WASHINGTON, D.C. – Among the records the US set in 2019 was a sad and disturbing one. It was the year with the most incidents of mass killings since media and scholars started keeping track, according to a new study. There were 211 victims in 41 mass killings this year, according to the database maintained by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University in Boston.
By their definition, mass murder is any incident in which four or more people die, excluding the perpetrator. It is the largest number of mass killings since the two news organizations and the university started tracking them in 2006, when they recorded 38 incidents. They say “other research” going back to the 1970s shows no other year that can compare, either.
“This seems to be the age of mass shootings,” James Densley, a criminologist and professor at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota, told AP.
In 33 instances, firearms were the weapon of choice, followed by knives and axes. In two cases, the perpetrators set a mobile home on fire, killing the people inside. Nine of the mass killings happened in a public place. Most of the incidents involved people who knew each other, either as family members or coworkers, and drug and gang violence.
Nearly half of US states experienced a mass killing, including big cities like New York City (population: 8.4 million) and small towns like Elkmont, Alabama (population: 470). Though it has the strictest gun laws in the country, California led the count with eight.
The deadliest incident happened in August, when 21-year-old Patrick Crusius shot and killed 22 people inside an El Paso, Texas Walmart. He stated that he wanted to kill as many “Mexicans” as possible, according to his confession.
The Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a group tracking all firearm injuries and deaths, has put the number of 2019 mass murders at 30 and mass shootings at 404; however, its methodology tracks incidents in which no one was killed, so the figures do not lend themselves to easy comparison.
One small bit of silver lining is that while the number of incidents in 2019 was the highest, 2017 has held on to the record for the number of victims: 224 people lost their lives in mass killings that year, including 58 in the Las Vegas country concert massacre. Stephen Paddock’s motive for targeting the event remains a mystery to this day.