Political News

More than 800,000 students live in school districts where shootings have happened

One school shooting after another has struck communities across the country, and the toll goes beyond the dead and wounded.

Posted Updated

Aaron Kessler (CNN)
(CNN) — One school shooting after another has struck communities across the country, and the toll goes beyond the dead and wounded.

Entire communities are damaged, from students who escaped to those attending schools in the area, to parents, friends, neighbors, clergy. As one Parkland, Florida, rabbi put it after the attack there a week ago, a shooting reverberates throughout the population -- no one is truly untouched by such a tragedy.

"The entire community is torn and broken. Every child that was killed has five or 10 best friends that watched it happen and that dodged a bullet," Rabbi Shuey Biston told NPR on Friday. "And we're grieving together. We're mourning together."

The shooting a week ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland has galvanized students -- not just locally but also elsewhere -- to become more vocal in pushing lawmakers to take action that would limit the frequency of such shootings.

"I'm terrified to go back to school," Alex Wind, a student at Stoneman Douglas, told CNN's Anderson Cooper, explaining why he and his friends were speaking out. "I don't want to feel unsafe in my own school."

If school shootings leave lasting scars on communities, how many people now go to school in an area where a shooting took place? Moreover, how many people live in such communities?

Precise numbers are hard to quantify. But to help provide an estimate of how many people live in areas hit by such events, CNN examined nearly two dozen K-12 school shootings since Columbine in 1999.

An analysis of US census and Education Department data shows that more than 800,000 students go to school in public school districts where school shootings took place. More than 6 million people live within those districts, census data shows. That's 2% of the US population.

The school districts range from small districts of barely 1,000 students -- like the 2006 shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado -- to larger ones like Nevada's 60,000-student Washoe County School District, where a shooting at Sparks Middle School in 2013 left students running for cover.

The two largest districts studied are in Florida, where Broward and Palm Beach counties -- like all those in Florida -- have unified school districts composed of very dense populations.

Broward alone has 269,000 students, and a population of 1.9 million, the analysis found. Palm Beach has 189,000 students in a population of 1.4 million.

Lake Worth Middle School, in Palm Beach County, is only 26 miles as the crow flies from Stoneman Douglas High School. In 2000, a seventh-grader suspended for throwing water balloons was sent home. He returned with a gun and started shooting, killing one of his teachers.

Because the Palm Beach and Broward school districts make up such an outsize portion of the total compiled -- roughly half -- CNN also attempted to zero on just the neighborhoods within the two counties where the school shootings occurred, for comparison.

CNN gathered population data from census tracts around the two schools, which totaled about 23,000 students and 150,000 people. (That compares with more than 458,000 students and 3.3 million people in the two counties overall -- a notable difference.)

But even when you plug in those more modest representations of the Florida school districts, the national numbers are still staggering: More than 414,000 students around the country now attend school in districts where shootings took place. More than 3 million people reside in those districts today, by the more conservative estimate.

Shelley Vana, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, told CNN at the time of the Lake Worth shooting that everyone was simply "in shock."

"I know our teachers are distraught, our teachers are grieving, and I think the entire community is just ... we're still stunned. We never believed that this would happen here. I guess that's what everyone says. But it did," she said.

Nearly 20 years later, just down the road in Parkland the residents are echoing that sentiment -- and wondering whether this time, things will change.

It's impossible to know whether this time will be different, but the students affected so far say they have no intention of repeating the well-worn cycle of a school shooting shocking the nation only to recede from the public consciousness before any laws are changed.

Stoneman Douglas student Ariana Ortega traveled on a bus to Florida's capital, Tallahassee, this week to press legislators, saying she was determined to keep up the pressure this time.

"We will keep our voices loud and strong to ensure that this doesn't die away," she told CNN.

Copyright 2023 by Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.