WASHINGTON — Lakim Faust dressed himself in black one Friday in June, grabbed a pistol-grip shotgun and 100 rounds of ammunition and walked out the door of his apartment in Greenville, N.C., with one intention — to shoot and kill a large number of people.
The 23-year-old gunman shot his first victim, an insurance adjuster sitting in a parked car, before calmly walking across the street and shooting three others in a Walmart parking lot, according to local police reports. Eventually the police shot and subdued the gunman.
Because no one died in the rampage, this incident was not classified as a mass killing and likely would have escaped deeper scrutiny. But after last year’s attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 students and six adults, the FBI began studying events like these to develop new ways to respond and save lives.
Active shooters are defined by the FBI as gunmen who arrive on the scene with the specific intent to commit mass murder. Unlike other mass killings or mass shootings, this subset does not include incidents such as bank robberies or drug deals that may turn lethal.
According to the FBI, there is a disturbing rise in the number of “active shooter” incidents across America, like the Greenville attack. The FBI is basing its conclusion on data collected by a Texas State University researcher that was exclusively obtained by Scripps News. The data shows the number of active shooter events in the U.S. has tripled in recent years.
“There is a higher number of people being shot and a higher number of people being killed,” said special agent Katherine Schweit, head of the FBI’s active shooter team, which formed after last year’s rampage in Newtown.
The data reveals that active shooters target places large and small, with most incidents going largely unnoticed outside of the immediate community.
This year, recent high-profile active shooting incidents include an attack at Los Angeles International Airport where a gunman killed a Transportation Security Administration officer and wounded two other agents. In September, a gunman killed 12 people inside a heavily secured building at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard.
The Scripps review of the active shooter data found a total of 14 attacks this year, with gunmen shooting 73 people and killing 39. Four of those incidents resulted in shootings but no fatalities. “The characteristics that bind them together unfortunately is (the) shooter’s desire to kill,” Schwei said, and to kill “as many people and kill them as fast and freely as he may be able to.”
The FBI’s new team does not yet keep its own statistics on active shootings but has turned to information collected by outside researchers, most notably those at Texas State University in San Marcos. Dr. Peter Blair is an associate professor of criminal justice and has been evaluating active shooter data that show an average of five incidents per year from 2000 to 2008. But since 2009, the number rose to an average of 15 per year.
“Most of these are the much smaller events that end, fortunately, before a lot of people are killed,” Blair said.
The FBI’s active shooter team concedes it has plenty of room to grow in understanding the events themselves. But it is not waiting for all of the answers before taking action.
This year, the team has trained more than 1,300 law enforcement officers who represent more than 500 police departments across the nation. In addition, this year the FBI has met with nearly 10,000 commanders and leaders of law enforcement agencies to share best practices and lessons learned.