School Shootings by the Minute

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Written By: J. Lasswell
December 5, 2023

“I can’t believe this is still happening 25 years later.” “He was only 13 years old?” “That’s the nth time this year!”

Have you ever sat and tried to feel “a minute?” While “a minute” is commonly used to express a brief segment of time, one who sits and concentrates only on the passing of 60 seconds will tell you it hardly feels brief. A similarly flawed appraisal of time occurs when one needs to complete many tasks in a single day; 1,440 minutes feels rather fleeting. 

In emergencies, the paradoxical nature of time emerges. It transforms into a dual force - a precious commodity and a formidable oppressor. In moments where every second holds significance, seldom does time align itself with good fortune, and if it does, it’s only at the expense of incredible bravery. 

In the context of school shootings, time obviously plays a central role in the outcome of violent events, along with the meta discussion of our country’s relationship with these events. “I can’t believe this is still happening 25 years later.” “He was only 13 years old?” “That’s the nth time this year!”

Time is both a metric to inform and a metric to appraise the situation we are in as stakeholders in community safety. The following information is meant to portray the nature of time as it plays a role in the history of school shootings:

31 seconds: Split-Second Heroism - Great Mills High shooting, 2018

The duration from the moment SRO DFC Gaskill identifies an active shooter to the point where he engages with the shooter, compelling the shooter to neutralize himself, thereby preventing any additional victimization.

35 seconds: Unfortunate Disorganization - Parkland shooting, 2018

The duration between the initial shots fired and the first 911 call. Communication at this point was scattered and disorganized - The first floor was caught off‐guard, second floor heard the shots and treated the incident as an active shooter event and third floor treated it as a fire drill.

1 minute: Unfortunate Disorganization, Again - Parkland shooting, 2018

A minute elapsed from the first 911 call to when Broward County Sheriff's Office dispatched the call over the radio, because of the call-transfer disorganization between their department and the Coral Springs Police Department. By this point 24 people had been shot and/or killed on the first floor.

2 minutes: An Explosive Diversion - Columbine High School shooting, 1999

The elapsed time between a diversionary explosion and when shooting begins on the steps of Columbine’s west exterior. This explosion was planted three miles southwest of Columbine High School, as a means to divert first responders away from the carnage at the Columbine campus.

3 minutes: A Record Response Time - Sandy Hook shooting, 2012

How long it took a police officer to respond to the Sandy Hook shooting. The initial call to the police occurred at 9:35 a.m., with the first officer arriving two minutes and 41 seconds after the initial radio broadcast about the shooting. This is considered a very quick response. The shooter killed 26 people, most of them children, in this amount of time.

4 minutes: One Hundred Rounds - Dunblane Massacre, 1996

In the shooting that would inspire the UK government to make massive gun law reforms, the shooter fired 105 rounds in four minutes into a school gymnasium, killing 16 students and one teacher.

4 minutes: The Coward from Broward - Parkland shooting, 2018

In this amount of time after hearing the first sounds of gunfire, school resource deputy Scot Peterson decided to erroneously communicate to police, “Broward, do not approach the 12 or 1300 building. Stay at least 500 feet away at this point.” This hindered an effective response by the police. Peterson would be charged with seven counts of felony child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury, but would be acquitted on all charges.

4 minutes: The Final Conversation - Millard South High School shooting, 2011

After a 19-day suspension from school and being escorted off campus, a student returned to the vice principal’s office, engaging in a four-minute conversation with her before shooting and killing her with his father's Glock .40 semi automatic handgun.

5 minutes: A Rude Assessment - University of Alabama Huntsville shooting, 2010

This is how long it took a colleague of a future university shooter upon meeting her to determine that she was “crazy.” Despite a formal request from UAH, the professor refused to retract his statement. Subsequently, the individual went on to open fire on 12 of her colleagues, resulting in three fatalities. The shooter had previous disagreements with her colleagues stemming from her being denied tenure.

5 minutes: The duration of a quarter of all school shootings.

A study by the United States Secret Service (USSS) found around 25% of school shootings last no more than five minutes, highlighting how brief many of these deeply impactful events are.

6 minutes: A Terrible Moment - Sandy Hook Shooting, 2012

The duration of the Sandy Hook shooting. This event resulted in an exemplary police response, but unfortunately, in this short amount of time, the shooter was able to kill six adults and 20 children. 

