The Suspects in Calif. Shootings Are 'Particularly Stunning'

Elderly mass shooters are few and far between, as are those of Asian ancestry
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2023 10:05 AM CST
California's Recent Shootings Are 'Rare on Top of Rare'
Eric Sham visits a makeshift memorial on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023 for those killed in a mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.   (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)

Two of the oldest suspected mass shooters in US history struck days apart. Saturday's shooting in Monterey Park, California, and Monday's shootings in Half Moon Bay, California, share more in common than location. The suspected gunmen were both senior citizens, which experts describe as "stunning." Huu Can Tran, who allegedly killed 11 people inside a dance studio in Monterey Park before killing himself, was 72, while Zhao Chunli, charged with killing seven people at two farms in Half Moon Bay, is 66, reports the Washington Post. Tran was the oldest alleged mass shooter in US history, according to the Violence Project, which collects data on fatal shootings of four or more people in public spaces as far back as 1966.

"This is particularly stunning to see two perpetrators this old in a row," co-founder Jillian Peterson, a Hamline University assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, tells the San Francisco Chronicle. Just 7% of mass shooters are over 50, according to a database of killings of four or more people since 2006, per the Post. It reports "the average age of a shooter was 32.7 ... and nearly half of them were under 30." Research shows older people tend to be "more satisfied with their lives than younger or middle-aged people" as well as "more reflective, more accepting, more able to process [adversity] because they've had a lot of experience," Yeates Conwell, director of the geriatric psychiatry program at the University of Rochester, tells the Post.

However, "mass killers motivated by workplace grievances, as authorities allege Zhao had, skew significantly older than any other type, with such assailants' average age over 44," per the Post. "Perhaps it speaks to the fact that anybody is capable of using a firearm in their anger, in their aggression, in their impulse control troubles," Santa Clara University psychology professor Thomas Plante tells KTVU. In another rarity, both Tran and Zhao are of Asian ancestry. "Individuals of Asian, Pacific Island, and Native American descent make up less than 5% of mass shooters. It's rare on top of rare," Jaclyn Schildkraut, who leads gun violence research at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, tells the Chronicle. It's so rare, in fact, that some believe Zhao was inspired by Tran. (More mass shootings stories.)

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