The list includes notorious characters like the Candy Man, the Clown Killer, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Over the past seven days, America witnessed nine mass shootings that left six dead and 42 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far in 2016 to 372 dead and 1,425 injured. That means about as many people have been killed in American mass shootings so far this year as were killed by a dozen of America's most prolific serial killers over their bloody careers, going by the number of murders they copped to or have been widely linked with.
That list includes some notorious characters: Gary Ridgeway, the "Green River Killer," who was linked to 49 murders but boasted of at least 70. Patrick Kearney, the "Freeway Killer," who confessed at one point to 35 killings but was suspected of others; Paul John Knowles, the "Casanova Killer," who copped to at least 35 murders; John Wayne Gacy, the "Clown Killer," who was linked to 33 victims; Ted Bundy, the "Lady Killer" who confessed to 30 murders, although he was suspected of more; Dean Corll, the "Candy Man," who murdered at least 28 teens; Wayne Williams, the "Atlanta Child Murderer," currently linked to the death of 27 known homicide victims—although at times suspected of more killings; Juan Vallejo Corona, the "Machete Murderer," who killed at least 25 people; Ronald Dominique, the "Bayou Stranger," who killed at least 23 people; Earle Nelson, the "Dark Stranger" or "Gorilla Killer," who murdered at least 23 individuals; Larry Eyler, the "Highway Killer," who is currently linked to at least 22 murders; and Jeffrey Dahmer, the "Cannibal Killer," who murdered at least 17 people.
Meanwhile, Europe suffered zero mass shootings over the same period of time, leaving the continent's mass shooting toll so far this year steady at 46 dead and 158 injured.
The bulk of this week's American mass shootings were routine by national standards of violence and drew limited local attention: At about 4:30 PM on Friday, a street shooting in New Orleans injured four. At about 2:15 AM on Saturday, a shooting on a house party in Chicago killed one and injured five. Just under 24 hours later, a rolling shooting between at least two cars in Kansas City, Missouri, injured six. Then at about 12:30 AM on Monday morning, a drive-by on a house party in Wilmington, California, left four injured. At 6:15 PM that night, a street shooting in San Pedro, California, injured four more. At about 6 PM on Wednesday, a street shooting in Baltimore killed two and injured four. And at about 2:30 AM Thursday, a shooting in a Clearlake Oaks, California, home left one dead and three injured.
One shooting, at about 3 AM Monday in Palmview, Texas, unfolded in an unusual arc: A grocery store employee, reportedly beset by paranoia, shot into the window of his break room, apparently intending to scare those inside he thought were out to get him. Instead he killed one and injured three of his fellow employees. The shooter fled, but soon called the police, surrendered peacefully, and told the authorities where to find the gun he had discarded. It was a quick and painless resolution to a bloody crime, and an unusually detailed and human story showing the ease with which mass shootings can unfold almost accidentally. But this too drew only limited regional attention.
The only attack that drew significant, widespread, and sustained media attention this week was a shooting at about 1:30 AM Sunday within a crowd on Bourbon Street in the touristic French Quarter of New Orleans, which killed one and injured nine. Reportedly sparked by an argument between two individuals, the motives for the shooting were similar to many others. But the number of victims, and the coverage, was heightened due to the crowds attending festivities for the Bayou Classic, a traditional Thanksgiving weekend football game.
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It makes sense that Americans glaze over most mass shootings. Often couched within the context of local disputes or bouts of brief rage, they seem isolated and banal. But when you think about their acceptance versus the fearful space in the American psyche occupied by serial killers, the relative invisibility of mass shootings, like most that occurred this week, starts to seem incoherent.
Murders are always tragic, but often get brushed off as isolated incidents—until patterns emerge that seem to link them to at least one sinister, unknown, lurking individual. Yet often serial killers murder over the space of months or years. Mass shootings, on the other hand, are constant events. Many of them are carried out by individuals who, as murder clearance rates nationwide attest, may well never be caught and could maim and kill many others over their own careers. They are far more prevalent and, to the average citizen, more dangerous than any serial killer. But because they lack the lurid storyline of a twisted sicko with compelling quirks and graphic rituals, this in many ways more horrific and commonplace form of mass brutality flies under the radar for most of the public.
Just as in the case of the escalated attention paid to an isolated holiday shooting, like this week's in New Orleans or last week's in Louisville, Kentucky, this goes to show how much fear and attention is won by a compelling narrative of perverted norms and evil actors. This fixation on serial killers and ignorance of mass shootings may make sense within the context of the human affinity for stories and bogeymen. But we have to start according the overall, constant, grinding epidemics of large-scale gun violence in this nation the same rapt attention and reactive zeal that we do to a cannibal killer or a highway strangler. Until then, America will effectively be distracted by dramatic villains who aren't even the ones responsible for what amounts to an ongoing national bloodbath.
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