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Untold Damage: America’s Overlooked Gun Violence

Seven people were shot in a matter of minutes last August at an Elks Lodge in Cincinnati. 

CINCINNATI — After the slaughter of nine worshipers at a South Carolina church last June, but before the massacre of eight students and a teacher at an Oregon community college in October, there was a shooting that the police here have labeled Incident 159022597.01. It happened on a clear Friday night at an Elks Lodge, on a modest block of clapboard houses northeast of this city’s hilly downtown. Unlike the butchery that bookended it, it merited no presidential statements, no saturation television coverage.

But what took place at 6101 Prentice Street on Aug. 21 may say more about the nature of gun violence in the United States than any of those far more famous rampages. It is a snapshot of a different sort of mass violence — one that erupts with such anesthetic regularity that it is rendered almost invisible, except to the mostly black victims, survivors and attackers.

According to the police account, more than 30 people had gathered in the paneled basement bar of the lodge to mark the 39th birthday of a man named Greg Wallace when a former neighbor, Timothy Murphy, showed up, drunk. Fists flew. Mr. Murphy ducked out the door, burst back in with a handgun, and opened fire.

As partygoers scrambled for the door, he chased Greg Wallace’s younger brother Dawaun to a tiny black-and-white-tiled bathroom, where he shot him nine times before the violence spilled out onto the street. There, another Wallace relative, also armed with a handgun, fired back at him.

The aftermath of the Aug. 21 shooting at the Elks Lodge at 6101 Prentice Street in Cincinnati, during which 27 shots were fired. 

By the end, 27 bullets had flown, hitting seven people: Mr. Murphy, who died; Dawaun Wallace, who was grievously wounded; four bystanders, one of whom was hit in the genitals, another in the leg.

And Barry Washington.

A seasonal packer for, Mr. Washington, 56, had stopped at the lodge on his way to the store for cigarettes, said his sister, Jaci Washington. He was in the bathroom when Mr. Murphy cornered Dawaun Wallace there. A single bullet pierced Mr. Washington’s arm, then his heart.

He left behind a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a mother and four grandchildren.

“My brother died on the floor of a bathroom for no reason,” Ms. Washington said. “He had nothing to do with the whole situation. I can’t believe I lost my brother like this.”

Yet many in the neighborhood where they grew up, she said, responded with a shrug. “The reality is, this happens quite frequently,” she said. “And it’s kind of, ‘Oh, well, this guy was killed today. Somebody else will be killed tomorrow.’ ”

That is more than correct. The Elks Lodge episode was one of at least 358 armed encounters nationwide last year — nearly one a day, on average — in which four or more people were killed or wounded, including attackers. The toll: 462 dead and 1,330 injured, sometimes for life, typically in bursts of gunfire lasting but seconds.

In some cities, law enforcement officials say a growing share of shootings involve more than one victim, possibly driven by increased violence between street gangs. But data are scarce.


Articles in this series examine shootings with at least four casualties that took place in the United States last year, an average of nearly one a day.

Only a small handful were high-profile mass shootings like those in South Carolina and Oregon. The rest are a pencil sketch of everyday America at its most violent.

They chronicle how easily lives are shattered when a firearm is readily available — in a waistband, a glove compartment, a mailbox or garbage can that serves as a gang’s gun locker. They document the mayhem spawned by the most banal of offenses: a push in a bar, a Facebook taunt, the wrong choice of music at a house party. They tally scores of unfortunates in the wrong place at the wrong time: an 11-month-old clinging to his mother’s hip, shot as she prepared to load him into a car; a 77-year-old church deacon, killed by a stray bullet while watching television on his couch.

The shootings took place everywhere, but mostly outdoors: at neighborhood barbecues, family reunions, music festivals, basketball tournaments, movie theaters, housing project courtyards, Sweet 16 parties, public parks. Where motives could be gleaned, roughly half involved or suggested crime or gang activity. Arguments that spun out of control accounted for most other shootings, followed by acts of domestic violence.

The typical victim was a man between 18 and 30, but more than 1 in 10 were 17 or younger. Less is known about those who pulled the triggers because nearly half of the cases remain unsolved. But of those arrested or identified as suspects, the average age was 27.

