Murder is always horrific and tragic for the victim and their families. But cases where someone snaps and kills a bunch of people are even harder to take. Spree killers often come out of nowhere and have no interest in keeping their actions a secret. In fact, they want to be on the news. They want to be infamous.
According to the FBI, a spree killer is a person (or more than one person) who commits two or more murders without a cooling-off period, which is what differentiates a spree killer from a serial killer. The difference between a mass murderer and a spree killer is up for debate, but generally a mass murderer commits one act that kills multiple people (like setting off a bomb for example), while a spree killer may kill a number of people in separate incidents and by different methods.
Murder always seems like a senseless waste, especially when the motive has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with the killer’s mental state. Some victims are just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and end up the collateral damage of a spree killer’s secret agenda. Here are 10 of the most deadly spree killers in recent history.
10. James Holmes
On July 20th, 2012, James Holmes walked into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado and started shooting. He killed 12 people and injured 70 others. He was arrested only minutes after his rampage, right outside the theater. He had dyed his hair bright orange and called himself The Joker. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but was convicted of 24 counts of first-degree murder, and 140 counts of attempted first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was diagnosed with various types of schizophrenic disorders and avoided the death sentence because the jury couldn’t come to a unanimous decision.
9. Mark O. Barton
On July 29th, 1999, Mark O. Barton, a daytrader at Momentum Securities walked into his office and opened fire, killing four people. Then he went next door to All-Tech Investment Group and killed five more people. He fled the scene and ended up committing suicide before the police could apprehend him. When his apartment was searched, it was discovered that he’d also murdered his wife and their two children. He was also previously a suspect in the murders of his first wife and her mother, but was never charged. Authorities believe the stress over losing $105,000 in the month prior to the attacks is what triggered Barton’s rampage.
8. Adam Lanza
On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot 20 children and 6 staff members before turning the gun on himself. He also murdered his own mother to start his rampage. Motive for the massacre has never been confirmed and an autopsy of Lanza’s body revealed no drugs or alcohol in his system, and no evidence of a tumor or any other abnormalities in his brain. There was evidence Lanza had done a lot of research on mass shootings prior to his own rampage, but there was no conclusive evidence pointing to why he chose to kill a bunch of innocent children and their teachers.
7. Charles Whitman
On August 1, 1966, after killing his wife and mother, Charles Whitman, a former U.S Marine went to the University of Texas at Austin where he was an engineering student. He murdered 14 and wounded 32 more people over a period of 90 minutes before he was shot and killed by a police officer. Before his rampage Whitman wrote a suicide note where he requested an autopsy because he believe there was some biological reason for his urge to kill. He didn’t seem to understand his own reasons for killing his wife and mother, except to spare them of the embarrassment of his actions. An autopsy found a small pecan sized tumor in Whitman’s brain that could have affected his ability to control his emotions and actions.
6. Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold
The shooting at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado on April 20, 1999 was described as the deadliest school shootings in U.S history at the time. Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planted a bomb intended to go off in the cafeteria killing hundreds of students, but the bomb failed to detonate. Instead Harris and Klebold entered the school and shot 33 people, killing 13 of them. Then they both committed suicide in the library. There were reports that both Harris and Klebold were bullied and the attack was their revenge. Investigations later determined that Harris was the mastermind and likely a psychopath motivated by sadism and Klebold suffered from depression and was motivated by a desire for revenge.
5. Elliot Rodger
On May 23, 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 14 others in Isla Vista California. He started with killing his roommates before driving to the University of California campus and shooting three more people. Then he drove around erratically, shooting people out the window of his car. His rampage ended when he crashed into a parked car before shooting himself in the head. Before the attacks, Rodger uploaded a video on Youtube entitled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” where he explains his motivations. He wanted to punish women for rejecting him and punish men for having better luck with women than he did. In the video and in his 107,000 word “manifesto”, Rodger talked about being a virgin and his extreme anger over the fact that girls didn’t seem to like him despite that fact that he believed he was a “supreme gentleman”.
4. Thomas Watt Hamilton
On March 13, 1996, Thoman Watt Hamilton drove to Dublane Primary School near Stirling, Scotland where he launched an unprovoked attack on a gymnasium full of 6 and 7-year-olds. He shot and killed 16 kids, and 1 teacher, and injured 15 more all within four minutes. Then he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. Hamilton was described as anti-social, intolerant, and deceitful, and there were complaints about him acting inappropriately towards children. In response to the massacre, Britain passed two new firearm acts, making private ownership of handguns illegal.
3. Dylann Roof
On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof allegedly walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire on the African American congregation killing nine people and injuring one other. He was arrested the next day and admitted that he committed the shooting hoping to start a race war. A manifesto was found that suggests that Roof is a white supremacist and Neo-Nazi. Prior to the attack, Roof owned a operated a website called Last Rhodesian where he wrote about his hatred of black people and his interest in the history of slavery. Multiple friends of Roof’s have come forward to say he talked about his desire to kill people, but none of them took his comments seriously.
2. John Allen Muhammad & Lee Boyd Malvo
The Beltway sniper attacks were a series of murders that took place over a three week period in October of 2002. 10 people were killed and 3 others injured in shootings that occurred in Washington, D.C and Interstate 95 in Virginia. John Allen Mohammad was 42, and Lee Boyd Malvo was 17 when they started their rampage in February with robberies and murders across 7 difference states. In total, the two men killed 17 people, and injured 10 more before they were caught. During their trials, some evidence suggested they were were motivated by an affinity for Islamist Jihad. Mohammad was put to death on November 10, 2009, and Malvo is serving a life sentence without parole.
1. Seung-Hui Cho
The Virginia Tech massacre occurred on April 26, 2007 when senior student Seung-Hui Cho took the lives of 32 people and injured 17 more before committing suicide. The attack is still the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S history. Cho had been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, but he was still able to purchase guns without a problem. Cho sent a package to NBC News the morning of the attack that included an 1,800 word manifesto, photos, and videos where he compared himself to Jesus Christ and expressed hatred for the wealthy. Cho’s mental instability led him to believe that he was doing something good, and planning the attack became his obsession.