'No More School Shooting' Was Story Headline in the Washington Democrat in 1912

Newspaper archives show "School Shooting" headline has changed profoundly over time.

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Mark Sorrentino, of Naugatuck, Conn., pays respects near a U.S. flag donning the names of victims on a makeshift memorial in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn., as the town mourns victims killed in a school shooting, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. Authorities say a gunman killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life, on Friday.

The headline of a 1912 story in the Washington Democrat newspaper is striking, if only because it sounds like the entreaty on many lips in the U.S. today: "NO MORE SCHOOL SHOOTING."

The story, first noticed by Fast Company senior editor Jason Feifer, tells of a 13-year-old boy named James Powell, who opened fire at a school in Wilmington, Del. It happened exactly 100 years before Adam Lanza killed 26 people, 20 of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Friday.

But Powell, 13, only injured a school clerk, and his motivation was chalked up to lawlessness and unrest in the area. While Lanza brought two handguns and a semiautomatic rifle to Sandy Hook, Powell came with just a revolver.

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An examination of the words "school shooting" in newspaper headlines since 1912 shows its usage has changed profoundly over time.

In the early 1900s in Washington, D.C., the term was used often in the Washington Post, but almost always in reference to friendly rifle shooting competitions between schools. Actual school shootings like Powell's seem to have occurred infrequently from the beginning to the middle of the century.

In 1966, however, U.S. News & World Report reported that a 25-year-old University of Texas student had shot and killed his wife, mother, and 13 people on campus, calling it a "mass murder on a campus" and asking: "Why?" A psychiatrist interviewed by U.S. News at the time said the incident may have been caused by a tumor on the student's brain.

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In the decade that followed, other school shootings occurred, but many of them were abroad. The term's usage appears to have reach its tipping point, not surprisingly, when two students killed 12 others and one teacher in Columbine, Colo., in 1999 — becoming one of the most deadly mass murders on a school campus in U.S. history.

Now, with Sandy Hook the fourth school shooting in the U.S. this year, President Barack Obama has said it's clear there's a problem.

According to Google, 215 million news results exist Monday for the term "school shooting." But the intense media coverage may be more reflective of the unusual and extreme nature of school shootings rather than their frequency. According to MSNBC, school shootings are still extremely rare events, with between 12 to 20 homicides a year occurring at schools in the U.S.

"NO MORE SCHOOL SHOOTING" was headline in the newspaper Washington Democrat... in 1912. twitter.com/heyfeifer/stat…

— Jason Feifer (@heyfeifer) December 14, 2012

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.