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Increasing school violence

Shootings in Nevada and Massachusetts reignite the issue of gun violence in schools.
Hundreds of students and residents attend a candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013,
Hundreds of students and residents attend a candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, in honor of slain teacher Michael Landsberry and two 12-year-old students who were injured after a fellow student open fire at the school on Monday, before turning the gun on himself.

In one week, two teachers were killed and there have been at least three separate gun incidents at elementary and middle schools. The violence involving students with guns this week reignited the gun debate.

The news stirred discussions about whether schools can still be considered safe havens, or if gun policies or initiatives must be adjusted.

On Wednesday, an 11-year-old student was arrested for bringing 400 rounds of ammunition, multiple kitchen knives and a handgun to Frontier Middle School in Vancouver, Washington. Around 900 students attend the middle school, and another 600 attend the elementary school next to Frontier.

The student was also found to be carrying two loaded .22 caliber magazines, according to court documents filed Thursday. Police said the boy had “claimed in the presence of school officials that a ‘voice in his head’ was telling him to kill” another student after he had called the boy’s friend “gay.” 

There were no injuries and no shooting, but the teen has been booked into a juvenile detention facility and is facing an attempted murder charge, according to police.

On the same day, three students were injured after one fired an AR-15 rifle mounted on top of a police officer's motorcycle that was on display for a school-safety demonstration at a Chino, Calif., elementary school. 

Parent Tim Everman said he was first notificed of the accident through a voicemail saying a few children had been injured from an accidental discharge. “It’s kind of strange that a gun would have been accessible, or not cleared, prior to doing the demonstration,” Everman told California affiliate KTLA. The fire department said no one was shot. 

Overall, numbers and studies show that school violence is not on the uptick.

In 2010, there was a total of 2,711 infant, child, and teen deaths from firearms. Less than 1% of student homicides and suicides take place at school, on the way to or from school or at a school event, according to a 2012 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics

The Justice Deparment's most recent study on firearm violence examines 130,000 K-12 schools with over 50 million students between the years 1993 to 2011. The number of average deaths per year--23--includes all kinds of homicides, escalated school altercations, drugs and gang violence. 

The town of Danvers, Mass., experienced a different type of violence with the slaying of a high school teacher. Philip Chism, 14, was charged with murder on Wednesday in the death of his mathematics teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, who went missing Tuesday. Chism allegedly used a box cutter to kill her in a school bathroom, said two law enforcement sources involved in the investigation. 

Police are still investigating the motive behind a shooting at a Nevada middle school on Monday that left two dead, including the young shooter. The Sparks, NV., community is mourning the 45-year-old mathematics teacher Michael Landsberry, who was a former Marine and member of the Nevada Air National Guard.

The 12-year-old student arrived at Sparks Middle School with a Ruger 9mm at 7:15am Monday morning and shot a student, Landsberry on the basketball court, and shot another student before killing himself, reported by Sparks deputy police chief Tom Miller. The two students were injured but were both in stable condition by the end of the day.

Local police are still investigating whether the shooter had a specific target in mind.  

"The NEA family is mourning the loss of two members this week—Mike Landsberry in Nevada and Colleen Ritzer in Massachusetts, two outstanding math teachers,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “We will probably never know all the factors that accumulate to unleash this kind of violence, but we must commit to doing all we can to make sure students and educators are safe in our schools. We must work on preventing gun violence, bullying prevention and greater access to mental health services, so that educators and families can identify problems and intervene before it’s too late.”

The number of “active shooter” incidents has risen dramatically in the last few years, Eric Holder said in a speech on Monday--even before this week's school shootings--to the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.

"We’ve seen at least 12 active shooter situations so far in 2013,” said Holder, adding that the total number of people shot and killed in shootings with "active shooters" has gone up nearly 150% in the past four years. 

"It’s become clear that new strategies and aggressive national response protocols must be employed to stop shooters in their tracks,” he told police chiefs at the annual conference in Philadelphia.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice, the number of homicides at schools has in fact declined over time, from an average of 29 per year in the 1990s to an average of 20 per year in the 2000s. The majority of homicides against youth both at school and away from school were committed with a firearm. 

The recent school violence however has prompted some students to come up with a security measure on their own. 

Just two months before the annniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., a group of high school students in Washington, D.C. were inspired to design an emergency door-locking device to prevent active shooters from entering schools and classrooms. 

"So many kids and adults were killed [at Sandy Hook]," Deonté Antrom, a junior at Benjamin Banneker, told NBC News

"It is really troubling," student Anjreyev Harvey said. "It was mostly our connection to kids that drove us to come up with this project."

The device, called "DeadStop," clasps around the hydraulic hinge at the top of a classroom door, preventing doors from being opened. The detachable device can be snapped on "when there is an announcement that there is a shooter in the building," Harvey said.

These students told NBC News they hope the device will be used in homes as well as schools. While gun-safety and gun-rights advocates continue their battles over background checks or armed school guards, students themselves have found a way to help themselves feel safer at school.