Why Mid-April?
April 16, 2007 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Am I nuts in asking why more than usual high-profile, mass killings seem to happen in the mid-April timframe -- Waco, April 19; Oklahoma City, April 19; Columbine, April 20; and now this tragedy in Virginia. Is this an early Spring phenomenon? I often mention to my sister, whose birthday is April 20, about how bad things always seem to happen around her special day -- she is a great person. Any observations?
posted by terrier319 to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm an April 20 girl, too!

Some reasons mentioned to me have been Hitler's birthday, which is the 20th, and "International Smoke Out Day", which is also the 20th.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:35 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


In school shootings, I blame the stress of the ending school year and finals.
posted by schroedinger at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2007


April 20th is Hitler's birthday. April 19th is (in Massachusetts) Patriot's Day - you know, the shot-heard-'round-the-world. I don't know if either of these has anything to do with the awful shit of OK City and so on.
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2007


And Oklahoma City, as I understand it, was very deliberately perpetrated at the anniversary of Waco.
posted by zebra3 at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2007


Is it really more than usual? What about 9/11 or the first WTC bombing? What about other school shooting sprees? The DC snipers? The Ohio snipers?
posted by deadfather at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2007


Confirmation bias.

Thinking of two big shootings in the UK - Dunblane and Hungerford - neither were in April.

If you want to believe this is happening you'll need to look at all killings done in a given way with more than a certain number dead deciding those before you look at the data and see if it's statistically significant then.
posted by edd at 12:40 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


edd speaks the truth.

Besides, 4/20 is a joyous holiday amongst the cannibus set.
posted by dr_dank at 12:44 PM on April 16, 2007


I'm April 23. Lenin's birthday is April 22.

"April is the cruelest month." Eliot was using this phrase as a lament that the promise of spring renewal never materializes. I think that may be part of the explanation; in the depths of winter, we tell ourselves that spring will make things better, and when it does not, we just snap from the pressure.
posted by nasreddin at 12:47 PM on April 16, 2007


Mine's the 19th.

When people tell me about the bad stuff that happened, I just say,"Well I am the antichrist. What do you expect?"

There is a wierd concentration of bad things happening around this date.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 1:00 PM on April 16, 2007


I don't think you're nuts. I'm not sure I buy the confirmation bias theory here, either.

I've also noticed that a lot of high-profile school shootings also happen during spring, not just mid-April. I've always attributed it to a combination of pent-up frustration/rage from the school year, spring fever (that sounds a bit silly, but you know what I mean) and stresses from tests, finals, etc.

This page offers a timeline of school shootings going back to 1996. It does seem like there are a lot of Marches, Aprils and Mays in the list.
posted by CMichaelCook at 1:00 PM on April 16, 2007


Definitely confirmation bias. Take a look at ABC's timeline of school shootings.

April 20 is a date of significance to you, so you will notice significant associations with it - like 4 school shootings in April. But the list above shows that school shootings have occured on the first of the month in the last half of the year four times (and once on the second). Is the latter any more or less of a coincidence?
posted by googly at 1:03 PM on April 16, 2007


If you want to believe this is happening you'll need to look at all killings done in a given way with more than a certain number dead deciding those before you look at the data and see if it's statistically significant then.

If you want to believe this is just confirmation bias you'll need to look at all killings done in a given way with more than a certain number dead deciding those before you look at the data and see if the null hypothesis is confirmed then.

(Not claiming this either is or is not just confirmation bias. But it's just as much an error to conclude it's confirmation bias without doing the statistical analysis as it is to conclude that it's an actual effect without doing the statistical analysis.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:09 PM on April 16, 2007


Confirming the confirmation bias.

Montreal has had three high-profile shootings. None of which were in April, or even during Spring.
posted by CKmtl at 1:11 PM on April 16, 2007


Definitely confirmation bias. Take a look at ABC's timeline of school shootings.

Terrier319's question was about "high profile mass killings," not just school shootings. Indeed, of the four examples given in the original question, two are not school shootings.

Not to mention that many of the incidents in the ABC timeline left only one or two dead--while tragic, these probably do not rise to the level of "mass killings." (Which, as edd correctly points out, we'd have to define before doing any computation if we wanted to do a rigorous analysis.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:20 PM on April 16, 2007


DA, point taken.

We cannot conclusively say whether this is a true causal connection (or even a strong association), nor can we conclusively say that it is not.

