An apparently racially motivated The attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, left 10 people dead on May 14, 2022, with the teenage suspect allegedly targeting black shoppers in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Mass public shootings in which four or more people are killed have become more frequent and deadly, over the past decade. And the Buffalo tragedy is the latest in a recent trend of mass public shootings at retail establishments.
We are criminologists who study the life stories of public mass shooters in the USA. Since 2017, we have been leading dozens of interviews with incarcerated perpetrators and people who knew them. We also built a complete database of public mass shootings using public data, with shooters coded on more than 200 different variables, including location and racial profile.
What do we know about mass shootings in supermarkets?
Only one shooting in our database before 2019 took place in a supermarket. In 1999, a 23-year-old white man with a history of criminal violence killed four people in a Las Vegas supermarket. However, there have been a series of mass shootings in US supermarkets since.
The Buffalo shooting on May 14, 2022 is similar to an August 2019 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. On this occasion, the 21-year-old white suspect posted a racist rant on social media before going some distance to intentionally target racial and ethnic minority shoppers. He is accused of killing 23 people.
Another shooting in 2019 took place in a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two perpetrators, a man and a woman, both black and in their 50s with criminal and violent histories, murdered four people before being killed in a shootout with police. Social media posts and a note left behind indicated an anti-Semitic motive.
Then in March 2021, a 21-year-old Middle Eastern man with a history of paranoid and antisocial behavior walked into a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado, and shot 10 people. Six months later, in September 2021, a 29-year-old Asian man killed one person and injured 13 others at a Kroger supermarket in Tennessee. The attacker, who worked at the store, was asked to leave work that morning. He committed suicide before the police arrived on the scene.
No profile of a detail shooter
Mass shootings are socially contagious. Muggers study other muggers and learn from each other, which may explain the increase in supermarket shootings in recent years. However, the data shows that there is no single profile of a supermarket mass shooter.
Racial hatred is a characteristic of approximately 10% of all public mass shootings in our database. Our analysis suggests that when it comes to retail shooters, around 13% are racially motivated – so slightly above the average for all mass shooting events.
Some grocery stores, by their nature, may be frequented primarily by one racial group – for example, Asian markets that cater to local Asian communities.
But racial hatred appears to be just one of many motivations cited by retail shooters. Our data points to a range of factors, including the suspect’s own economic problems (16%), confrontation with employees or buyers (22%) or psychosis (31%). But the most common motivation among retail shooters is unknown (34%).
Like the Buffalo shooter, 22% of retail mass shooting perpetrators left behind something to find, a “manifesto” or video to share their grievances with the world. And almost half of them disclosed their plans in advance, usually on social media.
The absence of a coherent profile does not leave us powerless. Our research offers many strategies to prevent mass shootings – from behavioral threat assessment restrict access to firearms for those at high risk. And the way to stop the social contagion of mass shootings is to stop providing the perpetrators fame and notoriety They are looking for.