For Release: Tuesday, October 3, 2006
On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts, reportedly armed with a 9 millimeter handgun and two shotguns, killed five young Amish girls in a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The incident is consistent with the patterns associated with most murder-suicides in which emotionally distraught, suicidal individuals use firearms to claim more victims.
The May 2006 Violence Policy Center (VPC) study “American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States,” (see http://vpc.org/studies/amroul2006.pdf for study, http://vpc.org/press/0605amroul.htm for press release) is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of murder-suicide ever conducted.
During the study period (January 1, 2005, through June 30, 2005) 18 murder-suicides occurred in Pennsylvania, claiming 41 lives. This placed Pennsylvania first in the nation (tied with Texas, 18 murder-suicide incidents claiming 42 lives) for the largest number of murder-suicide incidents.
The study used a national clipping service and Internet survey tools to collect every murder-suicide that occurred in America during the six-month period. It found that at least 591 Americans died in 264 murder-suicides–an average of more than 10 murder-suicides a week. Using these figures, the VPC estimates that nearly 1,200 Americans die each year in murder-suicides.
The incident in the Amish school shooting follows the general patterns of murder-suicide nationally in that:
- Ninety-four percent of the offenders in murder-suicides were male.
- Ninety-two percent of all murder-suicides involved a firearm.
- Forty-seven children and teens under the age of 18 were victims in murder-suicides.
- Most murderers in murder-suicides are older than their victims.
The school shooting diverged from the general patterns of murder-suicide nationally in that:
- The shooter was not related to the victims: seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend). Of these, 96 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.
- The incident occurred away from home: seventy-five percent of murder-suicides occurred in the home.
Pennsylvania has weak gun laws. Aside from a law requiring that background checks be performed on private handgun transfers, Pennsylvania’s gun laws are hardly more stringent than the minimal federal laws. The state also has a liberal concealed handgun law.
Pennsylvania ranked 29th in the nation for overall rate of gun-related death in 2003, the latest year for which statistics are available. Neighboring New York and New Jersey ranked far below at 45th and 46th respectively. Both states have far more stringent gun laws than does Pennsylvania.