But it still is probably a case of confirmation bias.
posted by googly at 1:23 PM on April 16, 2007


Can you really make a distinction between mass killings and failed mass killings? The intent is the same. Or do 15 year olds get more accurate with semi-automatic rifles in the month of April?
posted by nathancaswell at 1:26 PM on April 16, 2007


For the purpose of this question, obviously there is a huge difference between a successful and a failed mass killing.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:27 PM on April 16, 2007


You're not crazy; I've thought of this before too. Here are two of my completely unfounded musings.

1. Glibly quoting unfounded statistics, I hear that the suicide rate is highest in the spring. Depressed folks find comfort on the bleak blanket of winter. When life starts to defrost and perk up, their depression is made more obvious by the fact their mood can't keep pace with the spring bloom. If depression is matched with homicidal tendencies, mid-April would be a perfect time to act out.

2. Daily, pot smokers light up at 4:20. Worldwide, on the 20th of April, the followers of this type of tradition rejoice and go public with random acts of violence and general misbehaviour. 4/20, the time and the date, is notoriously a time and date set aside for partying and celebrations of the questionable variety. It's also a celebration of Hitler's birthday, so if you're a skinhead type person, this is a great day for making history.
posted by Milkman Dan at 1:34 PM on April 16, 2007


random acts of violence and general misbehaviour.

More like "random acts of sitting on the couch watching Half Baked and eating Cheetos."
posted by nasreddin at 1:42 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


September 1857 -- Mormons pretended to be Native Americans and slaughtered a whole bunch of travellers in Mountain Meadows, so they could steal their stuff.

July 1914 -- Simone Pianetti had opened a restaurant that allowed dancing. Some religious types objected to this and had his restaurant shut down. He went all Flash Dance and killed 7 people.

May 1917 -- Andrew Kehoe was upset at a school tax, and decided to protest it by blowing up several child-filled schools

March 1990 -- Julio González lit Happy Land on fire, with gasoline, because his ex-girlfriend didn't like him. Who would have guessed?

August 1966 -- Charles Whitman went into the tower at UT Austin, and killed 15 people.

December 1993 -- Colin Ferguson killed 6 and injured 19 by shooting people on a LIRR train.

October 1991 -- George Hennard shot 24 people at Luby's Cafeteria because of some sort of grudge against the county.

August 1999 -- Buford O. Furrow Jr attacked a daycare in Los Angeles, shooting a few kids, employees and the mail man.

March 1999 -- Mamoru Takuma stabbed 8 1st and 2nd graders to death and wounded 15 others. He wanted to get the state to give him the death sentence.

April 2002 -- Robert Steinhäuser opened fire on a school and killed 13 teachers, 2 students and a cop.

And it took me 10 semi-random selections from a giant list of shooting sprees before I was able to find one that happened in April.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 1:44 PM on April 16, 2007


schroedinger mentions "
In school shootings, I blame the stress of the ending school year and finals.


The Montreal Polytechnique Massacre, in which 14 young women lost their lives and many men and women were wounded, was on December 6 - when final exams were being written.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:44 PM on April 16, 2007


Or to be more succinct: there is no correlation, only confirmation bias.

Check this list for plenty more mass murder information. (you have to click through to get the month.)
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 1:46 PM on April 16, 2007


I really don't think it's a case of conformational bias.

"...The incidence of suicide had its nadir in winter and zenith in the spring and summer and paralleled closely the number of bright sunlight hours. This pattern was particularly marked for violent suicide." From here

The best explanation I've heard is that it has to do with the changing of the amount of sunlight and wake/sleep patterns. For some reason it deeply fucks with some people.

Another interesting spring phenomenon happens when daylight savings time kicks in. When daylight savings time starts, the auto accident rate goes up 7% for the following Monday. When daylight savings time stops, the auto accident rate goes down by 7% for the following Monday.
posted by 517 at 1:48 PM on April 16, 2007


DevilsAdvocate: Well actually I was going to say next that even what I said wouldn't necessarily be convincing enough. But, given plenty of previous indication that people do see patterns where there are none, I'd say from a perspective that involves something of the Bayesian, that it's not as even a situation as you might suggest.

And while I'm at it: 'see if the null hypothesis is confirmed then.'

