K-12 School Shooting Database Examined
The K-12 School Shooting Database has documented ~2,400 school shootings since 1966, providing free data to help shape the planning and procedures schools put in place to improve their security.
IPVM interviewed the K-12 School Shooting Database founder, David Riedman, to understand the background of the database, the collection methodology, how the data is used, and who has access to the data.
David Riedman, the founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, is a current criminal justice doctoral student at the University of Central Florida and has a Master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School. Riedman works at an IT Services and Consulting company Miracle Systems, as a Senior Program Manager and an Adjunct Faculty Member for Aurora University in the Criminal Justice Department.
K-12 School Shooting Database Overview
The database started in 2018 after the Parkland High School Shooting as a school project. The founder Riedman and his classmate hoped to develop a threat assessment tool to prevent future incidents by documenting school shootings. The database includes school shootings that date back to 1966 (expanded from 1970). However, the first recorded school shooting occurred in 1764, known as the Enoch Brown School Massacre.
The database started as a class project, right after the shooting in Parkland. I was working with a classmate and we were hoping to develop a threat assessment tool, but we wanted to be able to not just have a tool that looks good on paper. But actually would prevent prior incidents. And that's when we realized that there was not a lot of data available on prior school shootings. There were lots of static lists, but if you wanted to sort by different features or characteristics of the incidents, to try to figure out which ones would be prevented with the threat assessment tool, there really was no data source available to do that.
The database then moved on from a school project to a public project for the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School and then was cut after the Uvalde School Shooting:
This started as an internal database. It became a class project. It became a Research Center's public project. It was abruptly cut after Uvalde due to political pressure.
The founder Riedman then took on the project as an independent research project:
Rather than let the project die, I've continued it now as an independent research project with the intent of making the data available to as many people as possible.
K-12 School Shooting Database Mission
The founder Riedman told IPVM that the mission of the database is to have a source of data for reports to be made that are then used by decision-makers to make better-informed decisions.
So that there can be academic reports based on data if superintendents or school officials are planning to make a purchase. I hoped that they would look at this data and understand the characteristics of incidents so that they can make informed decisions. And anybody thinking about school security planning for the context. The threat would take a look at 2400 prior incidents and use that to shape their planning and procedures going forward.
Riedman stated he spends a few hours daily on the project while receiving "minimal" funding from Every Town for Gun Safety.
It's mostly just my own time that supports this. I have a partnership with Every Town for Gun Safety that they provide a kind of minimal amount of funding. But essentially, it's just my own time and my own effort I spend between maybe one to three hours a day on it.
The database is composed of four tabs located within a Google sheet, documenting school shootings since 1966. Each tab contains specific information about each school shooting, explained below.
The "Incident" tab contains summary details (e.g., Location, Time, Duration, etc.). The "Shooter" tab contains shooter information (e.g., age, gender, race, etc.). The "Weapon" tab contains weapon information (e.g., type, caliber, and details). The "Victim" tab contains victim information (e.g., gender, age, race, etc.).
Below is a sample database structure diagram of the K-12 School Shooting Database created by IPVM to show all variables tracked within the database.
The publicly available data visualizations show many elements, e.g.
Notably, the database allows for filtering by many decisions, including by years, which, e.g., reveals that shooting incidents have shifted significantly from being a mix of indoor and outdoor to being overwhelmingly done outdoors:
2007 - 2012
2017 - 2022
Additionally, the founder, Riedman, told IPVM that a small portion of school shootings happen inside the classroom, and most schools' shooting reaction plans to focus on the shooting occurring inside the classroom.
A small portion of the shootings happen in the classroom, and most active shooter planning and most technology that vendors are creating is designed around making that classroom, a fortified, safe room essentially.
However, based on the K-12 School Shooting Database data, ~25% (35 of 142) of the shootings in the past 5 years that happened inside the school occurred in the classroom.
Riedman told IPVM that the shootings outside of the classroom are more common, occurring during transition periods when students are moving around the building.
There's a very small portion of events that occur in that classroom. It's actually shootings during transition periods that are far more common. You have shootings at lunch and dismissal and arrival after school events, sporting events. When students are in the hallways between classes.
Lastly, the founder, Riedman, told IPVM that schools' technology/reaction plans do not consider the transition periods.
Most security planning and a lot of security technologies don't account for those time periods at all.
The website contains free charts and visualization tools that anyone can use to drill down on different features.
There is a couple of different features on the website that are public and available to anyone. There are some aggregate charts about all the shootings, there is some information specific to active shooter attacks… and then there's a data visualization tool, which allows people to sort by state or region, year incident type, number of fatalities or injuries, whatever they want and that data visualization tool in the drill down feature then it will show the narratives from incidents and various details.
The raw data is free to media, academic research institutions, or school system members. The data is not available to anyone who wants to use it for sales/promotional material and is for-profit.
