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

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

Mike Wood - November 26, 2017

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.

 

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