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Stray bullets and “mushrooms”: Random shootings of bystanders in four cities, 1977–1988

Abstract

Bystanders killed by bullets not specifically intended for them have long been a very small part of the homicide problem. But the frequency of press accounts of such killings and woundings has apparently increased nationally in recent years. To test this impression, we compiled all shootings of bystanders hit “at random” and reported in the published indexes of theNew York Times, theLos Angeles Times, and theWashington Post for 1977–1988, as well as a key word computer search of stories in theBoston Globe. We found a rapid increase in both bystander woundings and killings since 1985 in all four cities. The base rate was quite low, and total bystander deaths appear to comprise less than 1% of all homicides in these cities. Nonetheless, the numbers were large enough to show that most bystanders reported shot in New York and Los Angeles are victims of random shootings into crowds, rather than single stray bullets striking a lone individual “mushroom”. The reverse was true in Boston and Washington, with the effect of much lower rates of bystanders reported shot in those cities.

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Sherman, L.W., Steele, L., Laufersweiler, D. et al. Stray bullets and “mushrooms”: Random shootings of bystanders in four cities, 1977–1988. J Quant Criminol 5, 297–316 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01062556

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Key words

  • homicide
  • bystanders
  • shootings
  • trends