How to make sense of 4 families slain in 4 days?

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In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 file photo, Terrence Walker of Forney, Texas, the brother of 36-year-old Charles Everett Brownlow Jr., stands in front of the house of their mother, Mary Brownlow, as he answers a reporter’s question in Terrell, Texas. Police arrested Charles Everett Brownlow Jr. early Tuesday, suspected of killing his mother and his aunt and 3 other people during a series of attacks hours earlier in this rural North Texas community. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

by Jesse Washington
AP National Writer

It was a chilling series of horrors: four mass killings involving four different families, in four states over four bloody days, leaving 14 adults and seven children dead.

Criminologists say this tragic cluster was nothing more than random chance, not a sign of growing violence in America. Yet for many people, there is a need to explain the inexplicable.

“The natural thing to do is to try to make sense out of these events, particularly because they are so heinous and happened within such a short period of time,” said Tricia Bent-Goodley, a Howard University professor and member of the National Association of Social Workers who studies domestic violence.

But each week, she said, nine women are killed by an intimate partner. So these cases “are a reminder that the home is not a safe place for all Americans and that people do the unthinkable each day against people they say they love,” Bent-Goodley said.

The four unthinkable acts began on the final weekend of October, which was Domestic Violence Awareness Month:

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In this Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013 file photo, women gather on the steps of an apartment building opposite the scene of a fatal stabbing in New York. Police say a mother and her four young children were killed in a late night stabbing rampage at a Sunset Park, Brooklyn, home. A Chinese immigrant, 25-year-old Ming Don Chen, was arrested Sunday on five counts of murder in the deaths of his cousin’s wife and her four children. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

-In Phoenix on Saturday, a pharmacist described as paranoid, angry and depressed methodically shotgunned his next-door neighbors – a grandfather, his daughter, his son-in-law and his grandson – and then killed himself. The family’s two dogs also were killed, and neighbors speculated that their incessant barking caused the disturbed man to kill.

-In New York City, a mother and her four young children were hacked and stabbed to death with a butcher knife Saturday by a relative who had been staying at their house, police said. Alarmed family members came to the house and banged on the door, which opened to a shocking sight: the alleged killer, dripping with blood.

-In Texas, police said a man with a long criminal history went on a murder spree Monday, killing his mother in the home they shared, then an aunt and three others. The man had served prison time and relatives said he struggled with drug addiction.

-On Tuesday, five people were killed in a South Carolina home by a man who was in a custody fight with his girlfriend. Police said the man broke into the house, waited for the family to come home, then shot his girlfriend, her parents and two children, ages 9 and 11. The killer, who was facing a burglary charge that could have imprisoned him for 30 years, then committed suicide.

It was simple chance that these crimes happened so close together, said Joel Best, a criminology professor who studies violence, the media and public perception. He compared it to tossing a bucket of Legos across a tile floor – the number of blocks that land on each tile is random.

“There’s no good reason to think that just because they happened within a few days of each other that there’s some kind of trend,” Best said.

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