After researching existing literature, it is evident that ‘school shootings’ primarily became a moral panic to American society after The Columbine massacre. Yes, there were numerous previous cases but none received the attention that Columbine has. The Columbine massacre occurred in 1999, and yet has become the face of ‘school shootings’. It is still in discussion today by academics and news sources alike. Some argue, the technology available during the incident was not available for previous cases and due to twenty-four hour coverage the physical images mentally captured the viewers. Through constant news coverage of this event it became a societal horror, building the foundation for a moral panic.

Muschert invokes that media is a pressing form of knowledge to the public, if not the most apparent. In fact, he claims that much of our understanding of school shootings has been attained by news and popular media; this consequently has a great impact on American society (Muschert, 2009). Much of Muschert’s studies focus on Columbine and the effect it has had and continues to have on our society today, “In its more abstract senses, Columbine, has become a keyword for a complex set of emotions surrounding youth, risk, fear, and delinquency in early 21st Century United States” (Muschert, 2009). Directly, Muschert, has attempted to understand the media coverage of Columbine in its entirety, this can be found in his article titled, Frame-Changing in the media coverage of a school shooting: The Rise of Columbine as a national Concern.

A dissection of the articles abstract, “This essay explores the media frame-changing process in the news coverage of the 1999 Columbine shootings, clarifying the news discourse focus on Columbine’s national importance.”, concisely sums up the intentions of the article. According to Muschert, mass media producers have the power to show and not show which stories they prefer; along with this comes the notion of a frame. A frame is a fully completed template that compartmentalizes
Proportion of themes by week. (Muschert, 2009)
numerous emotions under one heading, through the use of this technique the media producers can easily convey stories that have already seen previous acceptance by the public (although not the case with Columbine, it created a frame of its own). Mass media producers then use these frames to ultimately decide what the public is privy to, specifically in 1999 the frame most utilized was that of school shootings. School shooting as a frame encompasses shock, denial, fear, anger, uproar and many more emotions under its heading. The title itself has the power to cause discourse in a whole country, as Columbine in fact did. Columbine was the largest news story in 1999 and the 7th highest rated media event in the 1990’s, also “[r]elative to any other school shooting incidents in U.S. history, Columbine garnered significantly higher media coverage” (Muschert, 2009, p. 165). Columbine was first of its kind, in the sense of the media coverage it had, this forced journalists to create a frame for this specific incident. By doing this it made the jobs of news publishers easier, and now future occurrences have a category to fall under. Above that, the frame of school shooting as a problem also engulfed the issue of juvenile delinquency as a whole. The study conducted an analysis of the Columbine coverage and found that early news story consisted of direct event content, and as time progressed, news stories began to place importance Columbine has in regards to the society in general (Muschert, 2009). This table articulates this point even within the first four weeks after the incident occurred.

“The analysis suggests that the coverage was initially about what happened at Columbine, but over the life span of the story, the media frame changed to focus on reactions occurring elsewhere in the U.S.” (Muschert, 2009, p.169). This shows the developmental stages of a moral panic. At first, the issue it self is at the centre of the stage, though as time progresses the event is attempted to be generalized to society as a whole. Ultimately, this article is arguing that mass media outlets are self-preserving agencies whose main goal is to make profit. This was done in 1999 as they created a frame that they could stretch out as long as possible to get the maximum amount of profit possible. What they chose to disregard was the effect this would have on society.
(Addington, 2007)

This graph shows the general increase in security measures after 1999 (Columbine). The highest gap can be seen between 1999 and 2001, after which there are slight increases or decreases. Arguably though, this change in public school security measures should be attributed to The Columbine Shooting alone, illustrating the literal effects of a moral panic. In conclusion, Columbines constant coverage lead to a previously unknown phenomenon, that of ‘school shootings’. Columbine is, for all intensive purposes, ‘the poster boy’ for school shootings, and thus are the origins of school shootings as a moral panic.