358 Shootings

462 Dead

1,330 Injured

Dead and injured include suspects and victims. A New York Times analysis of 358 shootings with four or more casualties in 2015.

Most of the shootings occurred in economically downtrodden neighborhoods. These shootings, by and large, are not a middle-class phenomenon.

The divide is racial as well. Among the cases examined by The Times were 39 domestic violence shootings, and they largely involved white attackers and victims. So did many of the high-profile massacres, including a wild shootout between Texas biker gangs that left nine people dead and 18 wounded.

Over all, though, nearly three-fourths of victims and suspected assailants whose race could be identified were black. Some experts suggest that helps explain why the drumbeat of dead and wounded does not inspire more outrage.

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“Clearly, if it’s black-on-black, we don’t get the same attention because most people don’t identify with that. Most Americans are white,” said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston. “People think, ‘That’s not my world. That’s not going to happen to me.’ ”

Michael Nutter, a former Philadelphia mayor, who is black, said that society would not be so complacent if whites were dying from gun violence at the same rate as blacks.

“The general view is it’s one bad black guy who has shot another bad black guy,” he said. “And so, one less person to worry about.”

Cincinnati police officers investigating the scene near the Elks Lodge on Aug. 22, the day after the shooting. The toll of gun deaths and injuries in the city in 2015 was the highest in nine years. 

Minor Dust-Ups, Answered With Bullets

Droves of experts study high-profile massacres by so-called lone-wolf assailants, usually driven by mental disorders, at schools, workplaces and other public spaces. Academics regularly crunch data on single homicides and assaults. But the near-daily shootings that wound or kill several victims — a relatively small subset of the shootings that kill nearly 11,000 people and wound roughly 60,000 more each year — are uncharted territory for researchers, said Richard B. Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

The Times compiled its list of 358 shootings with four or more casualties from largely crowd-sourced lists managed by the social media network Reddit and Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization. The groups recently combined their efforts at the website

Four or more casualties is a far broader measure than “mass shootings,” which are commonly defined as the killing of at least four people, not including the attacker. But it captures many victims who some criminologists say are too often ignored: people who might have died given a slightly different trajectory of a bullet, or less-sophisticated medical care.

Counting assailants among casualties increased the total number of cases by fewer than three dozen, most of them domestic violence shootings that ended in suicide. Hispanics were not separately identified, because police reports do not systematically identify victims and suspects by ethnicity, only by race.

There are 358 reasons for those 358 shootings, though some remain a mystery; in about a fourth of the cases, investigators have discerned no motive.

As for the rest, some patterns stand out. The fewest occurred while another felony, such as a burglary, was underway. Domestic violence shootings were nearly as infrequent, but were among the deadliest.

39 Domestic Violence Cases

145 Dead

40 Injured

White attackers: 63%

White victims: 64%

New York Times analysis of 358 shootings with four or more casualties in 2015.

About a third were provoked by arguments, typically drug- or alcohol-fueled, often over petty grievances.

A sampling:

Outside a crowded bar in Decatur, Ill., a customer found an expensive watch. When another man insisted it was his, the customer pulled out a semiautomatic handgun, shot the man in the face and wounded four people near him.

After a day of drinking, singing karaoke and watching football, four middle-aged friends in a small town north of Baton Rouge, La., got into a fight — some said over the choice of music. One shot the other three, then killed himself.

Outside an Orlando, Fla., housing project, lewd comments about a young man’s pregnant girlfriend resulted in 15 to 20 gunshots. A 10-year-old boy who peered out his window at the fracas was struck directly in one eye. One of three wounded adults later acknowledged that “a one-on-one fist fight would have settled the issue,” the police report said.

Another third of the 358 cases — and the most common in cities with more than 250,000 residents — were either gang-related or were drive-by shootings typical of gangs.

But the police and prosecutors say many of those were not directly linked to criminal activity, such as a dispute over a drug deal. More often, a minor dust-up — a boast, an insult, a decision to play basketball on another gang’s favorite court — was taken as a sign of disrespect and answered with a bullet, said Andrew V. Papachristos, a Yale University professor who studies gang behavior.

