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CA Campus Shooting: Rare event, common pattern

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment  April 2, 2012 10:15 PM

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The sad news is that mass murder has once against erupted on a college campus -- apparently, not even small church-affiliated schools are immune. The fortunate news, however, is that no matter how shocking and headline-grabbing, shooting rampages on college campuses are extremely rare.

Notwithstanding the low risk for college campuses--large and small, public and private, religious and non-sectarian, there are certain themes that emerge time and time again in these tragic episodes. And the latest horror at Oikos University in Oakland, which, based on early reports, implicated a 43-year-old man of Asian descent who had failed to complete a degree in a professional field, is eerily consistent with the pattern to earlier campus shootings with multiple victims.

The table below lists the 17 fatal multiple shootings that occurred on campuses across the United States since 1990 and prior to today’s massacre. Eight were committed by current or former graduate, law, medical, or nursing students, compared to 4 by more traditional undergraduates, 3 by faculty/staff or a parent, and just 2 by outsiders.

Multiple Victim Campus Shootings, 1990-2010



Shooter, Age

Role at School

November 1, 1991

University of Iowa

Gang Lu, 28

Graduate student

December 14, 1992

Simon’s Rock College

Wayne Lo, 18

Undergraduate student

January 26, 1995

University of North Carolina

Wendell Williamson, 26

Former law student

August 15, 1996

San Diego State University

Frederick Davidson, 36

Graduate student

June 28, 2000

University of Washington

Jan Chen, 42

Medical student

August 28, 2000

University of Arkansas

James Easton Kelly, 36

Former graduate student

May 17, 2001

Pacific Lutheran University

Donald Cowan, 55


January 16, 2002

Appalachian School of Law

Peter Odighizuwa, 42

Former law student

October 28, 2002

University of Arizona

Robert Flores, 40

Nursing student

September 2, 2006

Shepherd University

Douglas Pennington, 49

Parent of students

April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech

Seung-Hui Cho, 23

Undergraduate student

February 8, 2008

Louisiana Tech

Latina Williams, 23

Undergraduate student

February 14, 2008

Northern Illinois University

Steven Kazmierczak, 27

Former graduate student

October 26, 2008

University of Central Arkansas

Four teenagers


April 10, 2009

Henry Ford Community College

Anthony Powell, 28


February 12, 2010

University of Alabama Huntsville

Amy Bishop, 45


March 9, 2010

Ohio State University

Nathaniel Brown, 51


Unlike undergraduates, students in graduate and professional programs often lack balance in their personal lives, narrowly focusing on academic work and training to the exclusion of other interests and other people in their lives. They often spend long hours in the library or lab, while ignoring or abandoning their marriages, friendships and hobbies.

Many of these advanced students, who had been at the top of their class in high school and college, come to find themselves struggling to get by with just passing grades. At a point in life where they are longer supported financially by parents, many experience great pressure to juggle employment with coursework and thesis research, with little time left over for attending to social networks. At some point, their entire lifestyle and sense of worth may revolve around academic achievement. Moreover, their personal investment in reaching a successful outcome can be viewed as a virtual life-or-death matter.

This do-or-die perception can be intensified for foreign graduate students from certain cultures where failure is seen as shame on the entire family. Foreign students also experience additional pressures because the academic visas allowing them to remain in this country are often dependent upon their continued student status.

Even if emerging facts confirm that the assailant at Oakland's Oikos University does indeed fit the mold, this does not mean that such behavior would have been foreseeable. One fact is indisputable, rare events can never be anticipated, not matter how ominous the circumstances. The best we can do is to continue efforts to keep concealed weapons as far away from college campuses as possible.

Author's note: You can follow me on twitter at @jamesalanfox or Facebook at Professor James Alan Fox for notifications of new blog postings. Also, you can find me on the Web at or contact me by e-mail at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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