Ever since the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I cringe every time there is a “breaking news” bulletin on TV, fearing it might be news of another school shooting.
I cannot figure out why, in all the discussions after Sandy Hook, commentators and others have not brought up another elementary-school shooting that seems to have been completely forgotten. It’s the heartbreaking incident that happened Oct. 2, 2006 at the one-room Amish schoolhouse in the village of Nickel Mines, Penn. A gunman entered that school, took hostages, let some go, then shot 10 girls ages 6-13, killing five of them. Those poor little girls endured nearly an hour of stark terror before they were shot. The monster killed himself.
The other day, wondering if school shootings are just a modern aberration, I decided to research the subject. To my stunned surprise, there have been an estimated 350 or so recorded school shootings in the United States in the past 250 years.
The first one in American history happened in Greencastle, Penn. in 1760 when a Native American shot to death a schoolmaster and nine children during the Pontiac Indian rebellion.
As far as the number of victims, the worst school slaughter, which I had never heard about, happened on May 18, 1927 in Bath, Mich. A school treasurer named Andrew Kehoe killed his wife on their farm and burned the house down. Meantime, the dynamite he’d planted earlier blew up in the Bath school, collapsing the building and killing 44, almost all of them children; 58 suffered injuries. Kehoe then drove to the school. As rescuers tried to uncover the wounded, Kehoe set off a bomb in his car, killing himself and four others standing nearby.
Most school shootings involved the following reasons: boys bringing guns to school that accidentally discharged; now and then, a student killing another student in the classroom or on the school grounds as an act of revenge; student suicides; students or relatives of students killing teachers because of some slight, real or imagined; teachers or staff shooting other teachers or staff; women teachers killed in schools by men whose romantic advances had been rejected.
The following is from an editorial in the Los Angeles Herald, 1874, about the shooting death of a school boy:
“This boy lost his life through the too-common habit among boys of carrying deadly weapons. We do not know that this habit can be broken up. We do not know that school teachers have the right, or would exercise it if they had, of searching the pockets of their pupils, but it seems almost a necessity that such a rule be enforced . . . Nearly every school boy carries a pistol, and the power of these pistols ranges from the harmless six-bit auction (gun) to the deadly Colt six-shooter.”
It’s pathetic that after 128 years, we still grapple with similar gun-culture questions.
Mass shootings in schools for no obvious reasons seem to be very much a recent sickness of the past 30 or 40 years. Such incidents have accelerated just since the mid-1990s. Most of us remember the most notorious incidents, whose names toll out like somber funeral bells: Columbine, Cold Spring, Red Lake, Virginia Tech, Littleton, Northern Illinois University, Newtown . . .
Since 2000, there have been 68 reported school shootings, the most recent being April 29, a student suicide in a Cincinnati high school. Almost 150 people died in the shootings of the past 13 years.
What’s certain – horrifying but certain – is that school shootings will continue. Sad to say, many probably can’t be prevented. A ban on assault-type weapons would help. But, at the very least, let’s keep pressuring elected officials to pass a background-checks law for sales online and at gun shows. Those who voted against background checks should hang their heads in shame. If such checks can save even just one school student (or anybody else, for that matter), such a law (so do-able and common-sense rational) will be well worth passing.
Unlike so many school shootings that fade in our memories, the killings at Sandy Hook must never be forgotten. The parents of those dead children are crying out for gun-safety measures, and so are 90 percent of the rest of us. Legislators, just who are you representing – the people or the NRA bosses?