Shocking crimes seem to be a dime-a-dozen in the United States, where crime always leads the news and there are more guns per capita (89 guns for every 100 people) than anywhere else. Both facts equate the country with a “wild west” mentality of shoot or be shot. The perception of violent crime prompted China to warn its citizens about traveling here this year.
In reality, the crime rate in the United States has dropped precipitously in the past 30 years, but that doesn’t stop people from worrying about it. Crime also makes for fascinating television shows, which dominate our entertainment, mesmerizing and appalling us with an addictive jolt of adrenaline.
A murderer who has killed a high number of victims claims a certain notoriety. A semi-automatic rifle or an explosion is an efficient way to execute human beings and secure a position in the pantheon of notorious killers. Here are five examples of high-kill crimes based on their shock value:
Newtown massacre, 2012
An allegedly mentally unstable young man, Adam Lanza, started the day by killing his mother, who had introduced him to firearms. He then took her guns to the nearby elementary school and hunted down staff and students in hallways before getting into a first-grade classroom where he executed an entire class of 5- and 6-year old children and their teacher. While the death toll was 26 – not the highest ever – the country recoiled in shock at this slaughter of innocence. President Obama immediately visited, consoling each affected parent in turn and delivering a tearful address to the public.
Mandalay Bay concert sniper, 2017
Thousands of country music fans were enjoying an outdoor concert on a warm evening near the Las Vegas strip when shots rang out and people in the crowd started to drop to the ground, wounded. The band on the stage took cover as the scene erupted into pandemonium and a stampede over iron barriers. People didn’t know that the shooting originated from a hotel room in the Mandalay Bay hotel which overlooked the site. There on the 32nd floor a single sniper with a huge arsenal of weapons had broken out a window and began picking off random victims. Within minutes more than 50 people would be dead, including the 64 year old shooter, Stephen Paddock, and hundreds more wounded. The public reacted with fear and concern about large-scale events that could attract a similarly bloodthirsty killer.
World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, September 11, 2001
A long-planned and well-executed series of airplane hijackings has made the phrase “nine-eleven” significant to all Americans. This mass murder of more than 2,900 people and destruction of landmark buildings in the busiest city on the East Coast, as well as the similar aerial attack on the Pentagon military headquarters in Virginia changed the national myth of impregnability. The coordinated attacks by Middle Eastern extremists commandeered multiple commercial airliners on a Tuesday morning and crashed two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth hijacking was thwarted by passengers and crashed into a field in central Pennsylvania but not before panicked passengers were able to call family members to say goodbye. The country came to a standstill for several days as all flights were grounded and business suspended, then residents responded with an outpouring of grief and resolve. President George Bush launched retaliatory attacks in the Middle East soon thereafter that has morphed into a long-running ground war against religious extremists in several countries.
Parkland High School shooting, 2018
More than 1,800 school shootings have taken place since young children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut in 2012, but the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Parkland High School in South Florida may signal a change of heart about the inevitability of this sort of crime. While the 17 victims of lone teen shooter Nikolas Cruz does not put the crime at the top of any list of mass shootings, the student response to it may make it a watershed moment. Following the shooting, students across the country walked out of classes in solidarity, openly criticized National Rifle Association-sponsored politicians for weak gun laws, and took up a voter registration effort, hoping to overturn the balance of power that has encouraged the culture of gun violence to proliferate.
Oklahoma City Bombing, 1995
Disillusioned about what he saw as the federal government’s heavy-handed reaction to an anti-government, anti-tax activist named Randy Weaver who defied FBI agents with an armed standoff at his Ruby Ridge, Idaho home and those exercising their rights to religious liberty at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco Texas, U.S. Army veteran Timothy McVeigh launched the deadliest act of domestic terrorism at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring many more. He became radicalized and was obsessed with guns, encouraging people he met at gun shows to murder a government sniper who had taken part in the Ruby Ridge standoff. McVeigh and an accomplice, a fellow veteran, constructed a bomb from commercially-available farm fertilizer, and drove it into the building where a day care center for workers’ children was located among government offices. The result around the country was shock that an American and member of the armed forces would turn against his own people, as well as a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of the anti-government militia movement that exists particularly in the rural west.