As school officials here in the Greater Rochester area and nationwide grapple with a growing angst among parents and students over school security issues in the wake of last month's Florida school massacre that killed 17, many remember a time not that long ago when mass school shootings were basically unheard of.
So what has changed?
"Society has changed," Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint said on Friday. "I remember hearing stories from my grandfather how he'd check his gun in at the school office and then pick it and go hunting in the afternoon. Seems like we've become more violent over time."
|Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint|
It's no secret that people have been getting killed on high school and college - even elementary school campuses - for a long, long time, but throughout much of U.S. history, those shootings have been few and far between, mostly born of workplace violence, violence between students or a grudge between a student or student's parent and a school official, not a shooter bent on indiscriminate killings.
Toussaint thinks some of it could be driven by a need for attention among troubled youth desensitized by violence portrayed in video games and chronicled in thousands of violent YouTube videos.
"There's so much info at people's fingertips, they see this stuff and it plants a seed," Toussaint said. "They know the names of people who do this, and there's a certain segment of society that feel they are like an outcast, and this is the way they can gain some notoriety. It almost seems like it's a video game that they want to get to a higher body count than the last one."
|Angela O'Keefe of Wakefield|
Toussaint added that video games aren't the only bogeyman pointed at as a facilitator toward mass shooting.
"It used to be music," he said. "Who knows, maybe we've been worse at parenting."
Angela O'Keefe of Wakefield also believes the slow dissolution of the nuclear family is partly to blame.
"All the parents aren't involved with their kids," she said. "The morals are different then when I was a kid. Parents are divorcing and there's a lot of bullying in school, too."
Dr. Terry Bennett, an 80-year-old Rochester family physician who runs the downtown Quick Care Clinic, thinks bullying could be a major factor in driving a vulnerable, weakened individual to the unthinkable.
|Dr. Terry Bennett|
"That's when semi-automatic weapons come into play," he said. "It used to be if you were being put down and disrespected and bullied by schoolmates, you had to learn how to fistfight. Now, if you're the odd kid and you're old enough you can get an AR-15."
Bennett also alluded to county and federal law enforcement's shortcomings to act on the warning signs of mental illness and a predisposition to violence documented numerous times with regard to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nicolas Cruz.
"So now you make it easy for an AR-15 to be bought by someone who is clinically crazy," he said. "It's a failure of government."
|Rosemary Stewart of Wakefield|
Rosemary Stewart of Wakefield agreed that assault weapons have to be taken out of circulation.
"I used to teach in Lowell and 25 percent of the kids I taught were in gangs," she said. "There's too many assault weapons out there. That and they have to pay more attention to troubled kids."
Bryanna Davies of Sanford blamed the availability of guns and rifles and mental health access as school shooting drivers that need to be addressed.
"People have easier access to guns, they need to tighten up," she said. "And we need to have better health services."
|Bryanna Davies of Sanford|
A woman named Robin of Alfred, Maine, who didn't want to give her last name, believes excessive violence in today's video games needs to be looked at again.
"I know they say they're not related, but in my mind it's video games," she said. "Those guns look real, you see people fall, you see blood, it's so sensationalized, and you're doing the shooting."
Becky, of Salem, who also didn't want her last name used, agreed more needs to be done with troubled kids who appear to be on the fringe.
"I don't know why, but there are so many more mental health issues then when we were younger," she said.