ABC News says Aurora shooting " U.S. history". What about VA Tech?

I was surprised, minutes ago, to see the opening lines of ABC’s This Week describe the movie theatre shooting as “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history”. Googling that phrase along with the word “Aurora” brings up as its first hit an ABC News online story whose lede is the following:

So clearly someone high up in the editorial offices of ABC News has decided this is their official line. But I don’t see how this can be remotely justified, with 12 killed here vs. 32 at Virginia Tech. I can only assume they are going by the combined total number of killed and wounded, but is that a reasonable yardstick? I would think this might offend a lot of the friends and family of the VT dead, who would dearly love to have their loved ones back alive, even if seriously injured.

Shooting =/= dead.

At Virginia Tech there were more deaths, but the total number of people shot was 49. 32 shot and killed and another 17 wounded.

In Colorado a total of 70 have been reported as shot. 12 dead 58 injured.

So more people being shot, even with dramatically fewer dead, = “worst”? I really disagree with that.

ETA: By this logic, a shooting by a psycho who systematically shot off the tips of the pinky fingers of 71 people, killing none of them, would trump this one as worst ever? C’mon.

Yes, it seems like the description is technically accurate but misleading - so mostly it’s there for the headlines. If they called it the largest shooting I think that would be a lot less sensationalistic.

I’m not sure there is really a debate here, so I am moving this to IMHO.

How can calling something “worst” be “technically accurate” (or “technically inaccurate” for that matter)? What is the technicality in this case? “Worst” is a superlative of “bad”, and my sense is that most people think it is bad to get injured, but much worse to die.

I suppose it could be possible to come up with some semi-arbitrary quantification of a ratio of injuries (depending also on their severity) to deaths, much as insurance companies do (you get this amount for losing an eye, another amount for a finger, and so on); but I’d have to think the ratio, especially outside the most grievous, permanent injuries, would have to be quite high.

So, for instance: maybe someone who killed, say, 29 and injured 94, could be said to have committed a mass shooting at least arguably “worse” than Virginia Tech. But 20 deaths has to be worse than than 41 injuries.

This also raises a tangential question: why *were *the ratios so different? Greater accuracy by the Virginia Tech shooter, or quicker medical attention in Aurora?

In terms of the death count, there have been several shootings other than the Virginia Tech massacre that were worse than this one. Off the top of my head then both Columbine and the Ft. Hood shooting resulted in more deaths (13 each), and looking at Wikipedia I see the UT Austin shooting back in the 1960s, the 1986 “going postal” Edmond shooting, and the 1991 Luby’s massacre all had even more than that. The Luby’s massacre was the deadliest shooting rampage (23 killed) in US history prior to the Tech shooting.

If not for the Luby’s massacre I could see arguing that the Aurora shooting was the worst not merely because of the number of people who were actually shot, but because the attack was on people who had no connection to the shooter. They were not his current or former coworkers or classmates. There was no way the victims could have provoked or even foreseen this shooting, they just happened to be in the theater that a disturbed and violent man chose for his attack. However, the Luby’s massacre was apparently much the same.

Interesting criteria, Lamia–I see what you mean. Did the Virginia Tech shooter know, and target, his victims? I had always thought he just randomly went around classroom buildings, and that the school was big enough that they wouldn’t be that likely to know him.

He used a shotgun and a rifle, so I’d expect some of the injuries to be pretty horrific.

I don’t know how to measure it but I don’t think it’s simply a technicality to consider more than a simple death count.


A lot of media outlets are calling it “one of the worst”, and I have no beef with that. ABC News’ repeatedly calling it categorically *the *worst just seems bogus.

Agreed. And the wounded has been dropped to 58. I don’t know it’s just shrapnel wounds or chemical gas treatings, either.

I was under the impression that his first victim (Emily Hilscher, the girl murdered in her dorm room) was specifically targeted, although looking at the Wikipedia article now I see that it was never established whether Hilscher and gunman Seung-Hui Cho had ever even met before the shooting. The classrooms Cho attacked don’t seem to have been targeted for any particular reason.

Still though, I think there may be some variant of the just world hypothesis where people who hear about a crime where they were not personally involved feel less bad about it if they can tell themselves that someone “should have seen it coming” and prevented it. While Cho’s victims may not have known him personally, there had been problems with him at VT before (disruptive classroom behavior, stalking other students) and there was arguably more the administration could have done to address this. Even if there hadn’t been problems with Cho before, outsiders might think that someone at the school “should have seen” that he was disturbed and taken some action. I think it would be more difficult to convince oneself that a ticket-taker “should have seen” that James Eagan Holmes wasn’t just there to enjoy the new Batman movie.

For example, you could define a killing as one full “Outrage Point”, and assign point values less than one for woundings, such as 0.1 for a flesh wound that recovers as a matter of course in a few days, 0.2 for an injury that is clearly not life threatening and does not result in permanent disability but requires non-trivial medical treatment, .5 for a wound causing loss of a major organ or a minor disability, and .8 for injuries that make the person permanently disabled in a major way.

So then, per the point system, killing two people is less serious than causing 21 flesh wounds, but more serious than causing 17 flesh wounds and one minor injury requiring a minor operation (0.2 level).

The problem is that the world doesn’t operate like this socially.

Well, as I recall, several people had explicitly identified Cho as a dangerous nutcase and at least one person claimed to have called him a “potential school shooter” before his rampage. Of course this came out after the incident, so hindsight may have been involved.