U.S. mass killings hit new high in 2019

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion - By LISA MARIE PANE

The first one oc­curred 19 days into the new year when a man used an ax to kill four fam­ily mem­bers in­clud­ing his in­fant daugh­ter. Five months later, 12 peo­ple were killed in a work­place shoot­ing in Vir­ginia. Twenty-two more died at a Wal­mart in El Paso in Au­gust.

A data­base com­piled by The As­so­ci­ated Press, USA To­day and North­east­ern Univer­sity shows that there were more mass killings in 2019 than any year dat­ing back to at least the 1970s, punc­tu­ated by a chill­ing suc­ces­sion of deadly ram­pages dur­ing the sum­mer.

In all, there were 41 mass killings, de­fined as when four or more peo­ple are killed ex­clud­ing the per­pe­tra­tor. Of those, 33 were mass shoot­ings. More than 210 peo­ple were killed.

Most of the mass killings barely be­came na­tional news, fail­ing to res­onate among the gen­eral public be­cause they didn’t spill into public places like mas­sacres in El Paso and Odessa, Texas; Day­ton, Ohio; Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia; and Jersey City, New Jersey.

The ma­jor­ity of the killings in­volved peo­ple who knew each other — fam­ily dis­putes, drug or gang vi­o­lence or peo­ple with beefs that di­rected their anger at co-work­ers or rel­a­tives.

In many cases, what set off the per­pe­tra­tor re­mains a mys­tery.

That’s the case with the very first mass killing of 2019, when a 42-year-old man took an ax and stabbed to death his mother, step­fa­ther, girl­friend and ninemonth-old daugh­ter in Clacka­mas County, Ore­gon. Two oth­ers, a room­mate and an eight-year-old girl man­aged to es­cape; the ram­page ended when re­spond­ing po­lice fa­tally shot the killer.

The per­pe­tra­tor had oc­ca­sional runins with po­lice over the years, but what drove him to at­tack his fam­ily re­mains un­known. He had just got­ten a job train­ing me­chan­ics at an auto deal­er­ship, and de­spite oc­ca­sional ar­gu­ments with his rel­a­tives, most said there was noth­ing out of the or­di­nary that raised sig­nif­i­cant red flags.

The in­ci­dent in Ore­gon was one of 18 mass killings where fam­ily mem­bers were slain, and one of six that didn’t in­volve a gun. Among other trends in 2019:

• The 41 mass killings were the most in a sin­gle year since the AP/USA To­day and

North­east­ern data­base be­gan track­ing such events back to 2006, but other re­search go­ing back to the 1970s shows no other year with as many mass slay­ings. The sec­ond-most killings in a year prior to 2019 was 38 in 2006.

•The 211 peo­ple killed in this year’s cases is still eclipsed by the 224 vic­tims in 2017, when the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory took place in Las Ve­gas.

• Cal­i­for­nia, with some of the most strict gun laws in the coun­try, had the most, with eight such mass slay­ings. But nearly half of U.S. states ex­pe­ri­enced a mass slay­ing, from big cities like New York, to tiny towns like Elk­mont, Alabama, with a pop­u­la­tion of just under 475 peo­ple.

•Firearms were the weapon in all but eight of the mass killings. Other weapons in­cluded knives, axes and at least twice when the per­pe­tra­tor set a mo­bile home on fire, killing those in­side.

• Nine mass shoot­ings oc­curred in a public place. Other mass killings oc­curred in homes, in the work­place or at a bar.

James Dens­ley, a crim­i­nol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at Met­ro­pol­i­tan State Univer­sity in Min­nesota, said the AP/USA To­day/ North­east­ern data­base con­firms and mir­rors what his own re­search into ex­clu­sively mass shoot­ings has shown.

“What makes this even more ex­cep­tional is that mass killings are go­ing up at a time when gen­eral homi­cides, over­all homi­cides, are go­ing down,” Dens­ley said. “As a per­cent­age of homi­cides, these mass killings are also ac­count­ing for more deaths. ”

He be­lieves it’s par­tially a byprod­uct of an “an­gry and frus­trated time” that we are liv­ing in. Dens­ley also said crime tends to go in waves with the 1970s and 1980s see­ing a num­ber of serial killers, the 1990s marked by school shoot­ings and child ab­duc­tions and the early 2000s dom­i­nated by con­cerns over ter­ror­ism.

“This seems to be the age of mass shoot­ings,” Dens­ley said.

He and James Alan Fox, a crim­i­nol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at North­east­ern Univer­sity, also ex­pressed wor­ries about the “con­ta­gion ef­fect,” the fo­cus on mass killings fu­el­ing other mass killings.

“These are still rare events. Clearly the risk is low but the fear is high,” Fox said. “What fu­els con­ta­gion is fear.”

The mass shoot­ings this year in­clude the three in Au­gust in Texas and Day­ton that stirred fresh ur­gency, es­pe­cially among Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, to re­strict ac­cess to firearms. While the large death tolls at­tracted much of the at­ten­tion, the killings in­flicted a men­tal and phys­i­cal toll on dozens of oth­ers. The data­base does not have a com­plete count of vic­tims who were wounded, but among the three mass shoot­ings in Au­gust alone, more than 65 peo­ple were in­jured.

Daniel Munoz, 28, of Odessa, was caught in the cross­fire of the shoot­ing that took place be­tween a 10-mile stretch in West Texas. He was on his way to meet a friend at a bar when he saw a gun­man and the bar­rel of a firearm. In­stinc­tively, he got down just as his car was sprayed with bul­lets.

Munoz, who moved to Texas about a year ago to work in the oil in­dus­try, said he had ac­tu­ally been on edge since the Wal­mart shoot­ing, which took place just 28 days ear­lier and about 300 miles away, wor­ried that a shoot­ing could hap­pen any­where at any time.

He re­mem­bers call­ing his mother after the El Paso shoot­ing to en­cour­age her to have a firearm at home or with her in case she needed to de­fend her­self. He would say the same to friends, telling them be­fore they went to a Wal­mart to bring a firearm in case they needed to pro­tect them­selves or oth­ers dur­ing an at­tack.

“You can’t just al­ways as­sume you’re safe. In that mo­ment, as soon as the El Paso shoot­ing hap­pened, I was on edge,” Munoz said.

Adding to his anx­i­ety is that, as a con­victed felon, he’s pro­hib­ited from pos­sess­ing a firearm.

A few weeks later, as he sat be­hind the wheel of his car, he spot­ted the driver of an ap­proach­ing car wield­ing a firearm.

“My worst night­mare be­came a re­al­ity,” he said. “I’m the mid­dle of a gun­fight and I have no way to de­fend my­self.”

In the months since, the self-de­scribed so­cial but­ter­fly steers clear of crowds and can only tol­er­ate so much so­cial­iz­ing. He still drives the same car, still rid­dled with bul­let holes on the side panels, a bul­let hole in the head­rest of the pas­sen­ger seat and the words “ev­i­dence” scrawled on the doors. His shoul­der re­mains pocked with bul­let frag­ments.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Daniel Munoz reaches for his in­jured back dur­ing an in­ter­view Sept. 1 in Odessa, Texas. Munoz was in­jured in a shoot­ing. The tat­too on his right hand is a bi­b­li­cal ref­er­ence, that the wages of sin are death and God’s gift is ev­er­last­ing life.

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