The first mass shooting in US history

Originally published at:


It seems odd to consider that the first mass shooting. It’s a regular occurrence in US history. I mean, sure, some of the things on that list are mass stabbings, but there are a lot of spree killers in US history.


On September 6, 1949, Howard Unruh murdered 13 people in downtown Philadelphia.

13? That’s like a good shooting nowadays.


It wasn’t in Philadelphia; it was just across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ. At the time, Camden was far from the crime-ridden city it later became. It was a solidly working-class town, one of the least likely places for such an event to happen. (Unruh, BTW, died in a psychiatric hospital in 2009, after 60 years in confinement.)


The first mass shooting in US history.

Things like this are why most of the news coverage has used the weaselly “in modern US history”.


Mass shootings of indegenes and black people don’t count, I guess.


Per the photo, I find it interesting to note that Jim Backus was a police officer…


I always thought it was Charles Whitman, but I guess that one just got more publicity.


He had a rigid temperament, an inability to accept frustration or people not treating him as well as he wanted, and a feeling of isolation…

Sounds like the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


Amazing how cops back then had the ability to take these people alive so that justice could be served. These days they don’t even bother to try. Heck, strap a bomb to a robot to blow a suspect up and you get cheered.


I think they’re working with a really narrow definition of rampage killer here. Has to be white-on-white crime and involve a semi-automatic weapon. This exempts famous mass murders like Gilbert Twigg, who killed six and wounded 25 at a concert, but used a double-barrel shotgun to do it. It also exempts killers like Julian Carlton, who was not white and who used a hatchet and fire.

Also doesn’t include killers like George Armstrong Custer who murdered hundreds of innocent people using the United States cavalry, and is still considered a hero by some.


Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m used to gun violence being considered uniquely special violence but this goes way beyond that.


I think it was way, way more violent back then than you give it credit for. @t3knomanser posted a Wiki list of rampage killers above. If you sort that list by date, the word “sentenced” doesn’t even show up until 1932.

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In white reality, nothing can said to ever truly have happened, until it’s happened to a white person.


I think the notable thing about the counter-examples you and others are posting is that they’re carried out by the state. Therefore they’re not really considered criminal action, which is part of what makes a mass-shooting in the common definition. I’m not saying I agree with this, I’m just pointing out that’s how it’s used.


Bit like the difference between how terrorism is defined throughout the world versus how it is defined in the West.


Relevant bit starts about three minutes in, but it’s all good.


I am ashamed that I have never heard of this man before.

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His music ain’t bad, either.

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I linked the New York Draft Riots (which included unprovoked killing of hundreds of Black Americans by individuals and by mobs) which were very much criminal, and not state sponsored. And a book about the vigilante murder of Californian Indians during the Gold Rush and “manifest destiny” periods, in which a tens of thousands of natives were hunted down - but admittedly the latter events, though technically criminal, were winked at by authorities. In both cases the slaughter was indiscriminate of age and gender and carried out mostly by civilians.

But you’ve still got a good point; if you don’t include government and church sponsored American massacres the list gets quite a bit shorter…