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A Digital Map Reveals America's Deadly History of School Shootings

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, December 20 2012

A new map created by a Seattle entrepreneur hopes to show the world that school shootings in the United States are far from rare.

In fact, such shootings have happened with disturbing frequency. In 2012, there were at least 12 gun-related incidents at schools across the country, according to data Whitepages.com CEO Alex Algard has mapped out at Stoptheshootings.org.

In January, police in Brownsville, Texas, shot and killed 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez after he waved around what turned out to be a pellet gun in class. In February, a 14-year-old shot himself in the school cafeteria at Walpole Elementary in New Hampshire. Twelve days later, a nine-year-old brought a loaded handgun to school in his backpack. It went off accidentally and the bullet hit an eight-year-old at Armin Jahr Elementary School in Bremerton, Wa. Five days after that, a 17-year-old boy walked into the school cafeteria at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, and shot five students, three of whom died.

"The whole point of this website is to bring home the message that these school shootings happen all across the country, and they happen regularly and frequently," Algard said in an interview. "It's not something that happens just once every two or three years. It happens consistently."

The reports, which date back to 1992, are based on local news reports of the incidents gathered through Google Alerts and from the National School Safety Center, a non-profit.

Algard, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of Whitepages.com, said he became actively involved against gun violence after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. He joined a local group dedicated to reducing gun violence called Washington Cease Fire, but wanted to do more. A former Goldman Sachs investment banker and an engineer, Algard said that he wondered how he could contribute in his own unique way. He came up with the idea of the web site in 2009, but he had not updated it much until the events of last weekend. He said that he was particularly disturbed when he came across an article in the New York Times that reported that the National Rifle Association had lobbied to defund research at the Centers for Disease Control on guns as an issue of public health.

"There been a lot of discussion on [school shootings] recently, and unfortunately some not-so-well informed discussion," he said. "My hope is that some people can bolster their arguments with some of these statistics."

While the data may not be broken down in exactly the same way reported by Algard on his web site, both the CDC and Bureau of Justice Statistics do publish statistics on youth violence and causes of death. On Thursday, for example, the BJS published a new study on violence against youth in and out of school. The report found that serious violent crime against youth between 12 and 17 years of age declined by 77 percent between 1994 and 2010, and that in 2010, the rate of serious violent crimes against youth at schools was similar to the rate happening outside of school.

Still, it's the fact that the shootings happen at all that also bothers Algard, a father of two young girls and a boy, one of whom is kindergarten age. Algard says that other than his involvement in trying to contribute to the conversation about gun violence, he's generally apolitical.

"I grew up as a kid in Sweden and Canada," he said in an email message. "People have access to firearms there -- for example hunting is a popular sport in both countries -- but there is nowhere near the level of gun violence in either country. It never even crossed my mind to worry about gun violence."

Algard revived his site this weekend with updated information. The site says there have been 386 school shootings in the past two decades, including Sandy Hook. The site also provides the age distribution of victims (298, or almost 60 percent of them, are teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19) and the ages of the shooters (167 of them, or almost 70 percent of them, were also between 10 and 19).

I asked him on the phone what he thinks the best solution to the current situation would be. He replied that he doesn't know what legislative solution would be the best.

"What I do know is that there is an epidemic, and we've got to do something about it," he said. "The answer is not to sit on the sidelines and not do anything about it. What I've chosen to do is work on a Web site, and I think others can work on legislation."

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