Just a ‘normal’ day
On April 20, 1999, Samantha Haviland was excited to go to school. It was a beautiful spring Tuesday, and the 16-year-old decided to put on a pretty blue dress and strappy high-heels.
She was feeling good about her second place finish at a junior varsity golf tournament the day before and prom the week earlier. Plus, she had a crush on a guy at her high school in Littleton, Colorado.
Haviland was selling chips and sodas to raise money for her golf team on the outskirts of the lunch room, enjoying the moment with her friends.
Then, a girl ran into the cafeteria, yelling that someone outside had a gun. A custodian started shoving people under tables as students tried to hide.
She remembers her friends pulling her along as they tried to run to safety.
She heard five gunshots; then, a big bang.
She ripped off her heels, and kept running. Nothing made sense to her. After all, school was supposed to be a safe place. Her safe place — where she excelled on the debate team. On the golf team. As a peer counselor.
She survived, but 12 students and a teacher were killed. More than 20 others were injured. The horror and pain still haunt Samantha to this day — far beyond the schoolyard gates.
What is a School Shooting?
There are no official definitions for school shootings or for school shooters.
The FBI defines active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines school violence as “youth violence that occurs on school property, on the way to or from school or school-sponsored events, or during a school-sponsored event.”
The Washington Post keeps a database of instances of gun violence that impact students. It begins in 1999 and includes any violent action.
For the purpose of this project, our team formed our own definitions to help guide our reporting.
A school shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people on a educational institution’s campus or property with a firearm.
A school shooting is an attack with a firearm on an educational institution’s campus by one or more individuals with the intent to harm or kill people.
Not included in this definition are instances of vandalism involving a gun or instances of suicide on school campus.
School Shootings (1999-2019)
Our definitions were used to compile a list of every school shooting from 2000 to 2018 using the Washington Post’s gun violence database and the FBI’s active shooter list.
Since Columbine, there have been more than 200 school shootings across America.
In the last decade, the United States has averaged approximately 10 school shootings a year with more than two victims on average per shooting.
A National Epidemic
Tragedy after tragedy, all following a pattern that’s become all too familiar. The immediate grief and survivor’s remorse of those left behind, for some, will turn into activism to hold people accountable and try to prevent this from happening again.
Then, the community begins to self-assess — did they do enough — until sadly another school shooting occurs and the the struggle to cope and overcome repeats in some other community in the United States.
Across America, nearly 230,000 children have experienced gun violence on their school grounds, according to the Washington Post. A team of 15 journalists from WUFT News traveled to Littleton, Colorado, Parkland, Florida, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada to learn about these tragedies, what has changed and the solutions some are calling for.
And those on the front lines — everyone who has attended school from 1999 onward — are part of Generation Gunned Down.
Here are their stories.
Up next: The Survivors »