A woman prays at a memorial set up near the Sandy Hook Elementary school Dec. 15, 2012. ( Frank Becerra Jr / The Journal News )Gannett
Mass killers target Americans once every two
weeks on average, in attacks that range from robberies to horrific
public shooting sprees like the massacre Friday of 27 people in Newtown,
Conn., a USA TODAY examination found.
Using news accounts and FBI
records from 2006 through 2010, the most recent years for which
complete records were available, USA TODAY identified 156 murders that
met the FBI definitions of mass killings, where four or more people were
All told, the attacks killed 774 people, including at least 161 young children.
review offers perhaps the most current, complete picture yet of a crime
that is both frighteningly common and not widely understood.
is surprised when they hear it's dozens a year," said Northeastern
University criminologist James Alan Fox, who has studied mass murders.
"People don't understand them. When they think of mass murders, they
only think it's random."
USA TODAY's examination did not
include murders during the past two years, both of which were marked by a
series of high-profile public shootings, including a rampage this year
at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 dead and 57 injured, and
an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six.
more complete records, it is impossible to know whether mass killings
increased over those years - though they have become less common since
the mid-1990s, according to Grant Duwe, director of research at the
Minnesota Department of Corrections, who has studied mass murders.
killings between 2006 and 2010, however, offer a portrait of mass
murder that in many ways belies the stereotype of a lone gunman
Lone gunmen, such as the one who terrorized
Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, account for less than half of
the nation's mass killers. About a quarter of mass murders involve two
or more killers.
A third of mass killings didn't involve guns at
all. In 15 incidents, the victims died in a fire. In 20 others, the
killer used a knife or a blunt object. When guns were involved, killers
were far more likely to use handguns than any other type of weapon.
Children are frequently victims. At least 161 who died in mass killings -- roughly one in five -- were 12 and younger.
murderers tend to be older than other killers, with an average age of
nearly 32 years old. Like all killers, they are overwhelmingly men.
massacre in Newtown "has turned a whole new page" in the nation's
long-running debate over guns, said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., a
leading proponent of tighter gun laws. "Parents and grandparents, dads,
gun owners are thinking that their children at any time at any place
could have someone come in and do this kind of massacre."
all the attention they receive, mass killings still accounted for only a
tiny fraction - about 1% - of all the Americans who were murdered over
those five years. During those five years, more died from migraines and
falling out of chairs than were murdered by mass killers, according to
death records kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Three times as many people perished from sunstroke.