School shootings. The words instill panic and fear into parents, and shock and incredulity into the rest of the world, no doubt watching the massacres play out on a television, tuned to Fox News or CNN. The media always feeds the public’s need for a demon to be the culprit, packaging the story of each and every school shooting the exact same way to make each appear as an isolated incident, not part of a wider problem. Always perpetrated by a disturbed, mentally ill individual, off their medication, who perhaps listens to violent music, or plays violent video games; clearly outcasts of a society who had no interest in helping them in the first place.
The problem is, the communities of these shootings are always left with real questions. It’s easy to blame a one-dimensional caricature of a bad guy in the media, but for victims, parents and communities, it’s impossible to heal on such a flimsy explanation. No matter how sensationalized school shootings have become since Columbine canonized the phrase into popular culture, the hard questions are always the same. How could someone, most always a young person, snap and descend into such violence that they actively plan to kill either classmates and teachers, or worse, young children, in the one place other than their home that these students are meant to feel safe? And it seems to be getting worse.
Since December 2012 when the Newton School Shooting took place, various advocacy groups in the United States have claimed anywhere from 16 to 74 more school shootings. 74 school shootings in the past 18 months would place the U.S. national average at one per week. CNN disputes the number of 74 that the “Everytown for Gun Safety” advocacy groups boldly claims, but still CNN has their numbers at 16 school shootings in the past 18 months. And realistically, what are we even comparing here? Is nearly one school shooting a month better than one a week? Of course, but even with CNN’s numbers we are talking about nearly one school shooting a MONTH in the U.S. alone. School shootings have always happened, but with easier access to high-powered automatic weapons, and the special place reserved for them on media outlets, they seem more brazen and more consistent than ever before. Here are the worst school shootings of the modern era.
8. Taber, Alberta, Canada (1999)
When, on April 28, 1999, Todd Cameron Smith opened fire on students with a sawed off .22 at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, killing one and injuring another, two things quickly became clear. The school shooting in Taber perpetuated by Smith took place a mere eight days after one of the most infamous school shootings in the United States, Columbine; the crime was widely considered to be a copycat, even Smith’s family said “he snapped watching coverage of the Columbine massacre… days before.” Also, it was the first school shooting in Canada for more than two decades, prompting questions about whether media sensationalism can actually provoke fragile, bullied members of society, much like Smith, to resort to such extreme violence.
Whatever ultimately provoked him, Smith killed one student, and injured another, making this school shooting no less notable for the amount of lives lost, but making it as important for its potential cultural implications; copycat killers who finally cross the line due to the media.
7. Erfurt, Germany Massacre (2002)
The most deadly school shooting in German history took place at the hands of Robert Steinhäuser in April of 2002 in the city of Erfurt. Steinhäuser was a former student of the Gutenberg Gymnasium from which he was expelled in October 2001 after forging a doctor’s note. Upon being expelled Steinhäuser was unable to attend any other schools, and was therefore left with very limited job prospects. It is widely believed that this led to the attack on his former school in the spring of the following year. Dressed completely in black and carrying a 9mm Glock and a Mossberg 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, Steinhäuser stalked the school and ultimately shot and killed 13 faculty members, two students and a police officer before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.
6. Dunblane, Scotland (1996)
School shootings of any kind are tragic, but they are especially tragic when the victims are children. Sadly, the shootings at the Dunblane Primary School are only the first entry on this list of school shootings that involve young children. In March of 1996 the shooter, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton, entered the school and headed towards the gym where he found a young class and their teacher. It was in the gym where he began shooting both teachers and children, and shooting through walls at the classrooms on the opposite side of the gym. All told, Hamilton injured 15 staff members and students, and tragically killed one teacher and 16 children, all aged five or six, before he shot himself in the mouth. It remains one of the most horrific crimes in British history.
5. École Polytechnique Massacre (1989)
The most notorious, and deadly shooting in Canadian history, the École Polytechnique Massacre is known for many reasons the world over, particularly because of the perpetrator’s motivations. On December 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lepine stalked the campus of the École Polytechnique, an engineering school affiliated with the University of Montreal, and killed 14 women and wounded 13 others. His motivation; a hatred of feminists. Lepine claimed that feminists had ruined his life, and women who attempted to work a ‘man’s job’ like engineering were merely feminists looking to ruin men. Armed with a semi-automatic hunting rifle, at one point Lepine stormed a classroom and separated the men from the women, allowing all fifty men to leave, whilst holding the woman hostage at gun point, after which he eventually shot them. Lepine ultimately killed himself. The massacre had an immense impact on Canadian society and politics, and also helped reform gun control laws and police responses to school shootings.
