These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World

Mike Wood - November 26, 2017

There is something special about small towns, an aesthetic and an innocence that makes them charming and homely, even for outsiders. The way that everyone knows everyone, the way in which old fashioned values of community and politeness prevail, the slower pace of life: all these things contribute to the joys of small town life. There is, however, always a dark side. The heightened feeling of shared values and shared lives can become suffocating for some and the closeness of life can lead to gossip, rumours and paranoia. Sometimes this all becomes too much and, in fits of range, people snap. That’s why there are small towns out there in the world that will be forever associated with outbreaks of extreme violence that shatter the rural idyll and make the town famous for something else entirely.

There are some places that are so overshadowed by one event that they never recover in the public consciousness. Vietnam, for many people, will always be a war first and a country second, while one need only breathe the name Fukushima, Bhopal or Hillsborough to know exactly what is being referred to. The name becomes a synecdoche for the incident and replaces the place itself as the primary meaning of the word. Mass killings can have the same effect as well, and when they occur in previously sleepy, backwoods places, this is exacerbated even further. Indeed, it can be that the place-name becomes a placeholder for the type of killing and the exact parameters of the evil that has been meted out. Every school shooting in the United States is compared to those of Columbine and Newtown, while in the UK, Dunblane is the benchmark. When a single active shooter goes on the rampage in Australia, it is Port Arthur that comes to mind for the media and the public at large.

It is these massacres, plus a few lesser known incidents, that we will discuss in this article: ten small towns that have been destroyed by spree killers.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
The Times front page, August 20 1987. Sword and Scale.

1 – Hungerford, United Kingdom

There is a public perception in the United Kingdom that mass killings are an American problem. The free availability of guns and the public perception in certain parts of the United States that gun ownership is a necessary and good thing baffles many in Europe, but particularly in Britain. Simply put, most Brits have no idea why Americans are so in love with guns and regard mass shooter events as somewhat inevitable when the public at large are allowed to arm themselves so easily. There is also a general feeling that, if you allow people to have guns so easily, then mass shootings are a natural consequence.
It was not always thus. The British disdain for firearms is a relatively recent development and dates back, largely, to a summer’s afternoon in 1987 in the small town of Hungerford, Berkshire. It was in this tiny town, with a population of just under 6,000 people, that tragedy struck on that August day.

The Hungerford Massacre – the word “massacre” is not needed in the UK, as everyone knows immediately what is implied on the mere mention of the town’s name – was the work of Michael Ryan, an unemployed man who was 27 at the time of the attack and lived with his mother. He was described – and this will become a theme – as being a loner with few friends and who suffered from mental health problems. He was a licenced firearms owner who had been granted a certificate to own pistols, semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.

Around lunchtime on August 19, he shot a mother of two in front of her children, before getting into his car and driving to a petrol station, where he filled up his vehicle and attempted to shoot the cashier, but accidentally released the ammunition from his M1 carbine. Undeterred, he went home, picked up more guns and tried to drive off. When the car wouldn’t start, he shot it up, before setting fire to his own house and killing his pets. He shot two neighbours, then walked to town’s common green area, shooting and killing people watching from windows, as well as a dog walker and a police officer who was responding to a call. He would go on to kill 16 people in total – including his own mother – and wound another 15, before turning the gun on himself after a four-hour siege in his old school, where he had barricaded himself into a classroom.

Ryan killed himself and his mother and had no real friends, so it was difficult to ascertain motive. “No one has ever explained why Michael Ryan did what he did. And that’s because, in my opinion, it is not something that can be explained” said the local vicar on the first anniversary of the tragedy. His actions were attributed to one or both of psychosis and schizophrenia, but in truth, there is no way of understanding what was going on in his head when he carried out the attack.