Null hypotheses don't get confirmed, they just get rejected.
posted by edd at 1:48 PM on April 16, 2007


Now what 517 says is pretty clearly true, from what I've seen. It's quite a strong effect in Iceland I believe, where daylight hours vary more extremely.

I think you're hard pushed to go from the statistics relatively common events like suicides on a seasonal basis to highly infrequent events like mass shootings and a couple of weeks in the middle of April.

And not that I will refuse to believe it happens, but the original poster mentioned three events, which isn't much to go on.
posted by edd at 1:53 PM on April 16, 2007


Moral of the story: depressing shit happens year-round. You all are probably just noticing/focusing on the April ones more since it's her birthday & you're thinking about it.

This year my dad put his dog to sleep on the morning of my birthday. So yeah, that was fun...
posted by miss lynnster at 1:58 PM on April 16, 2007


Looking at a list of 32 school shootings:

January - 1
February - 1
March - 5
April - 3
May - 4
June - 2
July - 2
August - 2
September - 5
October - 2
November - 2
December - 3

So first, I'd deny the premise. Secondly, the only possible bias I see in it is that more killings occur when kids are usually in school.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 1:58 PM on April 16, 2007


seawallrunner: The Montreal Polytechnique Massacre ... was on December 6 - when final exams were being written.

I don't know whether or not their exams were in progress at the time, but I don't think exam-stress played a big part. If you read the note he left, it seems like he'd been planning it for a while. To the extent that he "...waited until [he] exhausted all [his] financial means, even refusing jobs..."

And in the Dawson shooting, exam stress isn't even a possible part of it. It happened in September, and he wasn't even a student there. (only one of the 19 injured died there, but I don't think the shooter's bad aim detracts from the event.)

This isn't to say that exam- or homecoming- or prom-stress has nothing to do with *all* school shootings. But reducing it down to just that ignores everything else happening in the shooter(s)'s mind(s) and environment that could lead to the shooting.
posted by CKmtl at 2:07 PM on April 16, 2007


I think it's reasonable to suggest that there's a general tendency towards mania associated with the increase in daylight hours which might make people more impulsive, or more able to act on their impulses. It has been suggested that this is why the risk of suicide can increase with the use of antidepressants.
posted by teleskiving at 2:08 PM on April 16, 2007


Well, hold up. Wasn't the Columbine purposely on Hitler's birthday?


am I a horrible person for wanting to make the "You know who else had a birthday in April?" joke?
posted by niles at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2007


You know who else had a birthday on April 20?

Carmen Electra. And Luther Vandross.

And me.
posted by padraigin at 2:25 PM on April 16, 2007


It seems that to the extent that this is true, it's deliberate human planning.

McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building on the anniversary of Waco as retribution for the federal government's actions against the Branch Davidians.

The Columbine shooters mentioned on the videos they made about the event that they hoped to outdo both Waco and Oklahoma City in death tolls, suggesting that the timing of their massacre was deliberately chosen to coincide with those events. Some experts theorize that they originally planned to attack on the 19th, but there were delays in making the bombs, forcing them to delay until the next day.
posted by decathecting at 2:30 PM on April 16, 2007


Does Beslan count? September 2004.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:39 PM on April 16, 2007


I'm the 21st and my Dad and I were just discussing this and how many things happened in this one week, in my lifetime.
posted by SuzySmith at 3:02 PM on April 16, 2007


Columbine was planned by Harris and Klebold to occur on Hitler's birthday.

Oklahoma City was also purposely planned to occur on April 19th. From here:
For Timothy McVeigh, April 19 stood out as a date with multiple historical meanings. It was, probably foremost to the former visitor to Waco, the date in 1995 that the federal government launched its attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, with the horrific loss of life that resulted. McVeigh also knew April 19 to be the date in 1775 that the Battle of Lexington occurred, marking the beginning of the armed uprising by colonialists against British control. In his getaway car, McVeigh included a bumper sticker that he expected--probably wanted--authorities to find. The bumper sticker carried the quote of Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Adams, "WHEN THE GOVERNMENT FEARS THE PEOPLE, THERE IS LIBERTY. WHEN THE PEOPLE FEAR THE GOVERNMENT, THERE IS TYRANNY." Below the slogan, McVeigh scribbled his own words: "Maybe now, there will be liberty!" April 19 of 1995, McVeigh also certainly knew, was to be the scheduled day of execution in Arkansas for a white supremacist Richard Snell, formerly of Elohim City, who had--years earlier--targeted the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City as the site for a potential bombing.
Because of the battle of Lexington, April 19th is actually celebrated as a holiday in Massachusetts and Maine (and, oddly, Wisconsin;) it's called "Patriot Day." You can see how that would have appealed to McVeigh.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:50 PM on April 16, 2007


I'm the 28th (as is Saddam Hussein). I always felt like going on a rampage around my birthday in high school because I had to study for freaking AP exams on my freaking birthday. Others' mileage may vary.