Typical Victim: Male 18-30

Race known: 67%

Black: 73%

Sex known: 80%

Male: 72%

Average age: 27

Includes Hispanics among both races. A New York Times analysis of 358 shootings with four or more casualties in 2015.

Over all, two-thirds of shootings took place outdoors, endangering innocent people. More than 100 bystanders, from toddlers to grandparents, were injured or killed.

Among them: eight family members shot as they bade one another goodbye after a reunion in Philadelphia; a soldier struck by a stray bullet during a shootout in a public square in Savannah, Ga.; a 19-year-old college sophomore killed when a gunman sprayed a crowd outside an Ocala, Fla., club.

In Cincinnati, where last year’s toll of 479 gun deaths and injuries was the highest in nine years, a growing share of shootings involve more than one victim — 1 in 8 attacks with guns in the first half of last year compared with 1 in 12 over the same span in 2010.

Police officials in some other cities have noted a similar trend, though others say they have not. What is behind the upticks, they said, is a matter of speculation.

In Rochester, multiple-victim shootings accounted for fewer than 15 percent of victims in 2006; so far this year, they make up 38 percent. Police Chief Michael Ciminelli said that he suspected that social media was playing a role by simultaneously catalyzing minor disputes into deadly standoffs and drawing more people into them.

Larry C. Smith, interim chief of police in Durham, N.C., and a 28-year veteran of the force, said, “Are we starting to reap the video-game age? I don’t know.”

“But five, or certainly 10 years ago,” he added, “it wasn’t like this.”

The scene outside the Prentice Street Elks Lodge. The episode there in August was one of five shootings in Cincinnati last year that resulted in at least four deaths or injuries. 

The Elks Lodge shooting was one of five last year in Cincinnati that resulted in at least four casualties. The others took place on street corners, on a front porch and at a cookout in a parking lot.

Police officials say they suspect that as many as half of the 24 victims were not the intended targets; community workers blame self-taught gunmen who are often high on drugs or were drunk. “They are not marksmen,” said Aaron Pullins, an anti-violence worker. “They don’t know how to hold the gun. They just shoot.”

Investigators have linked three of those shootings to gangs, although like many of their counterparts in other cities, they say the word gang conjures up a false image of a tight-knit, hierarchical criminal organization. Instead, they describe fluid, sometimes tiny bands of teenagers and young adults bound by illegal activity. “They are groups of friends who rob and shoot each other,” Detective Greg Gehring said. “That’s just what they do.”

And they do it all too well. Last year such groups accounted for 40 of Cincinnati’s 58 gun homicides and more than half of its 421 nonfatal shootings.


36 age 12 and under

23 age 13-17


36 age 12 and under

77 age 13-17

 New York Times analysis of 358 shootings with four or more casualties in 2015.

Two of the five shootings with four or more casualties occurred just 300 feet apart in East Westwood, an impoverished neighborhood with high unemployment and dropout rates, on a block that averaged a shooting nearly every other month. A third occurred a mile away. That pattern is typical: Urban gun violence tends to spread around specific blocks or intersections, like a contagious disease.

Rival gang members, seeking revenge for an earlier shooting, had already tried to run Jonathan Austin, 24, off the road when they caught up to him in early December outside the Schwarz Market in East Westwood, the police said. They chased him and his friends for an entire block, firing up to 50 shots.

Mr. Austin was killed. Three of his friends were injured, including an 18-year-old who was shot repeatedly in the back, damaging his spine. Detective Gehring said that when he talked to the teenager last month, he was bedridden in his mother’s apartment, worried he would never move his legs again.

With the help of the market’s surveillance video and one witness, the police arrested a 31-year-old felon on charges of murder and illegal possession of a weapon. But as many as five other gunmen got away. A few weeks ago, one of the suspects was shot 11 times, possibly in retaliation, the detective said.

Street violence is self-perpetuating that way: Shootings beget shootings that beget more gunmen. Professor Papachristos, the gang expert, said the more violent the neighborhood, the more teenagers and young men seek safety in numbers.

