The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than deployed service members

Authorities are investigating after finding explosives inside Santa Fe High School in Southeast Texas, where a gunman killed at least ten people on May 18. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

This article has been corrected.

The school shooting near Houston on Friday bolstered a stunning statistic: More people have been killed at schools this year than have been killed while deployed as members of the military.

Data for military casualties are difficult to ascertain. An original version of this article tallied solely reports of casualties released by the Department of Defense, which indicated that 13 members of the military had been killed while deployed, compared to 27 schoolchildren who’d died in five shooting incidents this year involving fatalities.

Put another way: Twice as many students have been killed in school shootings as have members of the military who were on deployment. An additional four adults were killed in school shootings in 2018 — but an additional 29 members of the military have died in training accidents.

After our original article ran, Jared Keller, a senior editor at the site Task & Purpose, noted that the Department of Defense releases offered an incomplete picture of service member fatalities. Separate data compiled by the Navy, including the Marines, adds additional casualties to the total. In May, an Air National Guard plane crashed in Georgia killing another nine — an incident not included in the Department of Defense’s reports.

“The DoD doesn’t always present a clear picture of accidental mishap-related deaths due to worries about operational security, hence the trouble with [Public Affairs Office] releases,” Keller wrote in an email. “Back in March 2017, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis even cautioned public affairs officials across the military to ‘be cautious about publicly telegraphing readiness shortfalls’ because ‘communicating that we are broken or not ready to fight invites miscalculation,’ as his spokesman put it at the time.”

On Monday, researcher Zachary Austin sent a more complete set of data about military casualties. Having realized that the Defense Department numbers were incomplete, he began tracking military fatalities separately, tallying 42 this year — including casualties in combat, while deployed and during training exercises. That Air National Guard crash, for example, was during a training exercise.

Comparing all fatalities in school shootings with all military deaths, the latter is higher, contrary to the original headline of this article. In both cases, those totals have been boosted by mass casualty events. In the case of the military, 20 of the fatalities occurred in just three aircraft crashes. In the case of schoolchildren, most of the deaths were in Santa Fe, Tex., last week and the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. in February.

Austin explained in an email why he started tracking this data.

“Last year I helped with research that showed more American troops had died from peacetime causes than wartime incidents since 2014,” he wrote. “There’s no centralized public database like the DCAS (Defense Casualty Analysis System) for training fatalities, and it was often maddening to track down accurate historical data. So I decided that in 2018, I would follow along day-by-day and identify every American service member killed in uniform throughout the year. Whether in a combat zone or not, they all died for their country.”

What the Defense Department reports is those casualties that don’t occur during training incidents.

Being a member of the military is still far more dangerous than being a student, of course. There are more than 50 million students in public elementary and high schools and only about 1.3 million members of the armed forces. So far in 2018, a member of the military, deployed or in training, has been more than 50 times as likely to be killed as someone is to die in a school shooting.

That said, 2018 is abnormal. Comparing shootings tallied by The Post with Defense-Department-reported casualties in 2017 — that is to say, non-training deaths — at no point were the number of military fatalities higher than the number of people killed in school shootings.

2018 has been more deadly than 2017 for both groups. In fact, 2018 is shaping up to be unusually deadly at schools. Comparing the number of deaths and the number of shooting incidents this year directly with those through May 18 of 2017, that difference is stark.

The number of deaths and school shooting incidents through May 18 are each higher this year than at any point since 2000. There have been three times as many deaths in school shootings so far this year than in the second-most deadly year through May 18, 2005.

In fact, there were 36 fatalities in school shootings in total through May 18 of each year from 2000 to 2017 — only slightly more than there have been in 2018 alone.

Without the shootings in Florida and Texas, the figure is substantially lower. In 2000 through 2017, there were an average of two deaths in five or six school shootings through this point in each year. Without Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Santa Fe, the totals in 2018 would be four deaths in 14 shooting incidents.

With them, it is 31 deaths in 16 incidents.