Towards the late 1990s, it seemed to much of the general public as though an epidemic of school shootings had hit both elementary and secondary schools in the United States (Ramsland, . The acquisition of firearms by children and adolescents was resulting in violent shootings within educational institutions; shootings which were causing the deaths of both teachers and classmates. The following is a quick overview of some early school shooting incidents that caused significant national attention:

January 29, 1979:
Brenda Spencer, aged 17, received a rifle for Christmas and subsequently used it to commit a school shooting at an elementary school near her home in San Diego, California. The incident resulted in eight children and one police officer being injured. Additionally, two men lost their lives while attempting to protect students. After a six-hour standoff between Brenda and the police, Brenda simply explained with a shrug, "I don't like Mondays."

March 2, 1987:
Nathan Ferris, aged 12, was an honor roll student in Missouri. After continued social outcast, bullying, and teasing, he brought a pistol to school and shot and killed a classmate. He then turned the gun on himself. After the event, news surfaced that Ferris signalled his plans after warning a close friend not to attend school that day. Unfortunately, no one took his threats seriously.

November 15, 1995:
Jamie Rouse, 17, entered a school in Giles County, Tennessee, with a .22-calibre rifle. He shot two teachers in the head, killing one, and then took aim at the football coach. However, a female student was killed instead when she unknowingly walked into his path. Rouse had revealed to five of his closest friends details of how he would commit this shooting, but no bothered to call for help.

February 2, 1996:
Barry Loukaitis, 14, went into his algebra class in Moses Lake, Washington armed with two concealed pistols and a rifle. He managed to quickly shoot two students, followed by his teacher as she was writing a problem on the blackboard. He then attempted to take hostages yet was stopped when a teacher tackled him, finally putting an end to his irrational rage. In all, three people died, and Loukaitis blamed "mood swings" as his central reason for committing this violent act.

Brenda Spencer, being escorted to court following the shooting she committed in 1979

February 19, 1997: Barry_Loukaitis.jpg
Evan Ramsey, 16, entered his secondary school in Bethel, Alaska with a shotgun. After targeting those who called him “retarded” and a “spaz”, he shot and killed one male student before injuring two others. Ramsey then entered the school office and shot his principle, killing him instantly. After police were called, they quickly arrived and put an end to Ramsey’s anger-fuelled rampage. Later, two of Ramsey’s friends who had discussed this shooting spree with him were arrested as accomplices.

October 1, 1997:
Luke Woodham, 16, an avid Adolph Hitler fan, committed a shooting at his secondary school in Pearl, Mississippi after being consistently bullied by others and after recently breaking up with his girlfriend. In a rage, he stabbed and killed his mother before heading to school with a rifle and a pistol. He immediately killed his former girlfriend and another student before wounding seven other students.

December 11, 1997:
Michael Carneal, 14, who was thought by classmates in Paducah, Kentucky, to be a Satanist brought a firearm to school and opened fire on a small prayer group. His violent shooting ended in the deaths of three students and the wounding of five others. An older student tackled him, ending in the end of his shooting. It was later revealed that although Carneal had threatened to "shoot up" the school, neither students nor teachers had taken his threats seriously.

Barry Loukaitis, on trial for the murders of three following the shooting he committed in 1996

March 24, 1998:
Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, dressed in camouflage and systematically shot fifteen people at their elementary school playground in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Golden entered the school, pulled the fire alarm, and quickly ran to where Johnson lay by the playground with two rifles. As children stepped out for the fire drill, the boys began shooting, ultimately ending in the deaths of five students.

April 24, 1998:
Andrew Wurst, 14, entered his eighth grade graduation dance with a pistol in Edinboro, Pennsylvania and opened fire on students and teachers. Due to his shooting spree, one teacher was killed and three others were wounded. After the banquet hall owner chased down and disarmed him, he held Wurst for police until they arrived. However, the young boy simply acted as if the entire incident was a big joke.

May 21, 1998:
Kipland Kinkel, 15. After being expelled from school in Springfield, Oregon for carrying a firearm to class, Kinkel returned with a semiautomatic rifle and began shooting at students in the cafeteria. He killed one student and wounded eight others, one of whom later died. Due to the shooting, a stampede also erupted, which resulted in more injuries. When he was disarmed and taken to the police station, he withdrew a hidden knife claiming he wanted to die. Police officers promptly went to his home and discovered that not only had he killed both of his parents, yet he had also booby-trapped the entire house with homemade bombs. His classmates had once dubbed him the student "most likely to start World War III."