6 minutes: Incel Rampage - Isla Vista Killings, 2014

After stabbing three of his roommates to death, this perpetrator went on a six-minute, 13-block rampage, killing three more UCSB students before turning the gun on himself. The perpetrator’s 137 page manifesto would detail his endless frustration towards sexually active, socially fluent young people. Ironically, his victims were not a valid representation of the “shallow,” “promiscuous” people he wanted to target. 

7 minutes: Check-Up - Oxford High School Shooting, 2021

The duration of the interview between a student and his advisors, after a teacher reported troubling behavior in class. 

7 minutes: Average EMS response time

Spearheaded by the US Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Health & Human Services, a study found this to be the average EMS response time, from 911 call to arrival on scene.

8 minutes: Close Call - Kauhajoki School Shooting, 2008

A Finnish school shooter spent eight minutes calling a close friend to say goodbye and to tell him that he had killed ten of his classmates. The shooter’s friends said that in the months previous to the shooting, they noticed disturbing changes in his behavior, including expressing admiration for a previous Finnish school shooter.

12 minutes: Average duration of a school shooting

A study done by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) found the average duration of a school shooting (the time between the first and last shot) to be 12 minutes.

14 minutes: Average EMS response time in rural communities

As per the above mentioned study on emergency response times, the average EMS response time for a rural location (14 min) is double the average of all community types (7 min).

15 minutes: 50% of school shootings last this long

A 2002 study by the United States Secret Service (USSS) found that around half of school shootings last no more than 15 minutes.

15 minutes: Website Alert - Northern Illinois University Shooting, 2008

It took 15 mins after gunshots were first heard for the university to report the possibility of an active gunman on their school website.

15 minutes: Parents of the Year - Oxford High School Shooting, 2021

After being informed of the recent troubling behavior exhibited by their son in school, the parents met with school officials for 15 minutes before leaving without their son, as per the advice of the school officials. The student in question would carry out a school shooting that very day, killing four students and injuring a further seven.

15 minutes: International Leakage - Robb Elementary School shooting, 2022

The shooter sent three private messages to a 15-year-old German girl he had met online: the first, stating he would shoot his grandmother; the second, claiming he had shot her; and a third, just 15 minutes before the shooting, announcing his intention to open fire at the elementary school.

20 minutes: Caught Red Handed - Oxford High School shooting, 2021

The Oxford High School shooter was caught by his teacher within 20 minutes of being dropped off at school, while engaging in prohibited behavior outlined in his behavioral management plan - viewing troubling content on his cell phone.

20 minutes: Held Hostage - Notus Junior-Senior High School, 1999

A 15 year old student in Notus, ID fired his 12-gauge shotgun at his classmates, injuring one and holding the class hostage for 20 minutes before being apprehended and arrested by police.

20 minutes: Cold Punishment - Dunblane Massacre, 1996

This school shooting perpetrator exhibited controlling, sadistic and sexually deviant behavior previous to the shooting, including keeping his elderly adoptive father out in the cold at night for up to 20 minutes at a time.

25 minutes: Shootout - Santa Fe High School, 2018

The Santa Fe High School shooting, perpetrated by a 17-year old, would result in 23 victims, 10 deaths and a 25-minute shootout with responding police. The shooter would surrender to police after being injured.

30 minutes: Accident On Stage - Delmont High School, 1961

A .22 caliber rifle, meant to be used as a sound effect in a senior class play, was loaded with live ammunition and accidentally fired at a 17-year-old student, who died within 30 minutes, shortly after a doctor arrived on scene.

35 minutes: Impatiently Waiting - University of Alabama Huntsville shooting, 2010

A collegiate shooter who previously had several run-ins with her colleagues after being denied tenure, was allowed to attend a meeting with 12 of her colleagues in the biology department. After 30-40 minutes, she opened fire with a Ruger P95 handgun, killing three and wounding three more. 

47 minutes: Columbine Duration - Columbine High School Shooting, 1999

From when the shooting began, to when the perpetrators took their own lives, the duration of the massacre at Columbine was 47 minutes, one of the longest durations in the history of school shootings. In the aftermath of the event, many lawsuits would be filed against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department for their ineffective response, but would largely be dismissed. 