“The No. 1 reason people join gangs is for protection,” he said. “The perverse irony is they are then more at risk.”

Ali-Rashid Abdullah of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission at the site of a recent homicide. He speaks openly about the intersection of race and violence in the city, where blacks constitute 44 percent of the population but last year accounted for 91 percent of its shooting victims.

‘Our Children Killing Our Children’

Ali-Rashid Abdullah, 67 and broad-shouldered with a neatly trimmed gray beard, is an ex-convict turned outreach worker for Cincinnati’s Human Relations Commission. He or his co-workers were at the scenes of all five of Cincinnati’s shootings with four or more casualties last year, working the crowds outside the yellow police tape, trying to defuse the potential for further gunfire.

They see themselves as stop signs for young black men bound for self-destruction. They also see themselves as truth-tellers about the intersection of race and gun violence — a topic that neither the city’s mayor, who is white, nor its police chief, who is black, publicly addresses.

“White folks don’t want to say it because it’s politically incorrect, and black folks don’t know how to deal with it because it is their children pulling the trigger as well as being shot,” said Mr. Abdullah, who is black.

No one worries more about black-on-black violence than African-Americans. Surveys show that they are more fearful than whites that they will be crime victims and that they feel less safe in their neighborhoods.

Most parents Mr. Abdullah meets are desperate to protect their children but are trapped in unsafe neighborhoods, he said, “just trying to survive.” And some are in denial, refusing to believe that their sons are carrying or using pistols, even in the face of clear evidence.

“ ‘Not my child,’ ” he said, adopting the resentful tone of a defensive mother. “ ‘It may be his friends, but not my child, because I know how I raised my child.’ ”

His reply, he said, is blunt: “These are our children killing our children, slaughtering our children, robbing our children. It’s our responsibility first.”

Black Victims, Black Shooters

Though the rate of gun homicides plummeted for seven years after its 1993 peak, blacks are still six times as likely as whites to be both victims and offenders.





homicides per

100,000 people










Nationally, reliable racial breakdowns exist only for victims and offenders in gun homicides, not assaults, but those show a huge disparity.

The gun homicide rate peaked in 1993, in tandem with a nationwide crack epidemic, and then plummeted over the next seven years. But blacks still die from gun attacks at six to 10 times the rate of whites, depending on whether the data is drawn from medical sources or Police Departments. F.B.I. statistics show that African-Americans, who constitute about 13 percent of the population, make up about half of both gun homicide victims and their known or suspected attackers.

“Every time we look at the numbers, we are pretty discouraged, I have to tell you,” said Gary LaFree, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland.

Some researchers say the single strongest predictor of gun homicide rates is the proportion of an area’s population that is black. But race, they say, is merely a proxy for poverty, joblessness and other socio-economic disadvantages that help breed violence.

Mr. Nutter, now an urban policy professor at Columbia University, spoke out repeatedly about the disparity during his eight years as Philadelphia’s mayor — and was accused of casting African-Americans in a bad light. “Some people got upset,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll stop talking about it when you stop killing each other.’ ”

Most Shootings in the Poorest Neighborhoods

Of the ZIP codes where four or more people were shot during a single encounter in 2015, 86 percent are poorer than the nation as a whole. Each bar represents one of those ZIP codes.



67% of people live in poverty

in this Chattanooga, Tenn.,

ZIP code, where 4 people

were shot on Jan. 7, 2015.






National poverty

rate, 14.8%



ZIP codes with higher poverty rates


Cloaking the issue, he said, only makes it easier for the country to tune out what amounts to “mass murder occurring in slow motion every day.” Both he and Mr. Abdullah say they wish some of the outrage over police killings of unarmed African-Americans would spill over to victims who die in anonymity in routine gun violence.

After a white University of Cincinnati police officer fatally shot an unarmed black driver in July, street protests erupted here, Mr. Abdullah noted. But “when we kill each other,” he said, “it seems an acceptable way of life.”

Every month, the outreach workers attend more ceremonies, outpourings of grief marked by teddy bears, high school photos, candles and scrawled tributes to the victim of the day.

