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North Dakota one of 11 states without a school shooting since Sandy Hook

FARGO -- On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman terrorized Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 students and six staff members. Since then, scores of school shootings have occurred around the country, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group.

North Dakota, however, has been spared from this violence. It's one of just 11 states that has not experienced a school shooting since the carnage at Sandy Hook, the group reported.

That's not to say North Dakota has never had a school shooting.

On Oct. 11, 2012, a couple of months before the Sandy Hook shooting, a freshman at Fairmount High School in southeastern North Dakota walked to the front of his classroom and shot himself in the face with a small handgun. The teen survived, and no one else was hurt.

Local school and police officials can't explain why there hasn't been a school shooting in North Dakota for going on three years. But schools here, like schools nationwide, are taking steps to prevent shootings.

Since 1999, when two teens killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado, school officials in the Fargo area have been focused on building security as well as making sure teachers and administrators connect with students and foster a healthy school climate, said Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz.

"Social media makes that much more challenging," he said. "A lot of times things are going on outside of the school between kids and then that gets brought into the school."

To help students struggling with mental health issues or other problems, the Fargo School District has two staffers called "student wellness facilitators" who can help students get needed services, Schatz said. "Those two people are very busy as far as the numbers of kids that they're able to work with," he said.

Sgt. George Vinson said the Fargo Police Department's school resource officers, who are assigned to middle schools and high schools, are another part of the local effort to stem school shootings.

When students act out, school resource officers work with school staff to correct a student's behavior before it culminates in a school shooting, said Vinson, who coordinated an active-shooter drill this summer at Davies High School.

"It's something that we have to prepare for," he said. "As much as we might like to think that that'll never happen here, it's that kind of attitude that gets people hurt."

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, Everytown for Gun Safety has counted 142 school shootings at colleges and K-12 schools. To be clear, not all these shootings left people dead or injured.

Everytown's count included all incidents when a gun was fired on school grounds or on campus, whether someone was hurt or not. This broad definition of a school shooting has prompted criticism from news outlets, but the group's research director, Ted Alcorn, stands by the definition.

"We don't say that these are Sandy Hook-style shootings," Alcorn said. "Rather, we say these (shootings) meet a criteria of a gun being fired in a school. That's a nightmare for most parents."

"We think it's very important for us to count these incidents and make them count," he added. "We don't want to allow school-related gun violence to be normalized in our society."

Along with North Dakota, the states without a school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre are West Virginia, Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Alcorn said the state with the most school shootings is Georgia with 16. South Dakota, which has experienced two school shootings, has the most on a population basis, he said.

One of the South Dakota shootings happened just last week in Harrisburg, where a student is charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting the high school principal in the arm.

Minnesota has weathered three shootings since Sandy Hook. The shootings, which all took place this year, occurred at Roseville's Hand in Hand Christian Montessori School in January, Minnesota State University Mankato in February and Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids in March, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.