2022 is deadliest year for mass murders, expert says

The United States lives a record year of mass murders, according to james alan foxa Northeastern professor who maintains the largest and longest-running data source on mass murder.

The growing number of victims is due to tragedies such as the recent mass shooting of five people at a Colorado nightclub, an event that has also contributed to a rise in hate crimes nationwide, according to Carlos Cuevasco-director of Northeastern’s Violence and Justice Research Laboratory.

“I’ve been studying mass murder for more than 40 years and I’m pretty sure there’s never been a year in which we’ve had this many,” says Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern.

headshot of james alan fox
James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The escalation has been fueled by what Fox calls “an unprecedented rise” of 13 mass shootings resulting in four or more deaths since Oct. 3.

“That’s an average of two mass shootings a week,” says Fox, “compared to the usual average of two a month.”

In addition to the recent mass shootings, this month has seen two mass murders not involving a weapon, including the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students last week.

The massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday has been identified as a hate crime, according to court records. Anderson Aldrich, 22, is accused of killing five people and injuring 25 more at the LGBTQ nightclub before he was accosted by two people.

Hate crimes in the United States have increased for five of the past six years, according to FBI data. In 2020, the last full year for which records are available, there were 8,263 incidents.

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“But that’s the tip of a very large iceberg,” says Cuevas, a Northeast professor of criminology and criminal justice.

More than 60% of reported incidents in 2020 were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry. About 16% were based on sexual orientationwhich appears to have prompted the Colorado attack.

“That gives you an idea of ​​the trend,” says Cuevas. “But it is largely an underreported crime.”

Photo of Carlos Cuevas
Carlos Cuevas, professor of criminology and criminal justice and co-director of the Violence and Justice Research Laboratory. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeast University

The Colorado attack was preceded by a 2021 incident in which the bomb squad and crisis negotiators convinced Aldrich to surrender after he allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb. But Aldrich’s weapons were not seized by authorities in an apparent violation of the state’s “red flag” law.

Fox says it’s hard to prevent mass murder.

“It’s easier said than done to take dangerous guns away from dangerous people,” says Fox, who runs the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Murder Database. “Afterward, of course, we can all see what should have been done. But those warning signs are only crystal clear with 20-20 hindsight. It is virtually impossible with any degree of reliability to identify mass murderers in advance. There are countless angry or hateful people who seem to fit the profile, but will never turn their anguish into action.”

Much of the data supporting the effectiveness of red flag laws is based on suicide prevention, Fox adds.

“But suicide and homicide are very different,” says Fox. “Homicidal people react differently to an attempt to take their gun from them than suicidal people.”