The response from the British government, however, was swift. The public was outraged that access to such deadly weapons, which seemed to serve no purpose in hunting, could be so easy. Within a year, semi-automatic rifles were banned and shotgun ownership severely curtailed. Hungerford would not be the end of mass shootings, but it would mark a sea change in the way the British public saw guns.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
The wreckage after the Luxiol Massacre. Amok Wiki.

2 – Luxiol, France

Just two years after Michael Ryan’s rampage, France would also be hit by a similarly shocking event. It is perhaps a testament to the small town mentality that these events can occur, and perhaps a feature of a small town that leads spree killers to form there more frequently.

Serial killers, for example, who strike in several isolated incidents rather than one long, violent outburst, benefit from an urban and populated location in which they can blend into the background and retreat after their attacks. Conversely, spree killers are facilitated by a more isolated, less suspicious environment where they are less likely to be picked up on the actions and where people are perhaps more understanding of quirks that belie serious mental health problems. It is rare that such killers have given no prior warnings of their actions, but in rural areas, these are often passed off as eccentricities rather than signals.
The isolation of small towns is often contributory to the development of the sick individuals who become perpetrators. Michael Ryan was certainly an example of this, and Christian Dornier is another. He was a farmer for Luxiol, a French town of just 156 people in western France, close to the border with Germany. Dornier was known to have mental health issues: his stint in the French Army in 1981 had left him broken, while a course that he attended in anticipation of taking over the family farm had to be aborted after just a week when he had another breakdown. He had shown previous signs of violent intentions by letting off shots at his father and a neighbour, which prompted the Dornier family to invest in psychiatric help. Christian was prescribed medication but refused to take it and would not countenance the idea of being sent to a mental institution.

It was in July 1989, when he was 31 years old, that Christian Dornier snapped. He had refused to attend his sister Corinne’s wedding several days before and, shortly after lunchtime, he picked up a shotgun. He killed a farm employee – whom he had presumed to be his brother – before killing his sister and his mother and wounding his father. The only member of the family present to escape unharmed was Corinne’s new husband, who slipped out of the house through a bathroom window. Dornier then got in his car and began shooting at random, killing another 13 people in the town of Luxiol. He was eventually halted by police, who shot him in the stomach.

With the town in shock, Dornier was taken to a nearby hospital and then prison. He was guarded around the clock, both to ensure that he did not escape but also to keep out locals, who had made death threats against him. It was discerned that Dernier was mentally ill and suffering from schizophrenia: he was declared insane and transferred to a high-security mental hospital in 1990. Villagers from Luxiol protested that he be allowed to stand trial in a criminal court, but their pleas were rejected in 1994. Dornier is still in a secure psychiatric unit to this day.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
Thomas Watt Hamilton, the Dunblane killer. Crime Scene Database.

3 – Dunblane, United Kingdom

Michael Ryan’s crimes in Hungerford had produced a massive wave of public opinion against guns in the United Kingdom, but the final push towards the near total prohibition that exists today would come after the events of March 13, 1996, in the small Scottish town of Dunblane.

Dunblane lies close to Stirling in the centre of Scotland’s Central Belt, the area between Glasgow and Edinburgh that is home to the majority of the population. It fits all the stereotypes: small, sleepy, a commuter town that served the big cities with little of note to identify it from any of the other similar settlements nearby. If it has any claim to fame aside from the Dunblane Massacre, it would be that it is the hometown of tennis superstar Andy Murray, who was actually present during the incident and had been part of a youth group that was organised by the perpetrator, Thomas Hamilton. Now, the name Dunblane is etched on the public consciousness in the United Kingdom as the location of the country’s worst ever mass shooting and moreover, a shooting that specifically targeted children. It represents a level of horror that is unfathomable for most.

Thomas Hamilton, who would commit the massacre, was known to police, but there was little to suggest that he would carry out the acts that he did. He had been active in youth movements such as the Scouts and parents had made allegations against him regarding his conduct with young boys that saw him removed from contact with children. In 1974 he had been removed from his position within the Scouts due to misconduct and barred from the organisation and was in constant conflict with local authorities as he continually attempted to start new youth groups and was thwarted by police. Hamilton attributed the failure of his business to a whispering campaign against him by police and Scout leaders.

