Former FBI agent Robert Ressler — he’s the man who gave us the term “serial killer” — defines “classic” mass murder as involving one mentally-disordered killer in one location who kills 4 or more other people more or less at the same time.
These days, mass murders are taking place more and more in public places like schools and businesses, but it used to be more common for mass murder to be a more private event.
I worked with a janitorial company for several years in the late 70s and early 80s, and one night I was awakened at 2 a.m. by a call from my boss asking me if I would volunteer to join a skeleton crew for an emergency job. The night would pay $300.00 for each crew member. At first, still groggy, I couldn’t understand why anyone would turn down 300 bucks for four or five hours of work; then he told me why he had to call and ask for volunteers.
Three days before, a local man had snapped, killing his family and then himself. The family was a somewhat prominent one in town, and the surviving relatives wanted the house cleaned as thoroughly and as quickly as possible. Two of the family members this man had killed (with a shotgun) had been children.
I wound up cleaning the childrens’ room.
You cannot help but feel the sick-making silence and overwhelming loss of life when you perform a duty like this. Three times I had to stop work to go outside to either cry or vomit. But I got that room cleaned; I wiped away every trace of those childrens’ existence. There was a lot of blood, as well as other liquids, all of them dried. There was also, in places, bits of flesh and bone mixed in with that blood.
When it was all over, we collected our pay and went back to our homes. I fell asleep somewhere around nine a.m. and didn’t wake up until well after four. I had thrown my clothes from that night into the corner, along with the work boots I’d been wearing. As I was gathering everything up for washing, I for some reason checked the bottoms of my boots, and found a very small but — thanks to the mopping I’d done — still very wet piece of human tissue wedged into the heavy treads.
I got sick all over again. This was all that remained of one of those children. But which one? And from what part of them had this been blasted? Had they died immediately or had they suffered? All this came to me in a rush and I just imploded.
Statistics and definitions don’t give you any inkling of the enormity of the pain and loss a mass murder brings, nor of the nightmares the people left behind to pick up the pieces will have to endure.