More than 50 killings or suicides occur each year at or near U.S. schools, according to the first systematic study of violent school-related deaths.
Most deaths are in urban areas, involve handguns and teenagers and are the result of "interpersonal conflicts," according to the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examined deaths from July 1, 1992, through June 30, 1994. Almost a third of the deaths were gang-related."We think of schools as safe havens," said James Mercy, director of the CDC's Division of Violence Prevention. "These deaths fly in the face of that sentiment."
The CDC study, to be published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, identified 105 school-related violent deaths, including 85 killings and 20 suicides. Victims included 76 students, 63 of them in grades nine through 12.
And while the deaths account for less than 1 percent of killings and suicides among school-age children, they represent the "tip of the iceberg" of all the violent acts that go on around schools, Mercy said.
School-related deaths were those that occurred on the campus of an elementary or secondary school or while the victim was on the way to or from school or a school event.
Researchers used online news data bases and followed up by studying police reports, medical examiners' records, and by interviewing police and school officials.
Of all the deaths, 81 were caused by firearms - at least 62 of them handguns - 18 by knives or blades, five by ropes and one without a weapon. Thirty-three deaths were gang-related.
The 105 fatalities occurred at 101 different schools in 25 states. Sixty-three deaths occurred in urban areas, 32 in suburban areas and 10 in rural areas.
The researchers, led by Dr. S. Patrick Kachur, said preventing school deaths will require more than a classroom approach and will need to involve whole communities.
And since "interpersonal conflicts" was the biggest motive - accounting for 35 deaths - improving young people's ability to resolve conflicts may go a long way toward reducing the risk of violence, researchers said.
Dr. Michael Doyle of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who was not involved in the study, agreed community-based approaches are key. He also supports a blanket ban on handguns.
But a spokesman for the Gun Owners of America, based in Springfield, Va., said a gun ban would not accomplish the goal. The highest rate of gun deaths in the study was in urban areas, which tend to have the strongest anti-gun laws, said spokesman John Vellecko.
School-associated violent deaths
From 1992 to 1994, 105 schoolage children or staff members were murdered or committed suicide in or near their school.
Where students died
On campus 64.8%
Other indoor location 11.4%
Parking area 10.5%
Other outdoor location 24.8%
Off campus 35.2%
In vehicle 12.4%
Private property 3.8%
How they died
> Firearm 77.1%
Knife or other blade 17.1%
No weapon 1%