4. Virginia Tech (2007)
The Virginia Tech school shooting committed by Seung-Hui Cho is the deadliest school shooting in American history. Seung-Hui Cho committed two separate attacks, about two hours apart, on the Virginia Tech campus. He first entered a residence hall early in the morning of April 16, 2007 and began shooting his first victims. Two hours after his initial attack, the gunman mailed writings and video recordings to news outlets looking for his 15 minutes of notoriety, and headed to another area of campus with an arsenal of guns, chains hammers and knives. All told that day in his attacks Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded another 17 before killing himself like the coward the majority of school shooters, or mass murderers in general tend to be. Already deemed mentally unstable before the Virginia Tech shootings, and therefore theoretically not eligible to own guns in Virginia, Cho exploited loopholes to acquire his deadly arsenal for that day. The aftermath of the shooting forced the State of Virginia to close the loopholes, and President Bush to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for those wishing to buy guns, the first time any gun legislation had passed in the U.S. in over a decade.
3. Columbine (1999)
Perhaps the most famous school shooting in history, and certainly one of the most infamous moments in modern American history, Columbine radically elevated the way the media sensationalizes tragedies such as school shootings, making them almost like 24 hour must see T.V. Columbine was the first real example of “if it bleeds it leads” journalism that many of those who were peers of the Columbine kids had seen. It was also the first time the world really saw first hand what a school massacre looks like on television, live, in color, and in perpetuity. And, as a high school student, around 16 years old, it was terrifying. Not as terrifying, and ultimately tragic as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s cowardly acts were for the students in Littleton, Colorado, however.
On April 20 1999, Hitler’s birthday, (a point of pride for the shooters), both students stormed the school armed with explosives and a cache of guns. All told, in a little under an hour, the two managed to kill 1 teacher and 12 students, while injuring 21 other people, before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide. The massacre was a media sensation and it forever etched into the minds of Americans what a school shooter looks and acts like. The details of these two psychopaths are well documented; they were angry, depressed teenagers, one of whom was on medication, who listened to angry music and dressed all in black, easily creating the media’s false template for every other school shooter since. It is sad that 15 years later Columbine is more remembered for the effects it had on the media than the effects it had on the victims and their families.
2. Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting (2012)
On December 14, 2012, the most horrific school shooting in American history forever changed the town of Newtown, Connecticut. While Virginia Tech may be the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history per casualties in a university setting, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is the deadliest school shooting involving elementary or high school children. That morning of December 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza first shot and killed his mother at their home and then drove to the elementary school where he shot and killed another 27 people, including himself. Of the 27 people Lanza killed in a matter of only five minutes inside the school, 20 were children, mostly first graders. Diagnosed with a form of autism and obsessive compulsive disorder, Lanza also had an extreme obsession with other mass shootings, and collected videos and newspaper clippings of other school shootings, most notably Columbine. What ultimately caused him to snap and led him to kill his mother and 26 other people, 20 of them young children will never be known, but Lanza will forever be known as one of the most infamous mass murderers in U.S. history.
1. Beslan School Massacre (2004)
Whether the massacre in Beslan, Russia is officially a school shooting, or a hostage crisis, or a terrorist attack, one thing is certain; anti-Russian separatists stormed a school where over 1,000 people, including 750 children were taken hostage, and in the end 334 hostages, including up to 186 children, were killed. Over the course of the three day crisis the Islamist-Chechen rebels who besieged the school demanded that Russia stop their military operations in Chechnya and the neighboring territories and grant them independence from the Russian federation. Unfortunately for all involved, Russia doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, period, and by day three began to storm the school. Much like the Moscow theatre siege of 2002, the Beslan School Massacre in September of 2004 ended in an eerily similar way. It’s impossible to say how many hostages, and children, were killed in the fight between Russian forces and militants, or how many died before; the Russian government is not renowned for its transparency. One thing is certain, however Beslan is classified, as far as deaths of students in a school, it is far and away the deadliest in history, and a stark reminder, like all those on this list, that no one is truly safe in any country all the time.