At least six people were killed and two more left critically wounded Saturday evening during a shooting spree in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, marking the 42nd mass shooting on U.S. soil since the start of 2016.
The rampage began about 6 p.m. Saturday outside an apartment complex on the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, where a woman was shot multiple times and seriously wounded, according to law enforcement officials. A little more than four hours later and 15 miles away, a father and son were fatally shot while looking at vehicles at a car dealership. Fifteen minutes after that, the gunman opened fire in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, killing four women and leaving a 14-year-old girl clinging to life.
The suspect, Jason Brian Dalton, 45, of Cooper Township, was arrested without incident at around 12:40 a.m. Sunday when a Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s deputy spotted his car leaving the parking lot of a bar in downtown Kalamazoo. He worked as an Uber driver — and may have logged some hours between shooting people on Saturday, according to local reports. Authorities say they have “significant evidence” tying Dalton to the shootings, including a semi-automatic handgun and 30 or more shell casings found at the three scenes, all of which match the caliber of the suspect’s gun.
At a news conference Sunday morning, Kalamazoo County officials said they believe the attacks were random, with bullets striking people who happened to be in the wrong place when the rampage started. “These are random murders,” said Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas, who described the shooting spree Saturday night as his “worst nightmare”.
Although the seemingly random nature of the murders is unusual, the nightmare of mass shootings is a terrifyingly common reality in America. According to the Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowdsourced project that compiles news reports of confirmed mass shootings, the Kalamazoo rampage was the 42nd mass shooting in the United States in 2016 — a rate of one mass shooting every 1.2 days. The rate is even higher for the month of February, with 24 mass shootings documented in the first 21 days of the month.
Defined as instances in which four or more people (including the gunman) are shot and killed, mass shootings have killed 62 people and injured 142 others since the start of the year. With 6 fatalities, the Kalamazoo shooting is tied for the deadliest shooting of 2016; in the other incident, which occurred on January 27th in Chesapeake, VA, six family members were shot to death in a murder-suicide. Overall, the rate of mass shootings in 2016 is up slightly since this time last year, when 34 such shootings had occurred by Feb. 21.
This definition of ‘mass shooting’ is more expansive than the FBI’s, which requires at least three people to be killed for an attack to reach the threshold of mass killing. While some have erroneously criticized this broad definition, the Washington Post points out that it is actually quite useful “because it captures many high-profile instances of violence that don’t meet the FBI’s criteria,” such as a February 7th incident in Orlando, FL, in which 11 people were shot but only two were killed. The definition used to compile data for the Mass Shooting Tracker also provides a more realistic picture of the nature of mass shootings — a phenomenon that was described in a recent study as an “exceptionally American problem“.
As a country, the United States comprises just 5 percent of the global population, yet we’ve experienced a staggering 31 percent of public mass shootings across the world over the last four decades. While incidents like those in Kalamazoo tend to grab headlines, similar bloody scenes happen in communities nationwide with alarming frequency, and often much less scrutiny. The overwhelming majority (70%) of mass shootings in the U.S. take place behind closed doors — usually in the “safety” of the home — and the victims are predominantly women and children. According to a 2015 analysis of five years of gun violence data, family members and intimate partners comprise more than half (57%) of all mass shooting victims; nearly two-thirds (64%) are women and children.
And if it seems like mass shootings are becoming more common, it’s because they are: According to a recent Harvard University study based on 30 years of mass shooting data, the rate of mass shootings in the U.S. has tripled since 2011. An FBI report released last year showed nearly identical findings.