News Story

70 Times Gunshots Fired On School Grounds In Michigan Since 1970

Michigan schools tax, borrow and spend big for security

At the start of the current school year, the new Fruitport High School building was featured in national news reports because it was designed with the threat of active shooters in mind, according to the school district.

The $48 million building has built-in hiding places for students and staff, and sight lines meant to thwart shooters.

"I've been concerned about school shootings since I was a principal and watched a report on Columbine," Fruitport Schools Superintendent Bob Szymoniak told USA TODAY at the beginning of the school year. "It's always been on the back of my mind."

Fruitport’s new school was designed with curved hallways to limit the line of sight of a shooter, and features in the corridors, called “wing walls,” so shooters can’t peer into classrooms and see students.

Security upgrades have also been emphasized by school officials seeking voter approval of higher property tax rates to finance new or refurbished buildings.

The West Bloomfield School District illustrated this when promoting a 2017 debt millage that, among other things, would finance safety and security enhancements to school facilities.

“Enhanced security systems and entry vestibules will be added to all schools,” the district noted.

Of the 142 school bond proposals whose ballot language contained the term “security,” taxpayers have approved 103, or 73 percent. Those bond issues will collect $4.3 billion in higher property taxes until they are repaid, according to the state of Michigan.

And in 2015, the Michigan Legislature passed a law that allowed school districts to also levy up to three mills for "sinking fund" property taxes, and allow this to be spent on security measures or computers and software.

Given the magnitude of these tax levies and the spending they finance, and given all the other pressing demands on school budgets and taxpayer resources, a question arises: Specifically, how real is the threat of a school shooting akin to Columbine (13 people killed in Colorado) or Parkland (17 people killed in Florida)?

The state of Michigan has not suffered a school shooting like Columbine or Parkland.

Since 1970 there have been about 70 accounts of a gun being fired in or around a K-12 school district in this state.

The first school shooting in this series involved in a racial incident that happened in a field near the Pontiac high school in 1970.

The largest number of Michigan school shootings were in or around Detroit public schools. From 1975 to 1997, guns were fired 27 times on school grounds in Michigan; 24 of those incidents occurred in Detroit schools.

Here are the three events that happened outside of Detroit in that 22-year span. The details come from media reports.

Feb. 22, 1978: At Lansing Everett High School, a 15-year-old sophomore shot and killed one student and injured another. The shooter had been teased about his interest in Nazi artifacts.

Nov. 8, 1983: A 15-year-old Highland Park High School student shot a 17-year-old student to death. The motive for the shooting appeared to be related to an earlier fight between the two students.

Dec. 17, 1993: A disgruntled Chelsea High School teacher shot and killed the school district’s superintendent and wounded a principal and another teacher.

In Detroit schools, Osborn High School had five gunfire incidents from 1994 to 2013. But the facts surrounding these incidents highlight how wide the variation can be between what are labeled as “school shootings.”

Here are how media reports described those five gunfire incidents:

Feb. 8, 1994: A high school senior was shot at noon in his car, which was parked in the student parking lot. Media reports stated that there were many fights in and around the school, as well as many shootings. A firebomb also went off in the main office earlier in the year.

Feb. 2, 2001: A gunshot was fired from across the street into a window at the high school. Two students and a teacher were slightly injured by shattered glass.

Dec. 2, 2002: A 15-year-old student brought a handgun to the high school. The boy took the gun out in class and accidentally shot himself in the leg.

Jan. 13, 2006: Gunshots were fired outside the high school. No one was injured.

Jan. 11, 2013: A student was wounded by a shooting at the high school. Or perhaps not. The K-12 School Shooting Database, maintained by the Navy Postgraduate School, says there was a shooting this day. But a Everytown For Gun Safety, a website maintained by an advocacy group of the same name, does not mention this incident. Michigan Capitol Confidential searched various archives of Michigan newspapers and could not find any mention of a school shooting at Osborn High School on this day.

The potential for a Columbine or Parkland here weighs heavily on the mind of at least one Michigan teacher.

Greenville Public Schools has not experienced any type of shooting incident. But schoolteacher Amber Guerreiro recently had a Facebook post go viral when she described a day in her life while teaching. It read:

“Media: Your classroom is going to get shot up any minute.”

“Door: Keep me locked, so that students are safe. Yes you will be interrupted to open me 10x per hour.”

“Internal Threat Drill: Surprise! Barricade your door and make sure all students are silent for 45 minutes. Go back to teaching.”

“External Threat drill: Surprise! Make sure student are silent and out of the funnel of potential bullet spray. Now go back to teaching.”

Tracking school shootings as far back as 1970 is not a perfect science.

The most extensive research on school shootings appears to be The K-12 School Shooting Database. It is part of the Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security program at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

The K-12 School Shooting Database attempts to document “each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time, day of the week (e.g., planned attack, accidental, domestic violence, gang-related).”

Everytown For Gun Safety also has an extensive list of school shootings.

A review of Michigan shootings shows that K-12 School Shooting Database has a more extensive list of incidents, but it did not include one shooting listed on the Everytown list. That was a April 17, 2019, incident at Flex High School where a gunshot was fired outside the Flint Development center. No one was hurt and the Flint Development Center was placed on lockdown.

Wikipedia and Ballotpedia also track shooting incidents in schools but appear to have less extensive lists than The K-12 School Shooting Database.