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This research paper focuses on the worst school shootings in the United States and their impact. It provides readers with a brief description of each tragedy, background information on the shooter, and the undetected impact on the survivors. I was able to use various news outlets, such as CNN, ABC, Youtube, Nightline, and other reliable sources to gain knowledge on this topic. Due to recent incidents that took place in my community, I could relate to the subject matter of this paper. This paper aims to promote understanding and awareness of gun violence.
According to data through October 4, 2018, there have been more than 65 school shootings in the United States of America, matching last year’s total. Some of these incidents resulted in deaths, and others where the shooter was unsuccessful, as noted on ABC15.com. Gun violence has increased over the years, causing students, educators, parents, and concerned citizens to be anxious, scared, and ready for a change. The escalating number of school shootings has generated awareness through social media, news outlets, and testimonies of the victims and survivors.
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Our nation faces numerous challenges, but none compares to the impact of gun violence in schools. Recently, there were two incidents in my community that affected our youth directly. On Wednesday, October 19, in two separate schools in Brooklyn, New York, a gun was discovered: one in an elementary school bathroom and another in the book bag of an intruder posing as a student at Maxwell High School.
This incident hitting close to home pushed me to understand past events and their impact on witnesses, bystanders, surviving victims, and the families of the deceased. The elementary school where the gun was discovered is only a few blocks away from my workplace. However, what is more disturbing is the mention of two parents shooting outside of the school due to a disagreement.
As I began to write my paper, I decided to guide you, the reader, through a timeline of 11 of the worst school shootings in the United States. I wanted to delve into the past to see if a trend exists or if perpetrators tend to commit these heinous crimes within a specific timeframe. Before proceeding, I wanted to inform you that gun violence is the leading cause of premature death in the U.S., accounting for more than 38,000 deaths and nearly 85,000 injuries each year.
As a longtime advocate for violence prevention policies, APHA recognizes a comprehensive public health approach is necessary to address this growing crisis (apha.org). In addition, families and survivors of past shootings are raising awareness alongside APHA about the escalation of gun violence among our youth. During the period of 1976 – 2018, the United States experienced 11 of the worst school shootings.
On May 18, 1927, a significant event took place at Bath School. A school board treasurer, Andrew Kehoe, killed 38 elementary school students and six adults in Bath Township, Michigan. He orchestrated this dreadful scene by setting off an explosion at the elementary school. Not satisfied, Kehoe then killed his wife, fire-bombed his farm, and ultimately killed himself by detonating a final device in his truck. Chicago-based writer, Arnie Bernstein, dedicated three years to researching and writing his book, “Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing”. In his book, Bernstein delves into Kehoe’s history and gathers first-hand accounts of his life in Bath.
Bernstein warns readers against hastily concluding that Kehoe committed the mass murder-suicide solely because of his anger over increased property taxes, which funded the school’s construction, or because he harbored resentment towards fellow school board members or administrators. Bernstein posits that Kehoe was a psychopath, a character whose logic will never align with ours. He asserts that the crime was “meticulously” planned and suggests that the dynamite Kehoe set off on his farm, just months earlier on New Year’s Eve, was likely a kind of “dress rehearsal” for the school bombing (Lansing State Journal).
Irene Babcock, a survivor, was 19 at the time of the massacre. She vividly remembers staying home because she had a sore throat. Babcock’s two siblings were at the school during the attack but miraculously survived. She shared her experience of attending classes in a local drug store post-attack and questioned the guilt she felt because she proceeded with her pre-planned wedding.
Another notorious event a few decades later was the University of Texas Tower shooting. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, an ex-Marine sharpshooter, ascended a tower at the University of Texas and began firing at people on the campus. He killed 14 and wounded many others. A few years after that, six individuals died at California State Fullerton on July 12, 1976. The perpetrator was a custodian, Edward Charles Allaway, who opened fire at the school.
While in junior high school, I heard about the Columbine High School shooting. The incident involved students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who killed 13 people and injured 24 before killing themselves. It happened on April 20, 1999, in Columbine, Colorado. The live videos shown on the news, depicting frightened parents and injured individuals leaping out the windows, created an unforgettable image.
From my research, I gathered statements from surviving victims indicating that the killers randomly questioned their peers about their religious beliefs, shooting those who affirmed their faith in God. Additionally, it was revealed that the boys were outcasts who didn’t get along with many of their peers. They belonged to a Marilyn Manson group and chose April 20 for the crime, as it coincided with Hitler’s birthday. A chilling reminder of their mental state, they portrayed no form of sorrow. I am convinced that the boys were in a delusional, emotionless, and heartless state.
