• Jared Wickerham/Getty
  • People hug outside of the Newtown United Methodist Church.

UPDATE—5 PM, 12-15-12: A school superintendent said today there was no indication that Nancy Lanza had ever worked at Sandy Hook elementary in any capacity. (Law enforcement officials had said yesterday she’d been a kindergarten teacher there.) Lanza, 52, apparently was slain by her son Adam not at the school but in her home, before he went to Sandy Hook, forced his way in, and shot children in two separate classrooms multiple times. It’s still unclear why Adam Lanza went to the school. The three guns found at the school—two semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle—apparently were purchased legally by Nancy Lanza. Acquaintances told the New York Times she was a gun enthusiast who sometimes went target shooting with her children.

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It’s a natural impulse to try to pinpoint the causes of tragedies, and the steps that could have prevented them, as many are doing today on Facebook and Twitter. How else do we deal with our pain and fear, and try to regain our balance?

But rampage shootings at schools, such as the one this morning in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed 27 people, including 20 children, are rare events. Common denominators can be found, but it’s also easy to draw sweeping conclusions, to ignore the unique circumstances of each episode, and, yes, to overreact.

School-rampage shootings tend to occur in suburban or rural locations “marked by a lack of overall crime,” Michael Rocque, a sociologist at the University of Maine, observed in a paper in the Social Science Journal this year. Newtown, 60 miles northeast of New York City, has a population of 28,000, a median household income of $110,000, and a very low crime rate.