On the morning of March 13, he drove calmly to the local primary school in Dunblane. Using pistols that he bought legally – only shotguns and semi-automatic rifles had been affected by the post-Hungerford changes in legislation – he opened fire on a class of children in the Dunblane Primary School gym as they were preparing for a PE lesson. He shot their teacher dead and injured several children, before coldly executing the wounded children on the ground. He continued to walk through the school, shooting randomly at children and teachers, before turning the handgun on himself. In less than 10 minutes, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and a teacher. All of the children were under 6 years old.

The outrage caused by the Dunblane massacre was felt around the world. A campaign, supported by parents of victims from both Dunblane and Hungerford, began to ban handguns and in 1997, two laws were passed that made it almost impossible to get any sort of gun in the United Kingdom legally. The Dunblane massacre remains to this day the most deadly mass shooting in British history – and the one that ended any public debate about gun control in the United Kingdom for good.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World

4 – Port Arthur, Australia

Just two weeks after the horrendous incident at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, there would be a similarly shocking mass shooting event on the other side of the world. Geographically, it is hard to think of a place that is further away from Scotland than Tasmania, but culturally, the UK and Australia are very similar, which is why the tragedy at Port Arthur was felt so keenly on both sides of the world. Britain’s most deadly mass shooting would be immediately followed by Australia’s.

What shocked many about the Port Arthur massacre was that the perpetrator, a man named Martin Bryant, was well known to be violent and capable of severe violence, but was still allowed to acquire guns legally and simply. He had many of the traits that mark out serial killers: as a child, he tortured animals and was disruptive at school and into his adolescence, he was diagnosed as being intellectually disabled and suffering from several mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia and Asperger’s Syndrome. On leaving school, he was illiterate, had a well below average IQ and severe behavioural issues that made it unlikely that he could ever work.

Bryant befriended a much older woman, a wealthy heiress, and the pair spent her money wildly. When she died in 1992, he inherited her fortune and his mother petitioned to be able to control it, as Bryant was intellectually unable to deal with such sums. His father died in mysterious circumstances a year later and Martin inherited yet more money, but he lost the only person whom mental health authorities considered capable of containing his potential for violent behaviour.

On the morning of April 28, 1996, Bryant rose at 6 am – he had never been known to get up so early, as he never worked – and left his house just before 10. He sent off for Forcett, where his father had previously tried to buy property. He found the couple, the Martins, who had refused to sell to his father and killed them, before continuing up the coast to Port Arthur. Once there, he spoke to a man outside of a residence that his father had also tried to purchase before entering the town and stopping for lunch. He tried to initiate conversations with fellow diners, but they did not engage him and later said that he was mumbling to himself. On finishing his meal, he walked into the cafe, placed his large bag on the table, took out a Colt AR-15 Carbine and began shooting.

Within 30 seconds, twelve people had been killed and another ten were wounded. Bryant walked from the cafe into the gift shop and shot another ten people dead, continuing to the car park, where he murdered four more, before getting in his car, leaving the area blaring the horn and waving at people. As a young family, a mother and two children under 6, fled the scene, he drove after them. They slowed down, thinking that he was offering help in their escape, only for him to get out of the car and shoot all three dead. He killed another four people in a nearby car, before cutting off another vehicle, containing passengers Zoe Hall and Glenn Pears. He trapped Pears in the boot of his BMW, shot Hall dead in the car and then set off, firing at other cars as he went along the Tasmanian coast. Bryant pulled up at the Martins house, where he had begun his spree, and handcuffed Pears to the stairs.
It was now 2 pm, barely an hour after the spree had started. Bryant holed himself up until the next morning, when he set fire to the house. Later, it was revealed that he had shot Pears at some point before the fire. Martin Bryant was taken in alive and charged with 35 murders, for which he was eventually convicted.

