Angel Araya moved to Reno from Sacramento some six years ago so her kids would be protected from the kind of school violence she saw happening there. Then on March 14, she got a call from Pine Middle School to come pick up her 13-year-old son, Jesse. There’d been a shooting.
“I moved here specifically so I didn’t have to go through this,” said Araya while standing outside the school building. She was one of hundreds of parents waiting in a long, anxious line to pick up their children as the snow fell around them.
That morning at 8:57, three gunshots were fired in a crowded hallway between Pine’s gym and cafeteria. Fourteen-year-old James Newman reportedly shot another boy in the shoulder with a .38 caliber revolver. Another shot ricocheted off the floor, sending fragments into the knee of Kenzie McKeon, also age 14. The injured boy was hospitalized and is recovering. The girl’s injury was minor, and she did not need hospitalization. By mid-morning, the alleged shooter and his weapon were in the custody of the Reno Police Department, and eyewitnesses were being interrogated. Newman was booked on suspicion of attempted murder.
The shooting came at a time of already shaky feelings among students and parents at Pine Middle School; it was the second time this month the school off Neil Road had gone into lockdown mode. Roughly two weeks ago, word of someone driving by with a gun pointed toward the school caused administrators to send students home as a precaution.
“This is the second time it’s happened in two weeks,” said Tammy Scott, whose 14-year-old daughter attends Pine Middle School. “This is bullshit. I’m from the country, and I’m going back. My kid’s getting taken out today.”
Whether Scott carries out that plan or not, her sentiments were common among parents waiting for their children and for the physical assurance that comes with seeing and hugging them to know they’re all right.
Laurie Yarborough and her son Wesley walked somewhat bewilderedly out of the school Tuesday morning. With Wesley’s saxophone case in her hand, Laurie said, “Every cell in your body just shatters when you see cops surrounding the school your son is in. If I felt this was a constant fear, I’d homeschool him. By and large, schools are great … [kids] get so much out of it. But it’s sad to get to that point. We’re all out here shaking.”
Safety in numbers
To the recollection of school district spokesman Steve Mulvenon, Tuesday marked the first school shooting in Washoe County in at least the 20 years he’s worked for the district. “This is the only incident with shots actually discharged that I can think of,” he said.
According to the district-wide Accountability Report, there were 163 cases of weapons possession in Washoe County schools during the 2004-05 school year. Four of those were at Pine Middle School; the highest numbers came from Reed High School (23 cases) and Hug High (15 cases).
Nevertheless, Mulvenon says he thinks school, especially in metropolitan areas, is still the safest place a child can be.
“Incidents like this are few and far between,” he said. “They gain a huge amount of media attention at the time, which leads parents to think they happen more often than they do.” He said statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that school shootings are down over the past 10 years.
“For a lot of kids, school is still the safest place they can be in a 24-hour period,” said Mulvenon.
The white-hot news coverage of the occasional incidents of school violence has often dismayed policy makers, who believe such coverage leads to overreaction and public policies that can make the problem worse. News coverage seldom provides context on the frequency of school violence, and the repetitive reporting of a single story tends to make it seem worse than it is. The Centers for Disease Control has warned against the effects of news coverage of school violence and says that “repetitive, ongoing or excessive reporting” can lead to copycats or suicides.
“Although high-profile school shootings have increased public concern for student safety,” a CDC statement says, “school-associated violent deaths account for less than one percent of homicides among school-aged children and youth.”
The American Medical Association, the congressional Bipartisan Working Group on Youth Violence, and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice have all warned about the dangers of hyperbolic news coverage of school violence. School violence has been declining steadily since the 1960s. In some indices, it is at such low levels that it barely registers.
While tragic, school shootings take place in a nation of 300 million people. To give some idea of the freakishness of these events, twice as many people are killed each year by lightning as are killed by gun violence in schools, according to figures from the National Climatic Data Center and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Children are far more likely to be killed in the home, yet those domestic murders usually receive routine news coverage.
The Reno Gazette-Journal provided a sidebar story on frequency of school violence that helped put the Pine incident into context.
Extra counselors and psychologists will be on hand at Pine Middle School in the coming days as parents and students try to get back their sense of security.
“I knew she was OK,” said a tearful Mora Salgado of her 12-year-old daughter Jessica. “But this is scary. You know it happens elsewhere, but you never think it will happen at your kid’s school.”