To add a data point, Armenian Martyrs' Day is April 24th in commemoration of one of the major violent acts of the Genocide.
posted by crinklebat at 3:51 PM on April 16, 2007


The Gobe And Mail's Leah McLaren coincidentally wrote an excellent column on the cruelty of April just this past weekend.
posted by Neiltupper at 4:24 PM on April 16, 2007


APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

posted by jenkinsEar at 5:15 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


seawallrunner: The Montreal Polytechnique Massacre ... was on December 6 - when final exams were being written.

CKmtl: I don't know whether or not their exams were in progress at the time, but I don't think exam-stress played a big part.


Since Lepine wasn't a student, we can probably be sure of that.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:37 PM on April 16, 2007


If we're talking about high profile killings, as opposed to "mere" mass killings (which have been happening pretty much every day in Iraq for a few years, now), then we're necessarily talking about confirmation bias coupled with small number statistics.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:43 PM on April 16, 2007


There are only fifty two weeks in a year, I don' t think it's a statistical anonomoly given the number of tragedies that have happened between 1993 and 2007.
posted by Packy_1962 at 8:05 PM on April 16, 2007


Just to add to the weird-April events:

Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14.
The Apollo 13 incident began on April 13 (launched on the 11th).
The Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14 and sank on the 15th.
The American Civil war both started and ended in mid-April (12th and 9th, I think).
And then, of course, there's Tax Day :-)

I wouldn't be surprised if the coming of spring had something to do with an increase in some types of events. As it warms up, there's just more activity in general, people come out of their houses after being pent up, and who knows what other weird things season changes do to humans and other animals.
posted by walla at 9:04 PM on April 16, 2007


Tacos Are Pretty Great said:

Looking at a list of 32 school shootings:

January - 1
February - 1
March - 5
April - 3
May - 4
June - 2
July - 2
August - 2
September - 5
October - 2
November - 2
December - 3

So first, I'd deny the premise. Secondly, the only possible bias I see in it is that more killings occur when kids are usually in school.


I actually think this data says the opposite. If you take any two or three month window, there are no two months greater than March-April (5+3) or April-May (3+4). And if you take April +/- 1 month, you get 5+3+4, which far exceeds any other three month window.

So while I'm sure the data doesn't represent all school shootings, if we take it to be at all representative, I would argue that spring has some impact (as might the beginning of school near September).
posted by ThinkNut at 12:36 AM on April 17, 2007


'I actually think this data says the opposite. If you take any two or three month window, there are no two months greater than March-April (5+3) or April-May (3+4). And if you take April +/- 1 month, you get 5+3+4, which far exceeds any other three month window.'

Exactly the kind of thing I suggest you don't do. Did you think to look at a two or three month window before looking at it? You can't go picking the question afterwards, because you're ignoring all the other questions you could have asked but didn't because the data didn't happen to fall into that pattern.

Even if you did you'd need to calculate the probability of this happening by chance. It's not the most trivial calculation given you have this sliding window set up and since the year is cyclic (you need to wrap from December to January) but I'd be surprised if that turned out to be significant given none of the individual months are significantly above the average.
posted by edd at 2:17 AM on April 17, 2007


There are 16 shootings from Jan-Jun and 16 from Jul-Dec. Depending on how you interpret the stats, we can make them say all sorts of things.
posted by yeti at 7:00 AM on April 17, 2007


I am pretty sure the Civil War began on December 20 (my birthday), when South Carolina seceeded.
posted by dame at 9:06 AM on April 17, 2007


South Carolina seceded in December, but the War began when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter on April 12.
posted by walla at 10:20 AM on April 17, 2007


"International Smoke Out Day", which is also the 20th.

Since the comment that said as much seems to have been unfortunately deleted, I feel the need to remark on the ridiculousness of suggesting any connection there.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:33 AM on April 17, 2007


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