For ‘lockdown generation’ school shootings are their reality

May 26, 2022, 10:47 AM | Updated: May 27, 2022, 12:25 pm
FILE - Students are led out of school as members of the Fountain Police Department take part in an ...

FILE - Students are led out of school as members of the Fountain Police Department take part in an Active Shooter Response Training exercise at Fountain Middle School in Fountain, Colo., on June 9, 2017. Since 2012, a total of 73 students have been killed in school shootings with at least four victims shot and two victims killed, according to research by James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who studies mass killings. (Dougal Brownlie/The Gazette via AP, File)

(Dougal Brownlie/The Gazette via AP, File)

A day after the school massacre in Texas, Ohio teacher Renee Coley thought her sixth grade students would need time to process, so she opened class with a video about the news and started a discussion. Some students said they were sad. Some were dismayed the 19 slain children were so young.

After a few minutes, though, the conversation fizzled. Students were ready to move on with their day. To Coley, it was a grim reminder that the students had seen it all before, had grown accustomed to the ever-present threat of guns in school.

“They have no questions because these kids have grown up their entire lives and this has been the reality for them,” said Coley, who teaches in Reynoldsburg, outside Columbus. “They’ve processed this so many times. … It’s just another news day for them.”

The interaction highlights how students across America have grown up numb to the violence that has been playing out throughout their lives in schools and communities — and in much greater frequency since the pandemic.

The bloodbath at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday marked the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Police say the shooter, an 18-year-old man, was killed by law enforcement at the school. Two teachers were also killed.

Although mass shootings of that magnitude are rare, researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School have recorded 504 cases of gun violence at elementary, middle and high schools since the start of 2020 — a number that eclipses the previous eight years combined.

The database includes a range of cases, including students brandishing guns or opening fire in classrooms, bathrooms, cafeterias or gyms. It counts students who have used guns to take their own lives at school. And it also tracks violence that doesn’t involve students, including overnight shootings near school grounds.

An alarming number have involved teens who turned to violence to resolve spur-of-the-moment conflicts, said David Riedman, a criminologist who co-founded the database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

“The majority of those incidents are escalations of disputes,” Riedman said. “There are more teenagers carrying concealed handguns in school who are getting into fights and shooting people. And that is not something that we were seeing before the pandemic.”

Violence and other trauma have become common enough for schoolchildren that Chicago Public Schools developed a 15-page guide called “The Day After,” to help teachers and staff coach students through processing painful events.

The proliferation of guns in homes, coupled with an overburdened mental health system that has left many students without the help they need, has fueled the increase in school gun violence, researchers say.

In fact, violent incidents involving guns have increased across all of America since the pandemic started — not just in schools.

“Gun violence is like a flood, and when your community is flooded, all your buildings take on water,” said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.

Schools are still among the safest places for children, Cornell emphasized, with most killings taking place in homes, public streets or other locales. But he also thinks mass shootings in schools will continue unless America addresses its longstanding shortage of school mental health workers.

“Some kids get helped, but a small number come away traumatized and scarred, angry and aggrieved,” he said. For some of those, “at some crisis point in their life, they are going to commit some type of violent act toward themselves or others.”

After every mass school shooting, Laurel Brooks, a high school graphic design and game-art teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, tries to guide students through conversations and artwork that can help them express their thoughts. After the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 14 students and three staff members, students worked on a graphic essay that described themselves as “the lockdown generation.” The theme has resonated with subsequent classes.

“It is frightening that it is consistent,” she said. “They have grown up with it. … They are still children, and they shouldn’t have to be resilient to this kind of trauma.”

Los Angeles social studies teacher Nicolle Fefferman started her high school classes Wednesday with questions about how people were feeling after the Uvalde massacre — on the heels of the supermarket killings in Buffalo and the church attack in Orange County, California, the third major shooting she’d processed with them in two weeks.

“What I was hearing was a lot of frustration from the students I teach that this hasn’t been fixed. And a lot of anger that we seem to be the only country that these things happen in. And students ask: ‘Why?’ ” she said.

