Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly referred to the University of Albany. The correct name is the University at Albany.

Some Link Economy With Spate Of Killings

Another in a string of mass slayings: Four people were found dead yesterday in this Alabama home.
Another in a string of mass slayings: Four people were found dead yesterday in this Alabama home. (By Daniel Giles -- Associated Press)

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In Binghamton, N.Y., a Vietnamese immigrant upset about losing his job burst into an immigration center and killed 13 people before killing himself. In Pittsburgh, police said a gun enthusiast recently discharged from the Marine Corps opened fire and killed three police officers. And in Graham, Wash., investigators said a man whose wife was leaving him shot and killed five of his children in their mobile home before taking his own life.

The carnage that occurred during less than 48 hours last week capped a recent string of unusually brazen mass killings, which crime experts say have touched more people and occurred in more public settings than in any time in recent memory. Comparative statistics are difficult to come by, but during the past month alone, at least eight mass homicides in this country have claimed the lives of 57 people. Just yesterday, four people were discovered shot to death in a modest wood-frame home in a remote Alabama town.

The factor underlying the violence, some experts think, is the dismal state of the nation's economy. Criminologists theorize that the epidemic of layoffs, the meltdown of storied American corporations and the uncertainty of recovery have stoked fear, anxiety and desperation across society and unnerved its most vulnerable and dangerous.

"I've never seen such a large number [of killings] over such a short period of time involving so many victims," said Jack Levin, a noted criminologist at Northeastern University who has authored or co-authored eight books on mass murder.

The simple fact, criminologist James Alan Fox said, is that more Americans are struggling.

"The American dream to them is a nightmare, and the land of opportunity is but a cruel joke," said Fox, also of Northeastern, who has been dubbed the "dean of death" for his analysis of mass murders. "The economic pie is shrinking to the point where it looks more like a Pop Tart and some feel all they're getting is the crumbs. There's a combination of feeling despair and hopelessness at the same time as a certain degree of anger and blame."

Other crime experts caution, however, against drawing such conclusions.

"Because homicides are fairly rare, it is hard to see patterns even when ones exist," said Shawn Bushway, a criminologist at the University of Albany. "It's like reading tea leaves. I don't make much of it. I don't think you can say anything definitively one way or another."

Predictably, the carnage has focused attention on the nation's gun laws. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said it is too easy for dangerous people to acquire guns.

"The common denominator in all these is that they're all using a gun," Helmke said of the recent killings. "You don't see police officers in Pittsburgh being killed by people throwing knives at them. . . . We've always had violence, but in the old days you couldn't take out so many people so quickly. Now we make it very easy to do that."

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson called the recent spate of killings "domestic terrorism" and said he hoped the slaughter would be a wake-up call for policymakers.

"You can't grow businesses in war zones," said Jackson, who recently visited cities beset by gun violence. "You can't go to school in war zones. You can't play in the park in war zones."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity