Mass murder

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Mass murder (in military contexts, sometimes interchangeable with "mass destruction") is murdering many people, typically simultaneously or over a relatively short period of time.[1]

The FBI defines mass murder as murdering four or more persons during an event with no cooling-off period between the murders. A mass murder typically occurs in one location where one or more people kill several others.[2][3] Many acts of mass murder end with the perpetrator(s)' dying by suicide or suicide by cop.[4]

Individuals and organizations can commit mass murder whereas only one or two individuals can commit a spree killing. 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. Mass murder is the hypernym of genocide, which requires additional criteria.

Mass murder can also be intentionally and indiscriminately murdering many people by government agents; e.g., shooting unarmed protestors, lobbing grenades into prison cells, and randomly executing civilians.[5] The largest mass killings in history have been governmental attempts to exterminate entire groups or communities of people, often on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Some of these mass murders have been found to be genocides and others to be crimes against humanity, and often cause few or no convictions.

Mass murder by a state[edit]

The concept of state-sponsored mass murder covers many potential killings, examples whereof including

Mass murder by individuals[edit]

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.[8] A notable motivation for mass murder is revenge, but other motivations are possible, including the need for attention or fame.[9][10][11]

Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on Virginia Tech's campus in 2007.

Examples of mass murderers include King Dipendra of Nepal,[12] Anders Behring Breivik, Adam Lanza, Cho Seung-Hui, William Unek, Campo Elías Delgado, Jeff Weise, Woo Bum-kon, Martin Bryant, Ahmed Ibragimov, Baruch Goldstein, Robert Bales, Omar Thornton, Nidal Malik Hasan and James Holmes.[13]

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.[14]

Police response and countermeasures[edit]

Analysis of the Columbine High School massacre and other incidents where first responders waited for backup has resulted in changed recommendations regarding what bystanders and first responders should do. Average response time by police 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 people involved in the situation remain passive, or a police response is delayed until overwhelming force can be deployed. It is recommended that civilians involved in the incident take active steps to flee, hide, or fight the shooter and that individual law enforcement officers present or first arriving at the scene attempt immediately to engage the shooter. In many instances immediate action by civilians or law enforcement has saved lives.[15]

Criticism of the analytical category "mass murder"[edit]

Commentators state that multi-victim homicides can be variously classified; e.g., in recent decades, "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."[4]

How such rarely occurring incidents of homicide are classified significantly changes 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:[4]

  • Time: Were the killings more or less simultaneous or over several days, months, or years?
  • Place: 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. These classifications may assist gaining human meaning, as human-selected categories, they can also reflect a view of the commentator who assigned the descriptor.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aggrawal A. (2005) Mass Murder. In: Payne-James JJ, Byard RW, Corey TS, Henderson C (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Vol. 3, Pp. 216-223. Elsevier Academic Press, London
  2. ^ "Serial Murder - Federal Bureau of Investigation". Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  3. ^ Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitment, Randall Collins, The Sociological Eye, September 1, 2012
  4. ^ a b c d 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." 
  5. ^ R. J. Rummel, Irving Louis Horowitz, Death by Government, Page 35, ISBN 1-56000-927-6
  6. ^ R.J. Rummel. Chapter 1: 61,911,000 Victims: Utopianism Empowered
  7. ^ Akbar, Arifa (17 September 2010). "Mao's Great Leap Forward 'killed 45 million in four years'". The Independent (London). Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Kluger, Jeffrey (April 19, 2007). "Inside a Mass Murderer's Mind". Time. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ "ABC News: What Pushes Shooters to Mass Murder?". 2008-02-09. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  10. ^ "Notoriety Drives Mass Shooters". Newser. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  11. ^ "ABC News: Psychiatrist: Showing Video Is 'Social Catastrophe'". 2007-04-19. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  12. ^ "Nepal royal family massacred". BBC News. June 2, 2001
  13. ^ Farhi, Paul (December 20, 2012). "Adam Lanza, and others who committed mass shootings, were white males". The Washington Post. 
  14. ^ Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2004). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Knopf. p. 334. ISBN 1-4000-4230-5. 
  15. ^ 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. 

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