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Youth-Violence Prevention in the Aftermath of the San Diego East County School Shootings: A Qualitative Assessment of Community Explanatory Models

  • Lawrence A. Palinkas
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Lawrence A. Palinkas, PhD, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0807
    Affiliations
    From the Departments of Family and Preventive Medicine (Drs Palinkas, Prussing, and Reznik) and Pediatrics (Dr Reznik), University of California, San Diego; the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (Drs Prussing and Landsverk), Children's Hospital, San Diego; and the School of Social Work (Dr Landsverk), San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif.
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  • Erica Prussing
    Affiliations
    From the Departments of Family and Preventive Medicine (Drs Palinkas, Prussing, and Reznik) and Pediatrics (Dr Reznik), University of California, San Diego; the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (Drs Prussing and Landsverk), Children's Hospital, San Diego; and the School of Social Work (Dr Landsverk), San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif.
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  • John Landsverk
    Affiliations
    From the Departments of Family and Preventive Medicine (Drs Palinkas, Prussing, and Reznik) and Pediatrics (Dr Reznik), University of California, San Diego; the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (Drs Prussing and Landsverk), Children's Hospital, San Diego; and the School of Social Work (Dr Landsverk), San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif.
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  • Vivian Reznik
    Affiliations
    From the Departments of Family and Preventive Medicine (Drs Palinkas, Prussing, and Reznik) and Pediatrics (Dr Reznik), University of California, San Diego; the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (Drs Prussing and Landsverk), Children's Hospital, San Diego; and the School of Social Work (Dr Landsverk), San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif.
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      Background.—In March, 2001, 2 separate incidents of school shootings occurred within the same school district in San Diego's East County.
      Objective.—To examine community explanatory models of the causes of the school shootings and strategies for preventing such events.
      Design/Methods.—A qualitative study was undertaken in 4 East County communities over a 6-month period following the 2 events. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 85 community residents identified through maximum variation sampling. Interview transcripts were analyzed by coding consensus, co-occurrence and comparison, using NVivo text analysis software.
      Results.—Four sets of theories as to the cause of these events were identified, based on the following: 1) unique or idiosyncratic characteristics of the 2 shooters (newcomer to community who was a victim of bullying, victim of child abuse with a history of mental illness), 2) universal factors (culture of violence, violence in the media), 3) family-centered characteristics (single-parent households, dysfunctional relationships), and 4) community-specific characteristics (reputation for social intolerance, widespread access to guns). Beliefs in family-centered and community-centered theories of etiology were associated with optimism in preventing such events from occurring in the future through increased recognition and response to problem behaviors, while beliefs in idiosyncratic or universal determinants of youth violence were associated with pessimistic assessments of prevention.
      Conclusions—In this community, youth–violence-prevention programs that focus on taking responsibility for recognizing and responding to problem behaviors in at-risk youth are more likely to gain community support and participation than programs that focus on increased security, surveillance, or behavior change.

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      1. Palinkas LA, Prussing E, Reznik V, Landsverk J. The San Diego east county school shootings: a qualitative study of community level posttraumatic stress Prehosp Dis Med. In press.