In one of her classes, students began listing all the times they’ve had to be in lockdowns. Then the students asked Fetterman what it was like when she was young. Her answer stunned them, she said.

“They said, ‘You didn’t do lockdown drills when you were growing up?'” they asked. “‘No, guys, this was not a part of my experience,’ ” she said she answered.

“This is the generation that has been engaged in these drills the way we used to do earthquake and fire drills,” Fetterman said.

Mass shootings in schools have remained a grim presence in America, but their numbers have held relatively even in recent years. Since 2012, a total of 73 students have been killed in school shootings with at least four victims shot and two victims killed, according to research by James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who studies mass killings.

Last year there was one school shooting of that scale, a rampage at an Oxford, Michigan, high school that left four students dead. On Thursday, hundreds of Oxford High School students walked out and formed a ‘U’ on the football field to show support for students and families in Uvalde, Texas. A school spokeswoman said it was part of a national effort calling for changes in gun laws.

In 2020, with many school buildings closed as part of pandemic precautions, there were no school shootings of that magnitude.

“There really hasn’t been an increase in large-scale shootings at schools. When you look at the risks, they are extremely low,” he said. Fox described the increased gun violence during the pandemic as an “aberration,” saying there’s “no reason to think the numbers will continue to rise.”

Still, other experts worry heightened school violence could continue. They say students are as stressed as ever after a traumatic two years, and schools lack the resources to help. They also point to factors such as the nation’s increasingly divided political and cultural climate.

“There’s a lot of forces converging here that are creating a stew of anger, grievance and easy access to firearms,” said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

“It’s incredibly alarming,” he added. “We should not think of this as normal, we should not think of this as acceptable, and we must act to protect children. We have failed as a society if we don’t protect children to be able to come home safely from school.”


Associated Press reporter Kathleen Foody contributed from Chicago.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


The Associated Press’ reporting around issues of race and ethnicity is supported in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - White House counsel Pat Cipollone departs the U.S. Capitol following defense arguments in th...
Associated Press

Trump White House counsel Cipollone to testify to 1/6 panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pat Cipollone, Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, is scheduled to testify Friday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to a person briefed on the matter. Cipollone, whose reported resistance to Trump’s schemes to overturn his 2020 election defeat has made him a long-sought […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Inquest: Seattle police shooting of pregnant woman justified

SEATTLE (AP) — An inquest jury found Wednesday that two Seattle police officers were justified in fatally shooting a mentally unstable, pregnant, Black mother of four children inside her apartment when she menaced them with knives in 2017. The six King County coroner’s inquest jurors unanimously determined that officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew, who […]
18 hours ago
Yesenia Hernandez, granddaughter to Nicolas Toledo, who was killed during Monday's Highland Park., ...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Should red-flag law have stopped parade shooting?

CHICAGO (AP) — Days after a rooftop gunman killed seven people at a parade, attention has turned to how the assailant obtained multiple guns and whether the laws on Illinois books could have prevented the Independence Day massacre. Illinois gun laws are generally praised by gun-control advocates as tougher than in most states. But they […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

4 bears killed in Alaska campground reserved for homeless

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife officials have killed four black bears in a campground recently reserved for people in Anchorage who are homeless after the city’s largest shelter was closed. Employees from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday killed a sow and her two cubs and another adult bear that was […]
18 hours ago
Yesenia Hernandez, granddaughter to Nicolas Toledo, who was killed during Monday's Highland Park., ...
Associated Press

‘Taken too soon’: Remembering Highland Park shooting victims

CHICAGO (AP) — Two of the victims of a July 4 parade massacre in a Chicago suburb left behind a 2-year-old son. Another was staying with family in Illinois after he was injured in car wreck about two months earlier. For some, it was a tradition. They were avid travelers, members of their synagogue and […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-‘Cheer’ star Harris gets 12 years for seeking photos, sex

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced Jerry Harris, a former star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” to 12 years in prison for coercing teenage boys to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions. U.S. District Judge Manish Shah also ordered that the sentence […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
For ‘lockdown generation’ school shootings are their reality