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, Ct., says USA Today. Using news accounts and FBI records from 2006 through 2010, the newspaper identified 156 murders that met the FBI definitions of mass killings, where four or more people were killed. The attacks killed 774 people, including at least 161 young children.
The review offers perspective on a crime that is both frighteningly common and not widely understood. “Everybody is surprised when they hear it’s dozens a year,” said Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. “People don’t understand them. When they think of mass murders, they only think it’s random.” Without more complete records, it is impossible to know whether mass killings increased in the last two years, though they have become less common since the mid-1990s, says Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Lone gunmen, such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, account for less than half of the mass killers. About a quarter of mass murders involve two or more killers.