From the moment a child is born they become their parents’ priority. All the nurturing they are given is to keep them safe and help prepare them as much as possible for life as they begin to grow up. It is to be expected that they will learn about the world in their own way but every parent should feel secure when they say goodbye to their children for their day at school.
Sadly, compassion and morals are not present in everyone and schools have been the setting for some devastating incidents. The many horrific occurrences in this scenario have all in some way helped to contribute to tighter levels of security.
In a Guardian article in 2011 it was reported that 85 per cent of secondary schools in the UK use video surveillance. More recently, the mother of a nine-year-old daughter at a special needs school in Gaston County, North Carolina called for cameras in each and every area of the premises where there is interaction. Safety and security in schools is a consistently hot topic and these are some of the terrifying cases that played a part in making it so.
Cleveland Elementary School shooting
The phrase ‘I don’t like Mondays’ has become widely known and was the chosen title of Bob Geldof for a Boomtown Rats single. It was inspired by the reason 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer reportedly gave to a reporter on why she had opened fire on children outside Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California on January 29th 1979.
Spencer targeted the students as they were waiting for their principal to open the gates. Principal Burton Wragg was killed as he attempted to help the children and custodian Mike Suchar was also fatally wounded while trying to help Wragg. Eight children were injured and a police officer was shot in the neck when he arrived on the scene.
Having fired thirty rounds of ammunition, Spencer refused to leave her home across the street from the school and did not surrender for almost seven hours. She was given a prison sentence of 25 years to life and will be eligible for another Board of Parole Hearing in 2019, having been unsuccessful with a number of attempts so far.
Dunblane Primary School massacre
March 13th 1996 is a day that the people of Dunblane, Scotland will have forever etched in their memories. Thomas Hamilton, a 43-year-old unemployed ex-shopkeeper, went into Dunblane Primary School and proceeded to the gym. He then began shooting the class of five and six-year-olds who had gathered and killed 15 children as well as their teacher Gwen Mayor.
Hamilton then fired at a mobile classroom from the playground and injured a teacher when shooting at a group of children in the corridor. After making his way back to the gym he shot himself dead with one of his revolvers. The massacre sent shockwaves throughout the UK and was one of three high-profile school attacks that year, along with a machete attack on a nursery in Wolverhampton and the stabbing of head teacher Philip Lawrence in London.
These incidents sparked a revision of school security measures in the UK and higher fences and access control systems were introduced as a result.
Tjandamurra O’Shane attack
While on the playground at his school in Cairns, Queensland on October 10th 1996, Tjandamurra O’Shane, just six at the time, was attacked seemingly at random. Paul Wade Streeton, a 26-year-old former street charity worker, had a five-litre fuel can and covered O’Shane in petrol before setting fire to him. O’Shane’s body was ablaze and he ran around screaming, prompting principal Michael Aitken to use his hands and shirt to smother the flames.
The odds were firmly stacked against O’Shane surviving and an incredible 70 per cent of his body had been burned. He spent months in Brisbane Royal Children’s Hospital undergoing multiple operations and he needed skin grafts in the future whenever he had a growth spurt. Australia as a nation was captured by the news and lent their support to O’Shane. Although most of his sweat glands were destroyed, meaning strenuous exercise or sport is not possible, O’Shane has recovered.
He continued his education before graduating in 2008, and is now married with a son. His attacker Streeton has been in prison for 17 years serving a life sentence but O’Shane has said he would like to one day meet him to forgive him.
These three examples, although all famous, merely scrape the surface when it comes to attacks on schoolchildren and staff. The San Diego case of Brenda Ann Spencer was not even the only shooting to take place at an establishment by the name of Cleveland Elementary School.
Ten years later, this time in Stockton, California, Patrick Edward Purdy killed five people at a school of the same name. In December last year, people around the globe saw the news reports as 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot dead 20 children and six members of staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut after having already killed his mother.
Attention has been given to the numerous incidents of this type that have occurred in the US but there have been many examples from other nations. The wider issue of gun control is regularly focused upon and changes to such laws around the world have been proposed or implemented over time. The need for comprehensive security in schools cannot be understated at all and the serious efforts that the authorities are taking to ensure the safety of all concerned is certainly a step in the right direction.