The backlash against guns in Australia was swift. Every subnational jurisdiction banned rifles and shotguns, while also making it far more difficult to acquire any sort of gun. The Australian government initiated a buy-back scheme to remove guns from the hands of individuals. That Bryant, who had a history of mental illness, was able to drive a car without a licence and get a gun without any vetting at all was seen as a damning indictment of Australian law.

It is thought that Martin Bryant was inspired by news coverage of the Dunblane Massacre, and both Port Arthur and Dunblane sent each other commemorations for the memorials that now exist in both towns.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The Telegraph.

5 – Littleton, Colorado

The violence in Dunblane, which had affected children so directly, was shocking to many because of the callousness with which Thomas Hamilton had acted. The massacre that would take place in 1999 in the sleepy Colorado town of Columbine would be even more shocking, particularly because the perpetrators themselves were little more than children. Indeed, not only is Columbine the most deadly school shooting in American history, it is arguably the one that has provoked the most soul-searching in terms of America’s relationship with firearms.

The inspiration behind the Columbine massacre has been as debating as anything on this list. The killers, 17-year-old Dylan Klebold and 18-year-old Eric Harris, were bullied at school and thought of themselves as outcasts from the wider student body. A student, whom they met outside the school before the shooting and whom they advised to leave for his own safety, later described the pair as the most unpopular students in the entire school, “the losers of the losers”. Thus, the culture of bullying, especially the way in which it was often overlooked by teachers, came under serious scrutiny. The US Secret Service later commissioned a report that discovered that over two-thirds of school shooters were victims of bullying. The cultural influences on Klebold and Harris – the music they listened to, the video games they played and the movies that they liked – was also pawed over to find reasoning for the attacks.

The attack – in which 15 kids were killed and 24 were injured – took place on April 20, 1999, and lasted for just under an hour. Initially, Harris threw a pipe bomb which failed to properly explode, before the pair revealed guns from underneath their trenchcoats. They killed people in the western entrance of the school, before moving to the cafeteria and on to the library, where they killed themselves. SWAT teams had surrounded the school, but were unable to help those inside.

The massacre at Columbine caused uproar all over America. Many questioned how two teenagers were able to acquire guns and bombs. They had bought their guns from friends and have used instructions found on the internet to make improvised explosive devices with little limitations on them. A battle raged after the massacre between gun control advocates, who thought it unfathomable that children could so easily get their hands on high-potential weaponry, and the pro-gun lobby, who blamed everything from heavy metal music to violent video games and Hollywood.

A 2002 film, Bowling for Columbine, was made by campaigning filmmaker Michael Moore and won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, which questioned the influence of the local arms manufacturing industry – Columbine is home to a huge Lockheed Martin factory – and compared gun violence in other countries, particularly Germany (which listens to the most heavy metal) and Canada, just a short distance to the north. The actual impact on US law, however, was minimal. It was made more difficult for minors to get guns, but, as we can see to this day, mass shootings are still common in the United States in a way that they are not in the United Kingdom, Australia and France.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
Seung-Hui Cho in a video sent to NBC News. NY Daily News.

6 – Blacksburg, Virginia

The actions of Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold are far from the last to affect educational institutions in the United States. While Columbine is still the most deadly school shooting in American history, it was surpassed in 2007 by the Virginia Tech shooting, in which 33 people (including the perpetrator) were massacred on a university campus in the city of Blacksburg, Virginia.

Blacksburg is a larger city than the likes of Dunblane and Hungerford, but by American standards, it is still relatively small. Moreover, it is the quintessential college town, in which the university is the heart of the community and the centre of all life. Thus, when Seung-Hui Cho struck on the morning of April 16, 2007, it scarred the town forever. Few can hear the name of Virginia Tech, the university, without immediately thinking of the massacre.
The comparisons to Columbine are clear and, in the eyes of the perpetrator, completely intentional. Seung-Hui Choi was obsessed with the Columbine massacre as a child – it had occurred while he was at high school himself, aged 15 – and had spoken of wanting to “repeat Columbine”, which got him referred to the school psychologist.

