Mass knife attacks are 'very uncommon'

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The knife attack that left 21 students and a security guard wounded Wednesday at Franklin Regional High School was shocking not only for its violence but for its rarity.

Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections and author of the 2007 book "Mass Murder in the United States: A History," said the attack at Franklin Regional was unusual because knives are rarely used by an attacker attempting to kill multiple people in a public place.

"It's odd because it doesn't happen very often, fortunately, and not just at schools but at any public location. It's very uncommon and that's a good thing."

He said of the more than 1,200 mass killings he studied since 1900, only 8 percent involved the use of a knife. But of those, 90 percent of them happened in a residential setting in a domestic situation such as when "someone kills their family." The remaining 10 percent happened in a public location.

There have been only seven mass stabbings in a public place in the U.S. since 1901 where there were four or more fatal victims, he said.

The Franklin Regional attack occurred a year to the day after a 20-year-old man from suburban Houston was charged with using an X-Acto knife and a scalpel in a rampage at Lone Star Community College in Cypress, Texas, that injured 14 people. The attack ended when the suspect was subdued by multiple students, who held him down until authorities arrived. The Harris County Sheriff's Office said the suspect told investigators he'd had fantasies about stabbing people to death since he was in elementary school and had been planning the attack for some time.

In June 2001, a 38-year-old former Japanese mental patient was charged with fatally stabbing eight first- and second-grade children and with wounding 13 other children and two teachers at the Ikeda elementary school near Osaka in western Japan. The attack ended when teachers subdued him.

Coincidentally on Wednesday, Toronto police arrested a man after a stabbing rampage at a software company office left four people wounded, two of them with life-threatening injuries. The man allegedly attacked his former co-workers about 9:30 a.m. in an office complex. Other workers were able to detain the suspect until help arrived.


Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.

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