and schoolmates of victims each accounted for 36% of perpetrators.
Firearm injuries were the cause of death in 35 multiple-victim incidents that resulted in 115 youth deaths; 85% of those deaths were in incidents involving a single gun. Moreover, 60.5% of perpetrators of multiple-victim homicides who used firearms were younger than 18.
“Research has shown that most firearms used by youths in school-associated violent death incidents were obtained from their own home or from a friend or relative, underscoring the need to ensure safe storage and to restrict minors’ unsupervised access to firearms,” the authors wrote.
Single-victim homicides tended to mirror youth homicides unrelated to schools, the authors said, where boys and victims ages 15-18 each accounted for 77% of all victims, respectively. The single-victim homicide rate was 8.27 times higher for non-Hispanic black youths than non-Hispanic white youths. Rates of single-victim homicides were also highest in urban, public, and high schools. Strangers accounted for 27.6% of perpetrators of single-victim homicides, followed by gang members (23.8%).
Firearm injuries were the cause of death in 247 single-victim homicides, the authors said, and about 40% of perpetrators of single-victim homicides who used firearms were age <18.
Holland and colleagues noted that the CDC has a “technical package” of recommendations for preventing youth violence in communities.
The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.