Mass murder is the act of murdering a number of people, typically simultaneously or over a relatively short period of time and in close geographic proximity. The FBI defines mass murder as murdering four or more people during an event with no "cooling-off period" between the murders. A mass murder typically occurs in a single location where one or more people kill several others.
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Note: Varies by jurisdiction
Note: Varies by jurisdiction
|By victim or victims|
A mass murder may be committed by individuals or organizations whereas a spree killing is committed by one or two individuals. Mass murderers differ from spree killers, who kill at two or more locations with almost no time break between murders and are not defined by the number of victims, and serial killers, who may kill people over long periods of time.
By terrorist organizations
Many terrorist groups in recent times have used the tactic of killing many victims to fulfill their political aims. Such incidents have included the:
- Murder of 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers in the Beirut barracks bombings on October 23, 1983 by the Islamic Jihad Organization
- Başbağlar attack in which 33 civilians were killed by the PKK on July 5, 1993
- 19 American airmen murdered in the Khobar Towers bombing on June 2, 1996 by Hezbollah Al-Hejaz
- September 11 attacks on September 11, 2001 by Al-Qaeda that killed 2,977 victims
- 193 murdered during the 2004 Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 by Al-Qaeda
- 334 murdered, including 186 children in the Beslan school siege on September 1–4, 2004 by Riyad-us Saliheen
- 52 murdered in the 2005 London bombings on July 7, 2005 by Islamic terrorists
- Killing of 166 people in the Mumbai attacks on November 26–29, 2008 by Lashkar-e-Taiba
- 130 deaths resulting from the November 2015 Paris attacks on November 13–14, 2015 by ISIL
- 86 murdered in the 2016 Nice truck attack on July 14, 2016 by ISIL
Certain cults, especially religious cults, have committed a number of mass killings and mass murder-suicides. These include Jim Jones' Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, where 919 people died in 1978; the Order of the Solar Temple in Canada, Switzerland, and France, where 75 died in 1994, 1995, and 1997; Shoko Asahara's Aum Shinrikyo, which killed 12 in Tokyo, Japan, in 1995; Marshall Applewhite's Heaven's Gate in San Diego, California, where 39 died in 1997; and the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda, where 778 died in 2000.
Mass murderers may fall into any of a number of categories, including killers of family, of coworkers, of students, and of random strangers. Their motives for murder vary. A notable motivation for mass murder is revenge, but other motivations are possible, including the need for attention or fame.
Acting on the orders of Joseph Stalin, Vasili Blokhin's war crime killing of 7,000 Polish prisoners of war, shot in 28 days, is notable as one of the most organized and protracted mass murders by a single individual on record.
Law enforcement response and countermeasures
Analysis of the Columbine High School massacre and other incidents where law enforcement officers waited for backup has resulted in changed recommendations regarding what victims, bystanders, and law enforcement officers should do. In the Columbine shooting, the perpetrators, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were able to murder 13 people, then commit suicide before the first SWAT team even entered the school. Average response time by law enforcement to a mass shooting is typically much longer than the time the shooter is engaged in killing. While immediate action may be extremely dangerous, it may save lives which would be lost if victims and bystanders involved in the situation remain passive, or law enforcement response is delayed until overwhelming force can be deployed. It is recommended that victims and bystanders involved in the incident take active steps to flee, hide, or fight the shooter and that law enforcement officers present or first arriving at the scene attempt immediately to engage the shooter. In many instances, immediate action by victims, bystanders, or law enforcement officers has saved lives.
Criticism of the analytical category "mass murder"
Commentators have pointed out that there are a wide variety of ways that homicides with more than several victims might be classified. Such incidents can be, and have been even in recent decades, classified many different ways including "as a mass shooting; as a school shooting; as mass murder; as workplace violence...; as a crime involving an assault rifle; as a case of a mentally ill person committing acts of violence; and so on."
How such rarely occurring incidents of homicide are classified tends to change significantly with time. "In the 1960s and 1970s,... it was understood that the key feature of [a number of such] cases was a high body count. These early discussions of mass murder lumped together [a variety of] cases that varied along what would come to be seen as important dimensions:
- Time: Did the killings occur more or less simultaneously, or did they extend over several days, months, or years?
- Place: Did the killings occur in a single location, or in a variety of places?
- Method: How were the victims killed?"
In the late decades of the twentieth century and early years of the 2000s, the most popular classifications moved to include method, time and place.
While such classifications may assist in gaining human meaning, as human-selected categories, they can also carry significant meaning and reflect a particular point of view of the commentator who assigned the descriptor.
- Duwe, Grant (2007). Mass Murder in the United States. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-7864-3150-2.
- Aggrawal, A. (2005). "Mass Murder". In Payne-James JJ; Byard RW; Corey TS; Henderson C (eds.). Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine (PDF). 3. Elsevier Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-547970-7. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
- "Serial Murder - Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators" (PDF). Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2005. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
- Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitement, Randall Collins, The Sociological Eye, September 1, 2012
- Kluger, Jeffrey (April 19, 2007). "Inside a Mass Murderer's Mind". Time. Archived from the original on April 22, 2007. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- "ABC News: What Pushes Shooters to Mass Murder?". Abcnews.go.com. 2008-02-09. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- "Notoriety Drives Mass Shooters". Newser. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- "ABC News: Psychiatrist: Showing Video Is 'Social Catastrophe'". Abcnews.go.com. 2007-04-19. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2004). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Knopf. p. 334. ISBN 1-4000-4230-5.
- Erica Goode (April 6, 2013). "In Shift, Police Advise Taking an Active Role to Counter Mass Attacks". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
Best, Joel (2013-06-16). "How Should We Classify the Sandy Hook Killings? : The social construction of a mass shooting epidemic". Reason. Retrieved 2013-06-18.
it is possible to characterize Newtown as an instance of a lot of different social problems: as a mass shooting; as a school shooting; as mass murder; as workplace violence (remember the staff members who were killed were at work); as a crime involving an assault rifle; as a case of a mentally ill person committing acts of violence; and so on. We expect journalists to have a sort of sociological imagination, to help us understand incidents as instances. And we can understand why advocates for gun control, mental health, or other causes might favor particular labels but we need to appreciate there is no One True Classification, that the categories we use are merely tools that may help us better understand what [is] happening in our society.
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