School shootings seem to be a uniquely American phenomenon – while they certainly occur occasionally elsewhere, it is in America that they happen frequently. Yet, no matter how often this type of tragedy occurs, the nation is always left shocked and saddened. From what may be the most infamous shooting in American history – Columbine in 1999 – to the most recent – Sandy Hook in 2012 – Americans are continually devastated. For many, these massacres raise questions about gun control laws in the United States, while others claim that those who commit these types of crime operate outside of the law. Although shootings occur in locations other than schools, like movie theaters, churches and homes, the ones that take place in school settings may be the most notorious. From shootings that happened nearly 50 years ago, to shootings that took place only two short years ago, here are the 14 worst school shootings in US history.
14 Lindhurst High School – 1992
On May 1st, 1992, an angered 20-year-old Eric Houston brought a shotgun and a rifle to Lindhurst High School, his former high school located in Olivehurst, California. He promptly went on a killing spree that culminated in the deaths of three students and one teacher,and the injury of nine students and one teacher. Houston claimed that his motivation for the murders included anger over his inability to graduate from high school, the loss of his job, and the fact that he had failed Civics at Lindhurst. Houston was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1993, but he is still awaiting execution.
13 Westside Middle School – 1998
The massacre that took place at Westside Middle School, near Jonesboro, Arkansas, is chilling, not only because of the horrific events, but because of the age of the attackers. Mitchell Scott Johnson was only 14, while Andrew Douglas Golden was only 12 when they murdered four students and one teacher at their junior high school. Like Houston, they also injured nine students and one teacher. Both boys were sentenced to juvenile detention facilities after being found guilty for five counts of murder, but each boy was released from confinement on his 21st birthday.
12 Cleveland Elementary School – 1979
Brenda Spencer was only 16 when she killed the principal and a custodian at Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California. In addition to the murders, she also injured eight children and one police officer. When asked why she committed the murders, Spencer, who had a history of depression and a brain injury, infamously replied, “I don’t like Mondays.” It’s hardly a shock that the jury didn't find this excuse to be satisfactory – Spencer was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life.
11 Chardon High School – 2012
In 2012, 17-year-old TJ Lane murdered three students, seriously injured two, afflicted minor injuries on one, and permanently injured a seventh at Chardon High School in Ohio. Many who knew Lane were shocked at the murders, often describing him as a nice and quiet boy. However, this description fails to mesh with Lane’s actions in the courtroom: he wore a shirt with “killer” written across it and, when he exited, told the courtroom audience, “The hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. F*** all of you.”
10 Red Lake High School – 2005
16-year-old Jeffrey Weise committed murders, not only at his high school, but also in his own home. Weise first shot and murdered his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, then stole his grandfather’s police car, drove to Red Lake Senior High, and proceeded to murder another seven people and injure five. The attack culminated with an altercation with the police and Weise’s suicide. One of the most unsettling aspects of this school shooting is that witnesses claimed Weise was smiling during the entire event.
9 Cleveland Elementary School – 1989
While most of the murderers who comprise this list were relatively young and thus, had little to no criminal history, Patrick Purdy, who killed 5 children at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, had an extensive criminal history record. Purdy also injured 29 children and one teacher before committing suicide. Purdy’s massacre seems largely motivated by racism. Prior to the murders, he spouted white-supremacist doctrine and frequently complained about Southeast Asian students – additionally, the murders at Cleveland Elementary School were focused on Southeast Asian children.
8 Northern Illinois University – 2008
The five murders committed by Steve Kazmierczak at Northern Illinois University are the first on this list that occurred at a university. In addition to the five murders, Kazmierczak also injured 21 people and finished his killing spree by committing suicide. One of the main contributing factors to Kazmierczak’s murders is the fact that several weeks before he snapped, he had stopped taking medication for mental illness, including Prozac, Ambien and Xanax. Today, a memorial exists at Northern Illinois University to commemorate those whose lives were taken from them by Kazmierczak.
7 West Nickel Mines Amish School – 2006
In 2006, a man named Charles Roberts IV murdered five Amish schoolgirls and injured five more at West Nickel Mines in Pennsylvania. Unlike most of the murderers on this list, Roberts had little connection with the school where he committed this massacre. Although he delivered milk in the Amish area, Roberts was not Amish himself. Despite this horrific atrocity, the Amish community met the events with forgiveness and acceptance, even calling the newly rebuilt school the “New Hope School.”
6 CSU Fullerton – 1976
37-year-old Edward Charles Allaway, a custodian at CSU Fullerton, opened fire on university students, killing seven and injuring two. Allaway confessed to the crime and even handed himself over to the police. Ultimately, Allaway was found not guilty due to insanity: he was victim of several delusions, the most severe of which involved the belief that his wife, from whom Allaway was recently separated, was being forced to participate in pornography. Although this shooting occurred nearly forty years ago, Allaway’s mental illness has not abated: he is currently institutionalized at Patton State Hospital.
5 Oikos University – 2012
Former student One L. Goh arrived at Oikos University in Oakland, California, and promptly killed seven students and injured three. Although Oakland has a violent repuation, this killing is considered the city’s deadliest massacre. Goh had several disagreements with the school, including financial disputes, claims that students mistreated him, and that he was allegedly expelled. Because Goh has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he currently awaits sentencing, but his outcome looks grim.
4 University of Texas – 1966
Former marine Charles J. Whitman was only 25 when he killed 16 people, including his wife and mother, and injured 32 at the University of Texas, Austin, before being shot and killed by an Austin police officer. Whitman, who had a history of spousal abuse, was able to kill such an astonishing number of people because he had an advantageous position: located in the university’s tower, Whitman was able to snipe all of his victims. Although it occurred nearly 50 years ago, the University of Texas Massacre remains one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.
3 Sandy Hook – 2012
The Sandy Hook shooting in Newton, Connecticut is both the most recent massacre on this list and the deadliest to ever occur at a high school in the US. Adam Lanza killed a total of 20 children and six teachers, after shooting and killing his own mother at their home. Lanza added another death to the total when he shot himself in the head as police arrived on the scene. We can only hope that the horrific incident at Sandy Hook will be the last of its kind.
2 Virginia Tech – 2007
The attack waged by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, in 2007, is one of the deadliest massacres ever committed by a single gunman. Cho murdered a total of 32 people and injured 17. The events at Virginia Tech helped raise public awareness about mental health – Cho had been previously diagnosed with mental disorders, but never received the help he needed.
1 Columbine – 1999
Although the events that transpired at Columbine High School in 1999 don't make up the deadliest school shooting in American history, it is certainly the school shooting that resonates most in the public consciousness. Two senior boys formulated a highly complicated attack plan and implemented it on April 20th. They murdered 12 students, one teacher, and injured a total of 24 people. Like many of the massacres on this list, the events at Columbine ended with the suicides of the perpetrators. The Columbine Massacre deeply affected the American public and elicited many public conversations about the nature of gun control, bullying and violence in the media.