Mass Shootings In America By The Numbers | KERA News

Mass Shootings In America By The Numbers

Jul 24, 2015
Originally published on July 24, 2015 2:28 pm

Mass shootings as defined by the FBI happen about every two weeks in America. For nearly a decade, USA Today has been tracking these incidents on a website that paints a grim picture.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Something happened after last week's multiple killings at military installations in Chattanooga. The nation took notice. But in the days since, several other mass killings received far less national attention.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Five family members were killed in Modesto, Calif. Four were killed in Chicago. And five were stabbed to death in Broken Arrow, Okla.

INSKEEP: If you missed the news of these incidents, you're not the only one. Our next guest has tried to get a clearer picture than the media provide of mass killings.

GREENE: She's Jodi Upton, part of a team of USA Today reporters who put together an interactive website. The site tracks every mass killing since 2006. And what she found is dark enough that we should warn some people might wish to turn down the radio for four minutes.

INSKEEP: A mass killing is defined here as an event in which at least four people die other than the attacker. Upton says neither the federal government nor the states had all the information her team found.

JODI UPTON: What wasn't known definitely is how many there actually are. We tend to focus on the ones that happen in public places like Newtown or the Aurora movie theater. No one's really counting all of them. But we definitely weren't counting the ones that happen among families, for example, which is almost half of them.

INSKEEP: There is, of course, a truism that's borne out by statistics. Most people who are killed are killed by someone they know. What you're telling us is that is also true for mass killings. Most of them are within a family or within some relationship.

UPTON: It is true. And in our data, which goes back about nine and a half years now, about 57 percent of the victims knew their killer in some way.

INSKEEP: So in that sense, an incident like the Chattanooga shooting or the Charleston shooting, to name a couple of horrific recent instances, they're not absolutely representative of what a mass killing is or what mass killings are across the country.

UPTON: Well, they're certainly the ones that scare us the most because they seem so random. But you don't have to look at very many of these cases to realize that there's a randomness to all of them, even if it was a gang or a drug shooting. It's easy for us to think that, well, I don't do drugs. I don't have anything to do with a gang. Most everybody in my family is relatively stable. That can't happen to me. But you look at very many of these cases, and it's a neighbor who heard something and went next door. It's a good Samaritan that tried to help someone in a parking lot. The case in Modesto last weekend included a 5-year-old who was there on a play date. So there is always a randomness to these events.

INSKEEP: OK, so how many people are being killed in mass killing incidents across the country year-by-year?

UPTON: Since we started counting at the beginning of 2006, there have been 284 incidents, not quite 1,400 people who have died.

INSKEEP: Not quite 1,400 people...

UPTON: Right.

INSKEEP: Who have died.

UPTON: Yes.

INSKEEP: They're mostly involving firearms?

UPTON: About 70 percent involve firearms.

INSKEEP: What about when they don't? What weapons are being used?

UPTON: It could be anything from - we have a number of cases of arson. We have blunt instruments. There's at least one case, I think, where it was a fist - strangulation, drowning, even cars.

INSKEEP: What do you know, if anything, about the characteristics of people who commit these mass killings?

UPTON: The overwhelming majority are men, about 94 percent. Men are a little more likely to use guns than women are. And women are more likely to use other things, like strangulation or drowning or arson. They are also often focused on children - although, a lot of the men are as well. And about a third of the killers don't leave the scene alive. They either commit suicide or they are shot by police.

INSKEEP: You just said women and men, in large numbers, are focused on killing children.

UPTON: Yes.

INSKEEP: How common is that, that children are killed?

UPTON: About 30 percent of the victims are children. And because so many times these happen among families, one of the most common triggers is someone broke up with somebody else. There was just a custody agreement that somebody wasn't happy with. There was a restraining order. Those tend to be triggers. And because children are involved in the incident, there seems to be an effort to make the children pay. In other words, if I can't have the children, neither can you.

INSKEEP: So this isn't just kids caught in the crossfire...

UPTON: No.

INSKEEP: Because they were on the playground.

UPTON: No, a lot of this is sort of deliberate.

INSKEEP: That's Jodi Upton of USA Today. This morning, we are tracking one more shooting at a theater in Louisiana where two people are dead plus the shooter. It was the kind of incident that does get public attention, a shooting in a public place. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.