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Mass Murders And Serial Killings

The public is often fascinated, although also horrified, by stories of mass murders and serial killings. This fascination is evidenced by the popularity of such films as Natural Born Killers and Silence of the Lambs. When a mass murder or serial killing occurs, it often receives considerable media attention. Stories are revisited for years following the incidents, as experts and novices alike try to determine the causes of why these tragedies occur and how they can be prevented. Although statistics show that mass murders and serial killings are more common now than they have been in the past, this type of killings is still rather rare.

Criminologists and other experts distinguish between a serial killer and a mass murderer, although the profiles of these perpetrators are often similar. A serial killer is most often a younger, white male, who targets specific strangers near his work or home. This type of killer is typically a sociopath who kills to satisfy delusional personal needs and desires through killing by physical force. Serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy are household names. A mass murderer is likewise often a young, white male, who acts deliberately and methodically in carrying out his killings. One of the most celebrated mass murderers was Charles Joseph Whitman, who in 1966 climbed a tower at the University of Texas at Austin and engaged in a 90-minute shooting spree. He shot 44 people, killing 14, before being fatally shot by a police officer. The motivation of either a serial killer or a mass murderer obviously varies by the killer, but experts note that it is often terror, power, revenge, or profit.

The United States and several other countries have been especially horrified by a number of school shootings in the past decade. One of the most horrific of these shootings occurred at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Two teenagers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, went on a shooting rampage throughout the school, killing 12 students and injuring more than 20, before finally killing themselves. Since 1996, more than 25 schools in the United States have suffered from school shootings, as have schools in such countries as Canada, Sweden, Scotland, and Germany. Because the perpetrators of these murders are usually teenagers, experts have investigated these shootings closely, in order to identify potential signs that an unbalanced student might consider resorting to violence.

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