Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023, part two | Marvin Zuker

By Marvin Zuker

Law360 Canada (January 18, 2023, 11:35 AM EST) --
Marvin Zuker
On the morning of Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a former marine, stepped out on the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower and aimed his Remington bolt-action rifle at his first victim on the campus below. More than an hour after the shooting began, 15 people were dead and 31 injured. Among those was Claire Wilson, the first target, who was shot in the stomach. Wilson, who was eight months pregnant at the time, lost her unborn child and spent several months recovering in the hospital.

The massacre at the University of Texas at Austin wasn’t the first mass shooting in recent history. But at that time, it was the deadliest, and marked a turning point in public awareness of mass shootings and shooters in the era of mass media.

On the night of Oct. 1, 2017, businessman Stephen Paddock smashed the windows of his 32nd-floor suite in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and fired his semiautomatic rifle on thousands of people attending an outdoors country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Fifty-eight people were killed and 887 were injured after a massacre that took only 10 minutes.

Despite a few similarities in Whitman’s and Paddock’s personal backgrounds and modus operandi, the men were as different as night and day. Whitman was a former altar boy and Eagle Scout in a difficult but devoted marriage. Paddock had no religious or political affiliations and had married and divorced twice. But their attacks helped frame a new database of mass shooters that hopes to inform future research and policy decisions about how to effectively prevent and respond to mass shootings (See the Violence Project).

According to The Violence Project, nearly all mass shooters have four things in common:

• Early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age;

• An identifiable grievance or crisis point;

• Have studied the actions of past shooters and seek validation for their methods and motives; and

• The means to carry out an attack.

The K-12 School Shooting Database found that the 2022 calendar year broke the record for the most school shootings in over four decades and marked one of the most violent years for youth ages 12 to 17.

As of Dec. 20, 2022, there were 300 shooting incidents on school grounds so far, compared to 250 in 2021 and 114 in 2020, according to the database. A decade earlier, 2010 saw 15 school shootings.

The database also documents incidents involving former students, police officers or school resource officers, staff, those of unknown relationships and more.We must consider safety measures to keep dangerous intruders out. It’s important to have policies for addressing violent situations involving people who are familiar faces on school property.

“I think Uvalde showed that sitting under desks in the classroom is not a good strategy. It would have been much better in that situation if the kids ran out of the building.” David Riedman, K-12 School Shooting Database founder.

A one-size-fits-all approach to school security is not effective.

Police responding to the shooting situation at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, have been accused of ”indecision, dysfunction, and harm” during the school’s more than hour-long lockdown, according to a $27-billion class action lawsuit filed by victims’ families and survivors. Two teachers and 19 students died during the May 24, 2022 tragedy.

Uvalde has contributed to a climate of great ambiguity and uncertainty around school safety and an increase in parents demanding that school leaders reassess their security and emergency preparedness. The silence of the school leaders in Ontario is deafening.

It is about training school staff on situational awareness, quickly recognizing changes in behaviour patterns and developing decision-making skills under duress.There must be a culture where school safety is everyone’s job, every day.

The Memorial to Fallen Educators in the U.S, Emporia, Kansas, opened in June 2014. Representatives from Newtown traveled to Kansas to attend the ceremony. It was a way and a need to honour teachers and others killed while carrying out their regular job duties.

The names of 179 teachers, custodians, bus drivers and other school workers killed on the job are carved into three granite books on the grounds of Emporia State University. In recent years, about half have been victims of guns. Others have died in accidents, including fires and falls.

In 2022, the memorial added the names of Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, the two teachers who were killed in Uvalde in May when 19 children were also murdered.

Families and survivors in Uvalde filed a $27-billion class-action lawsuit on Nov. 30, 2022, against the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, law enforcement, city officials, an AR-15 gun manufacturer and the store where the gun was purchased.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for damages related to permanent physical and psychological trauma resulting from the district, city and law enforcement officials’ “conduct and omissions” during the day of the tragic shooting. Additionally, the gun manufacturer, Daniel Defense, and point of purchase, Oasis Outback, are being sued for gross negligence for advertising and selling an assault rifle to the 18-year-old shooter who killed 19 students and two teachers.

“Instead of swiftly implementing an organized and concerted response to an active school shooter who had breached the otherwise ‘secured’ school buildings at Robb Elementary school,” the lawsuit says, the 376 law enforcement officials onsite for the 77 minutes of “indecision, dysfunction, and harm, fell exceedingly short of their duty-bound standards.”

“The shooter walked right into an open door,” civil rights attorney Charles Bonner said. “Had the parents been informed that the school district was not adequately protecting their children, then — under the 14th Amendment right of liberty — they could have chosen to move their children to another location in order to protect their children’s safety and health.”

Three Uvalde parents filed a separate lawsuit in September 2022 against the school district, the former school district police chief, the former school principal, law enforcement officials and an AR-15 gun manufacturer. That lawsuit claims officials failed to lock campus doors, send a campus wide alert and use its intercom system. Consequently, the “shooter was free to shoot children and teachers for more than an hour and with school and local police just feet away,” according to the lawsuit.

In Newtown, Conn., the day known to the rest of the world as the 10th anniversary of the deadliest K-12 school shooting in U.S. history is simply called 12/14. It’s a shorthand that allows students to refer to the events of that day — Dec. 14, 2012.

In Parkland, Fla., students participate in a day of service on the anniversary of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In Littleton, Colo., students who weren’t even born the day of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School attend vigils and services to mark the date on the calendar.

This is the second instalment of a five-part series. Part one: Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023: March for our lives.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, 
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