“I feel so burned out,” said Steve Sherman, one of the workers. “We go to vigil, after vigil, after vigil, after vigil.”

The Frustrating Search for Attackers

From his hospital bed, one of four young men shot last May at one of Cincinnati’s most violent intersections pointed a police officer to a suspect. He gave the man’s first name. And he suggested that he had been shot in retaliation for an earlier shooting in the same area.

Officers were able to identify the suspect and confirm that his car had been shot up a few days earlier, said Police Specialist Mark Longworth, who headed the inquiry.

But “that’s where this case died,” he said. The injured victim attributed his information purely to “street talk,” not to direct knowledge that would stand in court. Hints are not evidence.

“It’s frustrating because if people would do the right thing, we could probably prevent some of these shootings from happening,” Specialist Longworth said. “But in that world, very few things are worse than being labeled a snitch.”

Nationally, nearly half of last year’s shootings with four or more casualties ended in the same way: no arrest; often, not even a suspect. At least 160 assailants, responsible for 102 murders and 635 gun injuries, were still on the streets at year’s end.

A case was more likely to be solved if one or more victims died — the situation in about half the cases. But even some double, triple and quadruple murders continue to stump investigators.

Nearly Half Unsolved

102 Dead

635 Injured

At least 160 attackers remained free

A New York Times analysis of 358 shootings with four or more casualties in 2015.

The national clearance rate for homicides has fallen from nearly three in four in 1980 to fewer than two in three today. That is partly because public attention has driven down the share of domestic violence killings, which are routinely solved, Professor Rosenfeld said.

Much of what remains are killings involving gangs, drugs and witnesses with criminal backgrounds who are wary of talking to the police. “You are left with a larger percentage of homicides that are more difficult for police to clear,” he said.

A shift in law enforcement from solving crimes to preventing them has also contributed, as has rising distrust of the police in some cities, said Charles F. Wellford, emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Maryland. Still, he said, some law enforcement agencies are much worse at closing murder cases than others. Some of those same departments are worse at closing shootings with four or more casualties, too.

In Baltimore, the police have not solved any of 11 shootings last year. New Orleans made arrests in only one of eight cases; Chicago, two of 16.

Cincinnati was more typical, solving two of its five cases, at least in part.

Detective Charles Zopfi had real hopes of arresting the gunmen behind a drive-by shooting here last September. About 20 people had gathered on a warm Monday night for a cookout in a parking lot beside an apartment building. “There were kids and older people, not your usual crowd of 16- to 23-year-old guys,” the detective said.

As a car sped down the street, someone fired at least 10 bullets out a window. Detective Zopfi said he knew from experience how people respond in such situations: They look in the direction of the gunfire, and only then dive for cover.

But eight months later, he said, he has been unable even to nail down whether the vehicle was black or green. He heard that of the five victims, a 30-year-old African-American man was left paralyzed from the waist down. But that man refused to take his phone calls, then changed his telephone number.

A wounded 3-year-old named Jabarri seemed the best hope of persuading witnesses to come forward, the detective said. Sometimes, the moral outrage over a child victim overwhelms the code of silence. And Jabarri, he said, was “the cutest little boy” who had smiled beguilingly at him from a hospital gurney even after being shot in the leg.

At the detective’s request, Jabarri’s mother agreed to meet with a reporter. But when the reporter showed up at her home, she backed out, pleading a haircut appointment. “The code of silence is strictly enforced,” the detective said.

Mr. Abdullah, the anti-violence worker, talks to some of the victims and witnesses who will not give information to the police. “They are scared,” he said. “We have had cases where people found out who talked and that person wound up dead. ‘So if the police cannot protect me, why would I jeopardize my life and my family?’ ”

“It’s so much bigger than the idea of ‘no snitching,’ ” he said.

A Family’s World Implodes

Barry Washington was a neighborhood fixture in Madisonville, a racially mixed community of small, neat homes in northeastern Cincinnati where he grew up. Slim, handsome and barely 5-foot-3, he had an infectious smile and a weakness for hats, from jaunty duckbills to baseball caps worn backward.

