Just the Facts: Death and Violence in the Schools

Published February 1, 2002

From July 1, 1998 to June 30, 1999, there were 47 school-associated violent deaths in the United States, according to a report issued last December by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) titled Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2001. Thirty-eight were homicides, six were suicides, two were killed by law enforcement officers in the line of duty, and one was unintentional.

Thirty-three of the 38 school-associated homicides were of children aged 5 through 19, which as a group experienced a total of 2,407 homicides during the same time period. Four of the six school-associated suicides were of school-aged children, which as a group experienced a total of 1,854 suicides during the 1999 calendar year.


When is a violent death most likely to occur at school? After studying 253 deaths that occurred at school from 1994 to 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last August that suicides at school follow the same pattern as in the general population, with rates higher in the spring than in the fall.

However, homicides peak at the start of each semester and then taper off, according to the CDC report, “School-Associated Violent Deaths in the United States, 1994-1999.” Most occurred around the start of the school day, the lunch period, or the end of the school day. In more than half of the incidents (54.5 percent), a note, threat, or other action potentially indicating risk for violence occurred before the event.


Of the 325 school-associated violent deaths occurring from the start of the 1992 school year until late 2001, three out of four were males (76.9 percent), according to a November in-house report from the National School Safety Center (NSSC). The Center updates its online report, School Associated Violent Deaths, on an ongoing basis.


Two-thirds (66.8 percent) of the 325 violent deaths NSSC studied occurred in high schools, with only 16.5 percent occurring in junior high/middle schools and 10.0 percent in elementary schools.

Almost 70 percent of the violent deaths took place in just four settings: on campus (24.6 percent), near the school (22.2 percent), in a hallway (12.3 percent), and on the school parking lot (10.5 percent). Fewest incidents occurred in the cafeteria (1.5 percent) and on the playground (1.2 percent).


According to the NSSC report, three-quarters of the deaths at school (75.1 percent) involved shooting; 13.5 percent involved stabbing and/or slashing; and 4.9 percent involved beating and/or kicking.


Unfortunately, NSSC researchers could not identify the reasons behind more than a quarter (28.9 percent) of the 325 school deaths reported in School Associated Violent Deaths. Interpersonal disputes were involved in 24.6 percent of the deaths; suicide accounted for another 17.8 percent; and 11.4 percent were gang-related. Hate was a motivator for only 4.9 percent of the deaths, and almost all of those occurred in a single school year, 1998-99. Even fewer incidents were sexually motivated (0.9 percent).


The year-to-year incidence of violent deaths at school is generally declining, according to the data compiled by NSSC. In 1992-93, there were 56 deaths at school; in 2000-01, there were 23.

This same declining trend is reflected in the incidence of violent crime on students aged 12 to 18, according to the NCES Indicators report. From 1993 to 1999, the incidence of at-school violent crime–rape, sexual assault, robbery, assault, and aggravated assault–fell from 59 to 33 per 1,000 students aged 12 to 18. Away from school, the rates fell from 70 in 1993 to 39 in 1999.

For more information . . .

Indicators of Schools Crime and Safety, 2001 is available from the Web site of the National Center for Education Statistics at www.nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/crime2001.

The report from the National School Safety Center on School Associated Violent Deaths, covering the period 1992-date, is available from NSSC’s Web site at www.nssc1.org/savd/savd.htm.

The study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “School-Associated Violent Deaths in the United States, 1994-1999,” published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, December 5, 2001; 286:2695-2702) is available at the Center’s Web site at www.cdc.gov/ncipc/schoolviolencejoc11149.pdf.