77 minutes: Deadly Hesitation - Robb Elementary School shooting, 2022

Due to unclear orders, Uvalde police waited for 77 minutes in the hallway outside the classrooms the shooter was held up in before physically entering the room. The police officers were equipped with the manpower and weapons to neutralize the threat, and their hesitance to respond while dozens of children were shot, some playing dead, garnered international criticism. The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety called the police response,"an abject failure and antithetical to everything we have learned over the past two decades."

96 minutes: "The All-American" - University of Texas tower shooting, 1966

The University of Texas tower shooting in 1966 can be seen as a prototype for the way school shootings would be carried out in future decades. The perpetrator began firing from the observation deck of the UT main building tower after murdering several people. The shooter fired indiscriminately at people at floor level, including an 18-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant and whose unborn child was fatally shot. The shooting would end when two courageous police officers rushed the barricaded observation deck, dispatching of the shooter with their service weapons. 

120 minutes: A Moment Between - Virginia Tech shooting, 2007

There was a 120 minute interval between the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre murdering a female student and his attack at the Norris Hall engineering building, where the majority of the 33 deaths would occur. In this time between attacks, the perpetrator sent videos, a manifesto and other media to news outlets.

150 minutes: Marksman Misanthrope - Olean High School shooting, 1974 

In the course of a two-and-a-half-hour siege, a 17-year-old honor student and the top marksman on his rifle team, fatally shot three adults, including one who was pregnant, at his high school. 

245 minutes: A Devastating Event - Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis, 2006

A 53-year-old man held seven female high school students hostage for hours with a semiautomatic pistol, intending to commit sexual assault. After four hostages were released, police would enter the classroom, where the perpetrator fatally shot a hostage and then himself.  

1,466 minutes: Scoping the Scene - Sandy Hook Shooting, 2012

Around 1,466 minutes before the attack on Sandy Hook, the perpetrator deviated from his normal route to drive by the campus.

2,880 minutes: Thwarted Copycat - El Camino High School, 2018 

Many times, after high-profile school shootings, other disgruntled individuals feel compelled to carry out “copycat” shootings. One such potential copycat shooting was thwarted by law enforcement, around 2,880 minutes after the 2018 Parkland shooting took place.

3,744 minutes: Average time between school shootings - 2023

There have been 126 incidents of gunfire on school grounds so far in 2023, making the average one incident every 2.6 days, or 3,744 minutes. 

525,600 minutes: $5.8B is lost in potential salary

Because of the trauma and adverse psychological effects of surviving a school shooting, the lives of survivors are largely impacted, often interrupting career trajectories and making it difficult to maintain a job. It's estimated that every year, $5.8B of potential salary is lost from the survivors of school shootings.

3,190,560 minutes: The age of the youngest victim of a US school shooting

Noah Ponzer (November 20, 2006 - December 14, 2012) had just turned six when he was murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

41,606,600 minutes: The average life expectancy of a person in the US

The average person in the US lives around 77.28 years - 13 of Noah Ponzer’s lifetimes.

199,880,000 minutes: Nikolas Cruz’s minimum prison sentence 

Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the 2018 Parkland shooting received 34 life sentences (17 without parole plus a minimum of 380 years) for his crimes. Nikolas is currently serving the longest prison sentence for a school shooter in current history. 

In other public safety disasters, factors such as evacuation flow in a public area and a structure’s fire-resistance rating can have more bearing on the damage inflicted and the human lives lost. The modus operandi of school shooters doesn’t require highly-congregated areas, or a weak structure, all that’s needed is an opportune situation where the time between their identification as a threat and the initial response is as long as necessary. 

While we can employ security measures to decrease that time, history has shown that school shooters don’t waver at the outskirts of the facility until the time is opportune - they are often highly-motivated and relentless in their undertaking - they don’t waste time to barge in and begin their attack. Employing comprehensive security that decreases time is an essential weapon that all schools should have to combat school shootings. However, even under optimal conditions, with a swift and direct police response, the tragic unfolding of events such as the one at Sandy Hook can occur within even the briefest windows of time. As we continue to create solutions to combat threats like school shooters, we must remember to never underestimate the value and perilous nature of time.