Choi was born in South Korea but had moved to the United States as a child, growing up in Centreville, VA. He was studying English at Virginia Tech when he carried out the murders. Cho had previously been diagnosed with a whole range of mental health problems in his adolescence: everything from severe depression to selective mutism – anxiety so severe that he was unable to speak – as well as having endured bullying from his classmates throughout high school. He had been declared mentally ill two years before the shootings and previously reprimanded for stalking female students.

When, on the morning of April 16, he strode into the West Ambler Johnston Hall on the Virginia Tech campus and killed Emily Hilscher and Ryan Clark, who had run to her aid. Surprisingly for spree killers, he then returned home, where he stayed for a few hours. He deleted his email, removed his computer harddrive and went to mail a package to NBC News. He calmly walked on to Norris Hall, carrying a backpack that contained two handguns and close to 400 bullets. He then killed 31 teachers and students, as well as himself.

Cho was clearly disturbed, but expressed little interest in the help that he was offered. While it is difficult to control mentally ill individuals who refuse help, many people turned on the ease with which such an individual was able to acquire a gun. Virginia has laws that should have stopped him being able to purchase weapons, but they were circumvented easily. Cho bought the first online from a dealer in Wisconsin, using his Permanent Residency card, Virginia driver’s licence and cheque book as proof of address, then waited the mandated 30 days before walking into a store in Roanoke, VA to buy another. He passed the background checks because he simply left off that he had undergone a psychiatric evaluation. The bullets, which included hollow point rounds, were bought off eBay.

Cho’s letter to NBC was later published and featured him threatening “rich kids” and, of course, citing Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. As for the gun laws – they barely changed at all.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
“God, where were you?” Zimbio.

7 – Winnenden, Germany

America certainly does not have a monopoly on school shootings – as we saw at Dunkirk – or on students getting hold of firearms. While the ease of access to guns is something that many Europeans find baffling, there are examples all over the continent of adolescents going on the rampage, which have often produced many of the same arguments that followed massacres in the United States. What drove these children to kill? What media were they consuming that inspired them? How were their problems not picked up on by their parents and teachers? All of these questions were asked after the Winnenden school shooting in Germany in 2009.

Winnenden is a small town in Baden-Württemberg, close to Stuttgart and a short distance from the border with France. It is home to around 28,000 people and had been of little interest prior to the events of March 11, 2009, when tragedy struck. The attacker was Tim Kretschmer, a 17-year-old former student who had left the Albertville-Realschule the year before, but would re-enter at half past 9 in the morning on that spring day with the intention of causing as much havoc as possible.

He knew the layout of the school well and headed for an upstairs classroom carrying a Beretta pistol that he had stolen from his parents. He shot five students in the first classroom, then moved onto another, where he killed four more. When he left to reload, a teacher barricaded the door. Kretschmer tried to shoot it open, but when that failed, he went into a chemistry room and killed a different teacher. The alarm had been raised and students began to flee, some leaping from windows, with police arriving on the scene within five minutes. They exchanged fire with Kretschmer, who killed another two teachers as they ran through a hallway, before escaping and killing a man outside.

He jacked a car and fled, forcing a man to drive him over 25 miles to the town of Wendlingen. As they sped through southern Germany, Kretschmer if he thought that they would come across another school. The hostage driver eventually pulled over when he saw a police car and made his escape. The gunman ran into a car showroom, killing an employee and a customer, before engaging in a shootout with police. Eventually, after he had been shot in both legs by officers, Kretschmer barricaded himself in the showroom before turning the gun on himself. He had killed 15 people in total and injured 9 more.
Attention immediately turned to Kretschmer’s mental state. He was a fan of airsoft guns and of Counter-Strike, a video game, while he was also found to have an interest in dominatrix-themed videos. He had been treated for depression and had told a psychiatrist about his anger problems, though nothing had been done. His father was indicted by a German court for inappropriately storing his guns, as he had left the Beretta out of the gun safe. Kretschmer’s father was an avid marksman and a member of a local club, but was given a suspended sentence of 18 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Germany immediately tightened gun regulations, introducing a handgun registry, raising the age limit on gun ownership and implementing random testing of home gun storage.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
Police survey the wreckage after Derrick Bird’s spree. Daily Mail.

