CHDS’ K-12 School Shooting Database key source for academic, news reporting amid spike

Campus safety instruction also led by CHDS alums

A sudden deluge of school shooting incidents across the nation this school year as students return to in-person instruction in the wake of nationwide COVID-19 pandemic-driven school campus shutdowns has drawn new attention to the phenomenon, including in both academic circles and in the national news. 

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database has served as a key source of information for those tracking and reporting on the worrisome trend. 

According to opinion pieces published in the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post co-authored by CHDS Master’s program alum David Riedman and citing the CHDS school shooting database that he helped create, as of early November there have been a whopping 205 school shooting incidents since the beginning of this year, including 55 shootings in September alone. That represents an exponential increase in such incidents in the nation’s schools and has raised serious major concerns about student safety. 

Riedman said the “historic rise” in school shooting incidents is reflective of a nationwide increase in gun violence amid the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a rise in gun violence nationwide and that has bled over into schools,” he said. “With the return to the classroom (after COVID-19 school shutdowns), there are a lot of threats out there, a lot of issues on and off campus, including mental health issues, social isolation, and gang activities. There is a rise in online threats that cause investigations that shut down school sites. It’s the busiest I’ve ever seen.”  

If not for the CHDS school shooting database, which includes incidents stretching back more than half a century to 1970, the reporting on such shooting incidents might have been largely anecdotal because hard data would not have been available.  

Top: David Riedman
Bottom: Desmond O’Neill

Since 2018, the nationally recognized database created by Riedman and fellow CHDS Master’s program alum Desmond O’Neill through the CHDS Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security program has been serving as a primary source for reporting on school shootings in major publications ranging from the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal to The Guardian, National Public Radio, Vice News, and the Rolling Stone

In addition, the school shooting database has been cited in dozens of academic papers, more than 30 in all, including a recent peer-reviewed article in the American Journal of Criminal Justice

Accessible on the CHDS website, the database is freely available to researchers. 

Riedman pointed out that the school shooting database is far more comprehensive than records kept by other agencies, and intentionally uses an expansive definition of school shooting to encompass as much of a range of threats to the campus as possible. 

According to the database, it “documents each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time, day of the week, or reason.” 

Considered the most comprehensive source of information on gun violence in U.S. schools, the database has been accessed by more than 100,000 users. 

O’Neill said the database’s information provides a critical source of hard data that can inform school safety funding decisions. 

“When that conversation occurs, how do we base our decisions on data rather then emotion,” he asked. Before the database, “there was no previous method for doing that.” 

Meanwhile, two other CHDS alums recently collaborated on a webinar aimed at addressing risk management and security for campuses, including school sites. 

Top, Bruno Dias
Bottom: John Muffler

In September, retired U.S. Marshal and Aequitas Global Security principal John Muffler (Executive Leaders Program cohort 1102) and Mansfield, TX Independent School District director of safety and security Bruno Dias (Master’s Program cohort 1903/1904) joined the online event hosted by Campus Safety magazine. 

Muffler said he first proposed the webinar to magazine representatives a year earlier after he had an article published in Police Chief Online magazine regarding mitigating targeted violence in the community including dealing with “problem employees and visitors” on a range of campuses including school sites. 

He subsequently teamed up with Dias to participate in the webinar, which was entitled “Beyond Threat Assessment: Managing Threats with Appropriate Follow-Up, Monitoring and Training.”  

The webinar was designed to help participants “analyze, understand, and assess their own (safety) program effectiveness,” by exploring “steps in the process of sound threat assessment and management programs from initial development, alignment of initiatives, and efficacy of measurement mechanisms to monitoring and oversight.” 

Dias, whose participation was focused on school campus safety, said school administrators need to “understand the threat landscape” and “understand the importance of being proactive” on implementing school site plans known as a School Safety and Security Framework instead of simply relying on more typical emergency management plans and reacting to incidents, noting that nine of 10 school sites have no safety plan in place. 

Despite their proactive approach, Dias and his school district faced a tragic event after a student allegedly shot three people following an on-campus fight at Timberview High School, highlighting the complexities and challenges in school safety.

Four people were injured in the shooting but no one was killed, according to local news reports, and the suspect faces multiple charges of aggravated assault with a gun. 

The school district’s safety plan drew praise from a school safety expert, according to a local news report.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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