A makeshift shrine honors the dead in Newtown, Conn. All over own there are handwritten signs that say "pray for Newtown" and "pray for Sandy Hook."(Photo: Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY)
(USA TODAY) -- 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.
"Everybody 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.
Friday's 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
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.