This is the first part of a four-part series on safety in the schools.

 

When you talk to local officials about school safety they speak in terms of eras: BCE and CE. That is before the Columbine Era and the Columbine Era.

The division line between the two is April 20, 1999.

In the early days of the 1950s, the problems of BCE school safety amounted to controlling kids who talked back to teachers, bullies who slammed the chess club kids against lockers, and popping gum in class; by early 1999, that was already changing to students drinking, the arrival of gangs in schools and, fights in the halls, student pregnancy and keeping the flow of drugs on campuses to a minimum.

Then April 20, 1999, happened.

At 11:19 a.m., students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into a Colorado high school — Columbine named for the colorful, perennial flower — and opened fire on students. The carefully-planned attack included propane tanks converted to bombs in the cafeteria and numerous pipe bombs that they threw as they moved through the school.

Police responded to emergency calls but, while they occasionally exchanged shots with the shooters through doorways and windows, they did not enter the school. SWAT teams arrived around noon but didn’t enter the school until 1:09 p.m.

By then, Klebold and Harris had already shot themselves an hour before. Another 12 students and a teacher were dead. Another 21 were wounded by gunfire.

To believe some websites and organizations, hundreds of shooters have stalked American campuses, and students are looking over their shoulders all the time, too terrified for their lives to learn their lessons.

It’s not as bad as that. Still, shootings occur and any school or college is a potential target. Here is a partial list of mass school shootings since Columbine, as compiled by the Virginia Pilot:


Red Lake High School in Minnesota, March 21, 2005. 16-year-old Jeff Weis shoots his grandfather, grandfather’s partner and seven classmates before killing himself.
West Nickel Mines Amish School, Pennsylvania. Oct. 2, 2006. A dairy truck driver kills five schoolgirls before killing himself.
Virginia Tech, Virginia, April 16, 2007. Sung-Hui Cho commits the largest school shooting in American history, killing 32 students at the Blacksburg campus.
Northern Illinois University, Feb. 14, 2008. Steven Kazmierczak kills five students in a lecture hall before shooting himself.
Oikos University, California, April 2, 2012. A former nursing student kills seven nursing students and wounds three.
Sandy Hook Elementary, Connecticut. Dec. 14, 2012. Adam Lanza murders his mother before killing another 26, including 20 students.
Santa Monica College, California. John Zawahri kills five people on campus before he shot himself.
University of California, Santa Barbara, May 23, 2014. Elliot Rodger kills six before shooting himself.
Marysville Pilchuck High School, Washington, Oct. 24, 2014. A student kills four other students at lunch before killing himself.
Umpqua Community College, Oregon, Oct. 1, 2015. A student kills his professor and eight others, as well as wounding eight, before taking his own life.
Marshall County High School, Kentucky, Jan. 23, 2018. A 15-year-old student kills two and wounds 14 before he was arrested.
Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, 2018. Former student Nikolas Cruz kills 17 people and wounds at least 15 others before fleeing campus. He is later caught by authorities.
Santa Fe High School, Texas, May 18, 2018. A student kills two teachers and eight students, wounding 13 others. He is later taken into custody.

The tally? From 2005 to May, 2018, 137 students, teachers and relatives have been killed in mass school shootings — and more wounded. That doesn't include the 13 at Columbine.

North Carolina has been fortunate so far, with no mass shootings, but officials are well aware that it could happen anywhere.

Columbine awoke local law enforcement, school, government and health officials to the deadly world students can face, forcing them to rethink not only how to respond to an active shooter — the first officer on the scene moves to engage the shooter and doesn’t wait for backup — but also how to secure campuses and to find students at risk of becoming shooters, to remove them and help them before more blood is spilled.

On Wednesday, we will look at ways law enforcement is addressing safety in schools, both reactively and proactively.