Mass murders involving firearms and other methods in school, college, and university settings: Findings from the Columbia Mass Murder Database

Ragy R. Girgis; Russell Tyler Rogers; Hannah Hesson; Jeffrey A. Lieberman; Paul S. Appelbaum; Gary Brucato

Abstract

While mass murders involving academic settings, especially using firearms, are of grave, growing public concern, identifying consistent patterns to aid prevention has proved challenging. Although some characteristics, such as male sex, have been routinely associated with these events, another hypothesized risk factor, severe mental illness, has been less reliably predictive. We isolated cases of mass murder perpetrated at least in part at schools, colleges, and universities from the Columbia Mass Murder Database (CMDD) and categorized them by location (within or outside of the US), and whether firearms were used. Demographic similarities and differences between groups were analyzed statistically wherever possible. We examined 82 incidents of mass murder, by any means, involving academic settings. Nearly half of all incidents (47.6%), and most involving firearms (63.2%), were U.S.‐based, whereas those not involving firearms largely occurred elsewhere (88.0%). Consistent with previous reports, perpetrators of mass shootings involving academic settings are primarily Caucasian (66.7%) and male (100%). Severe mental illness (i.e., psychosis) was absent in the majority of perpetrators (firearms: 80.7%; nonfirearms: 68.0%). About half (45.6%) of mass school shootings ended with the perpetrator's suicide. When present, psychotic symptoms are more associated with mass murders in academic settings involving means other than firearms. The question of whether perpetrators of such incidents may perceive their actions as a kind of final act might enhance policy development and/or how law enforcement intervenes.