U.S. School Shooting Death Toll: 323

Three hundred twenty-three students have died in documented school shootings over the past 15 years, making it by far the largest cause of violent deaths in school.

It outranks the documented 111 combined deaths by strangulation, stabbing and slashing, hanging, beating and kicking, heart attacks, a half dozen deaths from unknown causes and two persons who jumped to their death over the same time period, according to data from the National School Safety Center for grades K through 12.

With 55 million students in grades K through 12 and another 15 million in college, the numbers point to a situation that is far from epidemic, law enforcement officials say.

Photos: U.S. School Shooting Death Toll: 323

But the incidents are headline-grabbing and deeply troubling because only infrequently can police or school officials identify in advance a student or other school community member who might launch a violent attack. It is also the kind of violence, like terrorism, that leaves in its wake a lasting fear of further violence. As a result, law enforcement is too often in the position of responding to a situation that has already gone bad, or what cops call "an active shooter" scenario.

In an effort to find some answers to these difficult questions, the New York City Police Department hosted a full-day conference Wednesday, bringing in officials charged with the responses to Columbine and the Lancaster, Pa., Amish school hostage situation and fatal shooting as well as Tom Ridge, the official charged with overseeing the review of the Virginia Tech massacre last April 16.

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"This could have happened at just about any campus in America," Ridge said of that incident in which 33, including the shooter Seung-Hui Cho, were killed. Ridge pointed out that a key failure in the response to that incident was the delayed and vague communication from the school adminstration to its students and teachers."Inadequate," is how Ridge characterized the warning that came about two hours after the first two homicides.In analyzing the threat from school shooters, officials said the commonalities between incidents show that for the most part, school shootings are "rarely impulsive" and profiles of shooters differ to the point of randomness. As a result, a good part of the presentation focused on enhancing school security and communication within the school or campus community, integrating outside law enforcement with school security  as well as the methods law enforcement could use to respond to a shooting or hostage situation in progress."We hope to glean some insights about better protecting our campuses through an examination of these horrible events," New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told ABC News before the start of the conference.In a recent spate of back-to-school bomb threats at campuses across the country, what became apparent in each university's response was that in the aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech, school security officials have beefed up their methods of alerting campus community members to a violent situation or threat in progress and what actions should be taken, issuing an all-clear when the situation is over and posting a summary of what occurred on school Web sites. In the West Nickel Mines Amish School shooting, 10 young Amish girls were taken hostage. Five were killed and five wounded before the shooter -- a milkman --  killed himself, changing forever an important part of a rural community's life.That school, one of 180 one-room schoolhouses in the community, had no electricity, no phone and no security. While the Amish use cellphones, faxes and other modern communication devices in business, they tend to shun the technology in their homes and schools.In the aftermath of the school shooting, the Anabaptist Christian community, descended from immigrants from Germany, tore down the school and returned the site to pasture.And in a gesture that illustrates the ability of the communal beliefs of the Amish to survive the incident and the media onslaught that accompanied it, the people of Lancaster raised a scholarship fund for the shooter's children to ensure they would be able to attend college.

This post has been updated.

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