A couple observe a makeshift memorial honoring the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting, June 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP)
On Oct. 24, 2003, the Stateline Bar in Oldtown, Idaho, became the scene of the earliest-known mass shooting at a restaurant, bar and nightclub in the modern era.
Four people, including the perpetrator’s ex-girlfriend, were killed at the tiny tavern located in the Idaho-Washington border town with a population of about 200 people.
Mass shootings are defined by the Congressional Research Service as four or more victims.
The following year, a gunman killed four people and held one hostage at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio, where 250 people attended a heavy metal concert. Four were killed in that massacre, including Dimebag Darrell, founder and guitarist of the band Damageplan, as they played the first song of the set. He was the gunman’s target.
In 2010, three mass shootings occurred within a five-month span from April to August:
Multiple mass shootings also occurred in 2016 and in 2018. But the deadliest took place June 12, 2016, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people were killed and 53 were injured, most of them Hispanic and members of the LGBTQ community. Thirty-eight victims died at the scene.
The 29-year-old perpetrator at the gay nightclub was the American-born Muslim son of Afghan immigrants who had been a frequent customer. In his call to 9-1-1, he claimed the attack was in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that year against Islamic State that killed its leader, Abu Waheeb.
The attack at Pulse was classified as an act of terrorism. In its aftermath, law enforcement agencies across the United States reexamined their training, policies and practices regarding public mass violence.
Circles scaled according to the number of fatalities.
Jillian Peterson, Ph.D., and James Densley, Ph.D., built a new database of mass shooters that they hope will inform future research and policy decisions about how to effectively prevent and respond to mass shootings.
For their study, they used the Congressional Research Service’s definition of a mass shooting:
“a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms — not including the offender(s) — within one event, and at least some of the murders occurred in a public location or locations in close geographical proximity (e.g., a workplace, school, restaurant, or other public settings), and the murders are not attributable to any other underlying criminal activity or commonplace circumstance (armed robbery, criminal competition, insurance fraud, argument, or romantic triangle).”
All shooters have either been charged, convicted or killed at the scene.
In two years, the team collected more than 100 pieces of information on each of 171 mass shooters, resulting in The Violence Project Database of Mass Shootings in the United States, 1966-2019.
They compiled details on hundreds of factors, including age, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, education, relationship status, number of children, employment type and status, military service and branch, criminal, violence and abuse history, gang and terrorist affiliation, bullying, home environment and trauma.
What emerged were fleshed-out profiles and motivations of individual shooters, whose crimes can potentially influence current, and future policy and prevention.
While there is no single profile of a mass shooter, there are several similar characteristics of perpetrators who commit crimes at restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
One-third show evidence of a thought disorder.
The Violence Project describes this specific shooter as a white male in his 30s with a criminal record, violent history, and no employment connection to the location. He used a legally owned handgun to commit the crime. Sixty-five percent of the perpetrators had prior criminal records; 65% had a history of violence.
Twenty-six percent had an obsessive interest in firearms; 17% were school bullies. Twenty-six percent were notable misogynists; 39% were involved in domestic disputes that spilled over in the public. Thirty-nine percent had a relationship issue; and 13% experienced interpersonal conflict.
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