He helped out hard-up families at the Presbyterian church, and brought household goods to the two-bedroom apartment he shared with his 77-year-old mother, Amanda. He was getting to know a son, then 37, whose existence he had only recently discovered.

Barry Washington was killed in August in a shooting at an Elks Lodge in Cincinnati. He left behind a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a mother and four grandchildren.

“An all-around good guy,” said his sister, Jaci. “There wasn’t a woman who didn’t love him, or a man who didn’t want to hang out with him.”

A jack-of-all-trades, Mr. Washington could landscape a yard, operate a forklift, mend a torn basketball. He had to revert to odd jobs after the bus stopped running last year to’s northern Kentucky warehouse, where he had packed shipments. But his sister said he had planned to share an apartment near the warehouse so he could resume work there.

Madisonville is neither Cincinnati’s safest nor its most dangerous neighborhood. The Washingtons had avoided brushes with gunmen, but Mr. Washington was wary even around ninth graders. “ ‘Be careful,’ ” his sister recalled him saying. “ ‘The little young kids are getting crazy.’ ”

Sometime before 11 p.m. on Aug. 21, Mr. Washington left his apartment in a green pullover, telling his niece he needed cigarettes. His mother was in bed, watching a police drama.

The next morning, Jaci Washington awoke to a blizzard of text messages about a shooting. She called her mother, who said her brother had not come home.

Soon Amanda Washington’s phone rang: a detective, asking repeatedly whether she was alone.

“Why? What happened to my son?” she demanded. “Is he dead?”

Mr. Washington had stopped at the Elks Lodge, a narrow, single-story building clad in pale green siding a 15-minute walk from their apartment. Greg Wallace’s party was underway in the basement bar, a “Happy Birthday” banner and blue and yellow balloons on the walls. Tins of muffins and rolls sat on tables covered with plastic tablecloths.

Jaci Washington at the Cincinnati housing complex where her brother, Barry, lived with her mother. “It’s like the world crashing in,” she said of his death. 

Mr. Wallace and his brother Dawaun had recently been feuding with Timothy Murphy. The three men had grown up together in the neighborhood, and as adults had each been convicted of drug trafficking, court records show. Mr. Murphy’s mother, Christine Poindexter, said her son was upset because the Wallaces were selling drugs out of his father’s house.

The argument resumed when Mr. Murphy showed up at the party, and ended only when Mr. Murphy was dead and Dawaun Wallace had been peppered with nine bullets. Tests of Mr. Murphy’s blood later revealed nearly three times the legal alcohol level and evidence of recent marijuana use.

Mr. Murphy’s killer was not prosecuted, Detective Gregory said, because he appeared to have fired in self-defense. Barry Washington’s death was collateral damage — a stray bullet, meant for Dawaun.

Nine months later, Mr. Washington’s family is still reeling. His mother, a cancer survivor, is virtually a shut-in. “We loved him dearly, and with a pull of the trigger, he was gone,” she said. “That I cannot accept.”

Jaci Washington’s 10-year-old son is withdrawn and angry. Her 14-year-old daughter has nightmares. Her brother, she said, probably would have counseled her to forgive his killer. “He kept telling me, ‘You have to look for the good in everybody, ’” she said.

But she says she cannot forgive. She grasps for metaphors to capture the family’s loss. “It’s like the world crashing in. It’s like a nuclear bomb went off on my couch,” she said. “It’s like someone hit ‘pause’ in my life. I just saw him, and I will never see him again.”

Mr. Murphy’s mother is not seeking forgiveness. In an interview, she said she did not believe her son had fired a gun at anyone, insisting that the police had botched the investigation and let the real culprits go free. And she is angry with Jaci Washington for characterizing her son as a murderer at community meetings on gun violence.

Ms. Washington and her mother no longer go to those meetings. They seemed futile, they said — more broken people, describing more senseless deaths.

“I don’t want pity. I want results,” Jaci Washington said. “One more black shooting in a black neighborhood. ‘Let’s rally around.’ It’s a facade. When all is said and done, we’re still left with the grief.”

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