Victim Hochhalter was shot twice – once in the back and once in the upper arm. She was paralyzed from the waist down, but the arm wound was life-threatening, she said, because the bullet went through and “hit everything.” She suffered nerve damage and endured a long, painful recovery, but over time she said she tried to move on and find peace. “I realize that holding onto that anger does nothing,” she told ABC News, “You know, it just brings you down.” (ABC News). Unfortunately, Columbine was the beginning of a new trend of school shootings.
Time went by and we heard of other tragedies. Then, boom! We were faced with another school shooting at Red Lake Indian Reservation. On March 21, 2005, Jeffrey Weise killed seven people at Red Lake Senior High School in Red Lake, Minnesota. I thought to myself, why would someone want to inflict harm on innocent bystanders again? But when we started to hear of the struggles that some of these individuals were dealing with, we understood that someone who shows signs of mental health problems should be taken seriously – they must receive services that can benefit them.
When we think about someone’s mental health, we automatically believe that everyone should be able to cope with whatever difficulties they are faced with. We don’t always take a deeper look at their frame of thinking or interpretation of their personal emotions. The school shooting at Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on students at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, hit home for me because I had a friend attending that school at the time.
Cho killed 32 people and injured 17. The shooting took place on April 16, 2007. Cho committed suicide, and many of his victims were left traumatized, suffering from various forms of depression. The Oikos University shooting, where One L. Goh killed seven students at the Korean Christian College at Oikos University in Oakland, California, was another tragedy.
Throughout the decade, we have heard of high school and college shootings. Yet, not once did we expect to face another elementary school shooting. The Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting unfolded right before the holidays on Dec. 14, 2012. Noted as the second-worst shooting of all time in the United States, shooter Adam Lanza killed his mother before heading to the school in Newtown, Connecticut, where he killed 26 children and adults.
This community was left distraught. Adam, a former student of the school, had a history of mental health issues and was not deemed a threat to himself or others by his doctors. Lanza “had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others,” (CNN.com). Adam had an infatuation with guns; he enjoyed using them with his mother. In 2005, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – doctors noted he “lacked empathy” and showed “extreme anxiety and discomfort with changes, noise, and physical contact with others,” (CNN.com). One thing I gathered from this research is the impact denial can have on a family.
The Adams family, especially Adam’s mother, was in denial of his multiple disabilities. As a result, she did not go above and beyond to get Adam the help he truly deserved. Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, two parents who lost their sons on that chilly December morning, have started the Sandy Hook Promise foundation along with several other parents.
Through this foundation, they are able to educate schools about the various signs that they can and should look for to prevent gun violence. As they continue to try to keep the memory of their beloved sons alive, these parents have found joy in spreading knowledge. Five months after the Sandy Hook shooting, the parents along with then-president Obama tried to change the gun laws. However, they were unsuccessful.
Next was the Umpqua Community College where Christopher Harper-Mercer killed nine people in Roseburg, Oregon, on Oct. 1, 2015. This was followed by the West Nickel Mines shooting where Charles Carl Roberts shot eight and killed five girls at an Amish school in Bart Township, Pennsylvania.
This year, on Valentine’s Day, there was a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen individuals were killed in Parkland, Florida. The alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was taken into custody after the shooting. Cruz, who has a series of emotional disorders and was a victim of bullying, found comfort and confided in a 13-year-old adolescent from another state. Cruz told her that “he was angry at the school because he got bullied a lot,” according to the girl’s statement recorded by a Broward Sheriff’s Office detective investigating the crime (Miamiherald.com). Cruz was expelled from school and was referred to a transfer school, but he refused to attend. Being 18, it would not have been considered educational neglect. After the tragedy at Parkland, the students vowed to take a stand against gun violence. Student Eden Hebron stated seven weeks later, “I am just beginning to understand the painful aftermath of this massacre.”
Differentiating between trauma and grief was no easy task. “It’s as if both of those terrible battles collided in my brain, and came at me all at once. Like a monster. The rest of my experience at Douglas has not been ruined, it’s been altered. But most importantly, I have been altered. My aspirations, my beliefs, my perspectives, my lifestyle, even my fears in this life have changed. Immediately after the shooting, I felt hopeless. Like my life had been ruined. Then I refused to think this way. I am not going to allow another school to lose 17 people and I will most certainly not allow anyone else to see their friends get shot and die.”
As I conclude, I can honestly say that I began writing this paper wanting to know more about school shootings. I never anticipated that delving into this research would have such an impact on me. Going back to 1927 and hearing the story of a 109-year-old survivor reflecting on her feelings of helplessness and guilt for moving forward with her life after so many others had lost theirs was heartbreaking. When I compared her mental health state to that of the Parkland survivors, they bore a striking resemblance: both victims felt guilty for moving on. However, the survivors of Parkland decided to take a stand against gun violence, and they have had the support of the media as advocates for change.
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