8 – Cumbria, United Kingdom

Gun control might severely limit the ability of potentially dangerous people to get their hands on firearms, but it is not foolproof. No matter what rules are put in place, short of banning all weapons, there are some who will qualify to hold them and then use them to do harm. One such man was Derrick Bird, a taxi driver from the town of Whitehaven in the Northern English county of Cumbria. He had held a shotgun licence for over 30 years at the time of his crimes and had been granted the right to retain it on several occasions, as well as a certificate for a rifle as well. He had had no run-ins with the law for two decades, was well liked in his community and for all the world looked like a functioning, normal member of society.

Beneath the surface, however, Bird was undergoing a major torment. A colleague told the press that Bird had been swindled out of a substantial amount of money by a Thai woman who had dumped him via text message, while he suspected that both his solicitor and his twin brother were conspiring to cut him out of his father’s will, losing him more money. He had been attacked by four clients several years previously and fellow taxi drivers described a serious change in his behaviour that had followed the assault, while one other driver alleged that Bird had a secret bank account with tens of thousands of pounds in it, which he feared may be exposed by his brother and his lawyer.

He would not take the chance. On the morning of June 2, Derrick Bird shot his brother David eleven times, drove to the home of his solicitor, Kevin Commons, and killed him too. He continued to the centre of Whitehaven, the closest town, where he came across a taxi driver with whom he had had disputes over the years and murdered him as well. As Bird drove off, firing at other people in the centre of the Cumbrian town, he was pursued by police, but as police in the UK are not routinely armed, they were forced to abort their chase when shot at.

News had got out that a gunman was on the loose in Cumbria and people were warned to stay indoors. Bird continued to shoot at random, including stopping to get the attention of bystanders before killing them. He drove for around two hours, killing nine people and injuring a further eleven, before parking his car, walking out into some woods and killing himself.

Bird’s motives were never fully known, and it was left to speculation. Whether financial, emotional or otherwise, there had been no indication whatsoever beforehand that such a rampage was likely. The British media discussed and debated every single aspect of Derrick Bird’s life, but got no closer to discovering what it was that made him commit his horrendous crimes.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
Adam Lanza.

9 – Newtown, Connecticut

Motives are often few and far between when spree killers are involved. Serial killers can generally be traced back to core behaviours and psychopathies that explain their actions, but with many rampage gunmen, there can be any number of reasons. The stereotypical “mad, bad or sad” argument points to a mix of mental illness, evil intentions and despair, but the truth is often far more complex than that. In the case of Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, all three might work as a description, but it would only go half of the way to explaining any sort of motive.

Lanza was just 20 when he strode into that school in Sandy Hook and massacred 20 six and seven-year-olds – as well as six teachers – in just over five minutes. He had no criminal record and nobody remotely suspected that he was capable of such an abhorrent act. His mother, whom he also killed before beginning his rampage, was not afraid of him and though they had a somewhat fractured relationship, it was not anything that indicated what might follow.

The problems that afflicted Lanza were long-standing. He was on the autistic spectrum and had been diagnosed by several psychologists as suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, but so are millions of perfectly normal and functional people. None of the many mental health professionals who treated him ever saw any signs of violent behaviour and is in fact incredibly rare for autistic people to display. These pre-existing conditions, however, are thought to have been contributory to his attack in the sense that they distracted professionals from identifying other disorders from which he may have been affected, such as schizophrenia and psychosis.

