Threat Intelligence Blog

Posted December 17, 2015

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By Marc Larson

The number of mass shootings can at times be difficult to quantify due to the fact that there is no universal definition for this type of incident. Regardless of your stance on gun control, it is important to be aware of these trends to develop policies and procedures to protect your employees and facilities.

The Congressional Research Service defines mass shooting as an event in which “four or more people are killed with firearms,” while the popular crowd-sourced website used by many news outlets for data, Mass Shooting Tracker, defines a mass shooting as one with “four or more people shot in one event.” Complicating matters even more, the FBI doesn’t have an official definition of mass shooting, though they have defined “mass killing” as one with three or more fatalities.

Going by each of their definitions, Mass Shooting Tracker had recorded 351 mass shootings as of November 30, 2015 – a four percent increase over 2014 – and the FBI had recorded 63 mass shooting events as of November 21, with an estimate that the number would increase to 70 incidents by the end of 2015. This averages to 1.27 mass shooting events per week, and represents a 16 percent increase in mass shootings over 2014.

These numbers indicate that mass shooting events are also occurring at a greater frequency, specifically with mass public events – where the victims do not know the shooter and the attack is pre-meditated, with the purpose of retribution, mass-murder, terrorism, or mass-hysteria. Since September 2011, a mass public shooting took place every 64 days on average, while prior to September 2011, that number was every 200 days. Regardless of how you choose to define “mass shooting,” it’s clear that this type of incident has trended up and to the right throughout 2015.

It is important to note that these numbers do not tell the whole story, as there have been other shooting events that many may not categorize as mass public shootings or killings. This includes gang-related shootings and ones that involve botched robberies and drug sales, as well as unsolved mass shooting events that are often attributed to drug- or gang-related activities. Killings involving multiple shooters and mass killings by other means are also included, such as the May 2015 killing of nine people outside of the Twin Peaks restaurant by rival motorcycle clubs and the October 23 incident in which a woman drove her car into a crowd at an Oklahoma State University Homecoming event, killing four and injuring dozens, respectively. If these types of incidents were included, the number of mass casualty events would likely be higher.

Cyveillance has also observed a trend where perpetrators of these mass shooting events are active online and social media. For example, the Emanuel AME church shooter in Charleston, SC, who killed nine, maintained a website where he published a manifesto found after the shooting. The shooter in the Lafayette, LA mass shooting had hundreds of online postings sharing his anti-government and anti-media views.

In the Umpqua Community College shooting, the suspect in the killing of 10 people maintained several social media profiles hinting at his future actions. His activities on these sites suggested he was fascinated by the IRA and frustrated by traditional organized religion. He also posted on the image-sharing site 4chan the night before the shooting, implying something was going to happen at the college the next day. He even tracked other mass shootings and expressed admiration for the actions of the suspect in the shooting of two Virginia new channel hosts on live television. Although the Virginia shooting does not fit the label of a mass public killing event, the shooter took to social media in the months and weeks leading up to the killings, airing his frustrations with his former employer. He also uploaded a first-person view of the killing, taken on his cell phone, to social media immediately following the killing.

Not all perpetrators of mass killing events are taking to social media to air their grievances or publicize their actions; however, the Internet has made it easier for threat actors to accomplish their goals. Whereas shooters in the past wrote manifestos that were sent to the print media or law enforcement, the prevalence and ease of social media has allowed killers to bypass this step and release their intentions and threats directly to the public.

Organizations have a legal and moral obligation to ensure a safe work environment for employees. Understanding the threat environment will help executives and security teams exercise good judgment and use care in the operation of the business. We recommend following six tips to prepare for physical threats, find out what they are here.

Contact us for more information on our Special Investigations Unit.

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