In terms of the raw data. It lives on a Google Sheet, and I have a public version of it, which is kind of the finished subset and when I get a request for the raw data, if it's from a media organization, or from anybody who's academic researcher or affiliated with a school system, I provide them a copy of that public version of it in an Excel or a CSV, whichever they prefer. Then when I get a lot of requests from kind of vendors or for profit organizations, and at this point, I've made the decision to not share the information specifically with a vendor that wants in for sales and promotional material. If somebody is wants the data for kind of beta testing or scenario development than there are some people that provided that with because it fits with developing a solution, but I don't want this to be, a tool for somebody to create, for profit, promotional materials.
Riedman told IPVM that he had provided the raw data to ~400 people and that the K-12 School Shooting Database site has received ~58K unique visitors in the last year.
I've provided the raw data to at least 400 people who are academics, public safety officials, school administrators, school board members, or non-profit groups. My website has 58k unique visitors since launch in July 2022.
Main Users - Media and Academic Researchers
When asked who are the most common users of the database, Riedman said the media and academic researchers.
I mean, overall, it is media, putting a chart of how many happened this year is the main use case…The most common users are academics where somebody's writing a dissertation or a thesis or a peer reviewed paper. And this is kind of a fully baked coded data set where you can combine it with another dataset that you have and produce a novel finding.
The founder, Riedman, provided IPVM with some example research papers where the K-12 School Shooting Database was cited, such as:
- A Descriptive Analysis of the Characteristics of School Shootings Across Five Decades
- When two public health crises converge: implications for children, policy, and practice
Methodology for Collecting Data
The database exists on a Google Sheets document and is updated and controlled manually by Riedman.
The definition of a school shooting that the K-12 database uses is any time a gun is brandished on school property.
The scope is widely inclusive by documenting every instance in which a gun is fired, brandished (pointed at a person with intent), or a bullet hits school property (including sidewalks, walking paths, athletic fields, and common areas expected to be frequented by students) regardless of the number of victims, time, day of the week, or reason (e.g., planned attack, accidental, domestic violence, gang-related).
Using the above definition, Riedman uses a collection of ~30 Google keyword alerts to populate new events. Past events are filled in from newspapers and court events, as well as community members passing along sources.
It's a threefold effort. I have about 30 different keyword Google Alerts that I review every day. And those provide pretty much every incident that occurs that's reported down to local news. So that's how all of the current incidents are put in. Folks on social media will also message me, links to incidents that have happened or even things that have happened in in their communities. So that's everything that's a current incident I updated every day. Now at the same time in the Google Alerts, there are a lot of updates when cases go to court. So I'm also seeing updates on prior incidents, and then I'm adding details and those might be, names of the shooter/victim. What happens specific times how much ammunition they had, what types of weapons they were used, what the original charges were, what they ended up being charged with or plead to if and minors charged as an adult. There's a lot of information that can kind of fill in those pieces. That's kind of a second layer of the more recent incidents. Then whenever I have time available, I have a subscription to newspapers.com and I will just do kind of random year or random keyword searches and try to find old incidents just doing keyword searches. So one of my goals is to continue adding to the 60s 70s and 80s and people also reach out to me with those incidents now. So I think that through kind of digging in the archives and then having a broader and broader network of stakeholders, there are more incidents from the earlier years that they can be added to give this holistic picture of the issue across the multiple different generations.
Missed Shootings in the Database
The founder Riedman told IPVM that he believes that the database has every event captured by the news from the last ~10 years:
Something that is reported in the news, I think that I very likely have nearly all of those incidents from the last 10 years or so.
He also states that he has about every multi-fatality incident dating back to 1966.
Across the entire 60 year period back to 66. I think I have just about every multi fatality incident, if there's a shooting where multiple people are shot. I think that there's a very good chance that it's been recorded.
The missing events, he claims, are the nonplanned attacks where somebody was not injured.
Those would be the shootings where it was very likely not a planned attack. And it was very likely not a shooting where somebody was injured.
The database is missing events before 1966. The first recorded school shooting occurred in 1764, known as the Enoch Brown School Massacre.
Security Systems Not Tracked
IPVM asked if the database tracked if a school conducted security screenings or had other security measures. Riedman said that the information around school protections was hard to determine and labor intensive.
The information is pretty spotty on it, and it's really hard to tell, even if a school had a metal detector, was it used that day? Was everybody screened, was it set up the whole day? In the same way with an SRO. It's really difficult to try to figure out, was there an SRO assigned to the school? In a lot of cases they might be assigned to multiple schools so you don't know if they were at that school that day or out for training or out getting lunch or whatever else. So those are pieces that I would like to be able to code more robustly in the future. But it's a really labor intensive point to figure out if they have a screening system, do they have trained personnel and so on, and then who was actually present and what was actually used that day and when?
The founder Riedman aims for the K-12 School Shooting Database to be the most comprehensive data source on school shootings. Additionally, Riedman wants the database to be used for making informed decisions regarding school safety policy, training, and investments. Lastly, he wants to expand the database, creating new tools and reports for a broader audience who can interpret/use the information found within the database.
I want the K-12 SSDB to continue to be the most comprehensive data source on this topic with detailed information about six decades of shootings at schools. When someone is making a decision about school safety policy, training, or investments, I want this to be the data source that they use to evaluate those decisions. With that, I want to create new tools and reports so that a wider audience can understand this information and the implications of findings from it.