Is April the Most Violent Month?

By: Chris Opfer  | 

Floodlights illuminate the Albert P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, as rescuers searched for bodies the day after the April 19, 1995 bombing. The blast killed 168 people and injured 500. BOB DAEMMRICH/AFP/Getty Images

"April is the cruelest month."

At least that's what T.S. Eliot said when he penned "The Waste Land" all the way back in 1922. Maybe the guy wasn't a fan of rain. Or spring. Perhaps the old fella just didn't like paying taxes. Or maybe Eliot had his finger on the pulse of something more sinister that tends to rear its head this time of year.

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It's the month when spring blooms, baseball season hits full swing and procrastinators across the U.S. wait until the very last minute to pay Uncle Sam his cash. But April has another, more dubious distinction as perhaps the most violent month of them all.

It wasn't long after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that conspiracy theorists noted that the brutal explosions went off just a few days before the 18th anniversary of the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. In that attack, which killed 168 and injured 500, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh said he targeted the Albert P. Murrah federal building as payback for the law enforcement raid on David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, exactly two years earlier [sources: Reuters, Grinberg].

That's not to mention a slew of other acts of widespread violence that have made April a bloody month, including shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and Virginia Tech University in 2007. Those two events alone left 45 dead and another 38 injured. Meanwhile, U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down outside a Memphis hotel room on April 4, 1968, setting off riots across the country that would go on for days [sources: Reuters, Grinberg].

So what exactly is it about April that makes the world's terrorist element spring into action?

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An April History of Violence

Battle of Lexington
The 1775 Battle of Lexington was the first skirmish of the American Revolutionary War. Missouri History Museum

April violence and atrocities are not a new trend. Maybe it's simply a matter of coincidence, but there are a few key historical events that lend credence to idea that bad guys specifically choose the fourth month of the year to strike.

The American Revolution started with gunfire in battles at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts April 19, 1775. It's an important moment in world history that not only signifies the beginning of a brutal war for American independence, but also, for many patriotic folks, represents the revolutionary spirit on which the United States was founded.

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Across Massachusetts, revelers celebrate Patriots Day — a state holiday — on the third Monday of the month. The holiday was originally celebrated on April 19 until 1968. On the other hand, people who view the federal government as oppressive point to Patriots Day as a reminder that freedom and liberty often have to come at the end of a gun barrel [sources: The History Channel, Grinberg].

The original date for Patriots Day isn't the only edition of the holiday to have been marked with bloodshed. In the case of the Oklahoma City bombing — and some say the Columbine shootings — April 19 also held particular significance for another reason: the Waco raid anniversary. The federal meddling that led to the botched raid at the Branch Davidian compound and the deaths of 76 people, the thinking goes, is the same as the tyranny that American patriots fought to dismantle three centuries ago. In 2013, Patriots Day again turned violent when two terrorists set off two pressure cooker bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line [sources: Grinberg, Fantz].

Another April 19 event often cited by militants as a basis for armed resistance is the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising. Outgunned and undermanned Polish Jews of Nazi-occupied Warsaw unsuccessfully revolted against Nazi troops who were planning to deport a large portion of the Jewish ghetto to transport them to extermination camps. Because neo-Nazis and other hate groups observe Hitler's birthday just one day later, on April 20, April 19 seems to symbolize a good day for armed resistance against the government [sources: Berkes, PBS].

So now malcontents and copycats have a handful of reasons for looking to do carnage in mid- to late April. But do they actually target April for violence, or is the connection much ado about nothing?

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Other Months Are Bad, Too

Boston Marathon bombing
Two powerful explosions rocked the finish line area of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and hundreds injured, many critically. Kelvin Ma/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just because there have been several notable, high-profile acts of violence in April doesn't mean there is actually more violence come spring than during other months. Skeptics say conspiracy theorists are simply looking for patterns that aren't really there.

Terrorism by foreign and domestic perpetrators happens in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe at various times throughout the year. The 9/11 attacks occurred in the fall. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was in June. Shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas in October. Since 2013, more than twice as many mass shootings (meaning those where at least four people were killed) have occurred in the U.S. in February (25) than April (11) [source: Gunviolencearchive.org].

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So why all the fuss about April upheaval? Some experts say it's because people need a way to explain unthinkable, horrific events. Confirmation bias is the term scientists and statisticians use to describe the tendency to look for and interpret information that substantiates already held beliefs while turning a blind eye to anything that doesn't jibe.

On the other hand, maybe it's something as simple as following the sun. Research shows that violent crime goes up with increased temperature, to a certain point (about 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 degrees Celsius). April is about the time when the frost starts to come off the pumpkin in many parts of the world, but it's not yet hot [source: Keim].

Whether or not you believe there's a trend, the number of prominent acts of violence that have occurred in April is at least a bit curious and at most utterly horrifying.

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Originally Published: May 20, 2013

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Fantz, Ashley. "18 years after Waco, Davidians believe Koresh was God." CNN. April 14, 2011. (May 13, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/04/14/waco.koresh.believers/index.html
  • Grinberg, Emanuella. "Boston, Oklahoma City, Waco: Why Patriots Day?" CNN. April 16, 2013. (May 13, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/15/us/patriots-day-boston-bombing
  • The History Channel. "Battles of Lexington and Concord." (May 13, 2013) http://www.history.com/topics/battles-of-lexington-and-concord
  • Keim, Brandon. "The Hazy Science of Hot Weather and Violence." Wired. July 22, 2011. (May 13, 2013) http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/07/hot-weather-violence/
  • PBS. "The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising." (May 13, 2013) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX103.html
  • Reuters. "Boston hospitals revise marathon bombing injuries — 264 in all injured in attack." New York Daily News. April 23, 2013. (May 13, 2013) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/boston-hospitals-revise-marathon-bombing-injuries-article-1.1324820#ixzz2TDRY461X
  • Science Daily. "Confirmation bias." (May 13, 2013) http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/c/confirmation_bias.htm

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