Lanza’s lifestyle was certainly far from normal: he holed up in his room and communicated with his mother – whom he lived with – only over email. He would only eat food that was organised in a certain way on his plate and spent days on end playing video games. His only friends were online and his computer, found after the attack, was filled with information about massacres with a particular emphasis on the Columbine school shooting.
It is easy, after the incident, to rearrange the facts to suit a wider narrative. Lanza was suffering from several severe mental health issues, but there are countless people all over the world who have similar conditions and live normally. He was isolated socially, but plenty of people are without doing what he did.

Indeed, plenty of people have an interest the things in which he was interested – from video games to school shootings – without acting out in the way that Lanza did. It is incontrovertible that the access to weapons of someone like Adam Lanza is something that most people outside of the United States find bizarre, but the stories that we have examined in France, in Germany, in Australia and in the United Kingdom show that stricter gun laws do not completely halt rampage killers. Keeping guns away from mentally ill people seems like a no-brainer, but the sad fact about Adam Lanza is that nobody knew, or could have predicted, that he was as severely deranged as he turned out to be. Mad, perhaps, but only in the same way that millions of people are, sad, definitely, but again, only as much as plenty of other folks around the world, and bad – not particularly until it was too late.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
The minibus left after the Kingsmill Massacre. BBC.

10 – Kingsmill, Ireland

So far in this article, our rampage killers have been individuals acting alone against the world, taking their rage out on their small town worlds. There is, however, a whole other section of killers who have given undue infamy to isolated places for political reasons, and there can be few places that have seen that quite as much as the North of Ireland.
The conflict known as the Troubles raged in the North of Ireland for thirty years between 1968 and 1998 and was, to a certain extent, two simultaneous conflicts occurring at the same time: one a guerilla war between Irish Republican paramilitaries and British state forces and another internecine conflict between the Irish Nationalist community and the Ulster Loyalist community. The Troubles were fought out predominantly in the urban centres of Belfast and Derry, but, as befitting a society as rural as Ireland, there was a large rural dimension to the fighting, which often arrived in small towns and villages with devastating effect. As such, certain places have developed a public perception that recalls that of Columbine or Dunblane, in which the horrific events that occurred there have long since overshadowed anything else to do with the town. One such place is Kingsmill, County Armagh.

The Kingsmill Massacre is just one of many shootings, but it was in many ways emblematic of the way that the war had unravelled. A group known as the South Armagh Republican Action Force pulled over a minibus carrying workers from a textile factory and forced the passengers out. The gunmen knew that one of the workers was a Catholic and asked him to identify himself, which his Protestant colleagues urged him not to do, fearing that the attackers were in fact Loyalists who would kill him. Instead, as the one Catholic was lead away, the remaining eleven men were shot. Only one survived. The massacre was not sanctioned by the official structures of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but many suspected that those who carried it out had links to paramilitaries. The South Armagh Republican Action Force, who were previously unheard of and thought to be a cover name for IRA members, claimed the attack and said it was a retaliation for the killings of six people the day before in another part of Armagh. It was the culmination of years of tit-for-tat killings in the area.

For members of the Protestant community, the Kingsmill Massacre has taken on an emblematic role as the worst atrocity committed against civilians in the conflict, but it is far from alone. In 1993 was the Greysteel Massacre, where 8 Catholics were shot dead by a Loyalist gang at a Halloween Party in the County Derry village of Greysteel, while another 6 were murdered while watching a World Cup soccer match in 1994 in the village of Loughinisland. It is to this day impossible to mention the names of these places without it immediately conjuring up images of the horrific events that took place there during this dark period of Irish history.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
An Amish family mourn. In Times Gone By.

