Toy cars are seen with candles at a makeshift memorial on Tuesday in Newtown, Conn.(Photo: Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images)
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
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 killed.
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.
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.
Friday's massacre in Newtown/2nd ref; no state/ "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."
But for 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.