11 – Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania

After such trauma hits a community, it can come to define that place and its people. For many towns, there is no coming back when something traumatic strikes their small communities. Rarely, however, it shows the best aspects of rural living and traditional values. In terms of resilience in the face of terror and the overwhelming power of faith and belief after a tragedy, there is little that can come close to the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

The events of October 2, 2006, are well known: Charles Carl Roberts, a local milk tank driver and father of three, walked into the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish schoolhouse, and took the students hostage. He released the boys but killed five young girls between the ages of 7 and 13, while injuring another 5 female pupils. By the time the police arrived, Roberts had killed himself.

The reaction was one of total horror. The Amish as a community are intensely pacifistic and the victims were all defenceless young girls, while the perpetrator had no history of violence. He was married with three kids and had seen his wife that morning, taking their children to the bus stop to go to school. In his suicide note to her, Roberts spoke of a child that they had lost together almost a decade before and of his anger at God for the pain inflicted upon him.

If it was God that fuelled Roberts’ rage, it was faith in the Almighty that distinguished the Amish after his actions. The strength of their convictions allowed them to pray for forgiveness for Roberts, with one community member telling the media that “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.” “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God,” said a father of one of the victims.

The Nickel Mines Amish comforted the family of the perpetrator and attended his funeral, while his widow was present at the funerals of a victim. She later wrote “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” Some scholars of the Amish religion cited their strong belief in forgiveness as part of a wider trend towards celebrating those who turned the other cheek, while others also explained that there is a tradition of not holding grudges that is deep rooted in the Amish mindset. When tragedy strikes, the Amish reaction is to strive for something positive that moves forward rather than retribution that lingers over the trauma. The reaction of the community to each other was also impressive. They demolished the school and rebuilt another at a different location within just 6 months.

These 12 Small Towns Were Devastated by Random Killing Sprees and Shocked the World
Woo Bum-kon. Murderpedia.

12 – Uiryeong County, South Korea

Our final small-town psycho is the most deadly on the list, but one about whom most people know very little. The name of Woo Bum-kon will not much to the majority of readers for several reasons. Firstly, his actions took place in 1982, the earliest of any of our spree killers, and secondly, he committed his atrocities in South Korea, well beyond the usual Western media cycles. In many ways, however, the deadly actions of Woo Bum-kon will seem quite familiar.

Bum-kon was a policeman in Uiryeong County, South Gyeongsang Province in South Korea, one of the most isolated and least populated parts of the country. He had served his national service, as all Korean men do, before joining the police force in the small town of Kungyu. He was living with his girlfriend when he began his massacre, something which she later suspected had fuelled his rage, as many in the rural community had conservative views and resented that the couple lived together while not being married.

He was due to begin an evening shift on the force at 4 pm on the afternoon of April 26, 1982, and left his house after an argument with his girlfriend. At half-past 7, he returned home, assaulted his girlfriend and smashed up their house, before heading off to the police armoury and grabbing weapons. At 9.30 pm, he entered the post office, cut communications wires and shot three workers, before moving to another village, where he killed six more people with his M2 Carbine and a hand grenade. He continued travelling throughout the rural villages in his police uniform, using the trust that it engendered to con locals into letting him into their houses, whereupon he shot them.

In one instance, he was invited into a home that was hosting a wake and killed 12 people inside and another 8 outside. In another village, he murdered 18 villagers in the marketplace as they shopped. The police were attempting to get to him, but it took them an hour to assemble enough men to take him down. When they finally caught up with him, Bum-kon holed himself up in a rural farmhouse and killed himself. After a rampage that had lasted almost six hours, Woo had murdered 56 people and injured a further 35.
The outrage in South Korea was huge. The police force in Uiryeong County came under extreme criticism, both for allowing Woo Bum-kon to assemble so many weapons in the first place – he had walked right into the police armoury while they were having a meeting – and then for their slow response in apprehending him. The provincial chief was suspended, officers were charged with negligence and, after a national scandal, the interior minister and the national head of police resigned.

Uiryeong County was previously among the least known parts of Korea, with little to mark it out at all. After the untimely arrival of Woo Bum-kon, it became synonymous with violence and destruction.