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When It Comes To Mass Shooters, There’s A Clear Gender Divide

Police crime scene tape. Thursday's shooting in Aberdeen, Md. left four people dead, including the suspected shooter, Snochia Moseley.
Police crime scene tape. Thursday's shooting in Aberdeen, Md. left four people dead, including the suspected shooter, Snochia Moseley.

Just after 9 a.m. EDT on Thursday, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office received a call of an active shooter at a business park in Aberdeen, Maryland.

The alleged shooter was a 26-year-old temporary employee of the Rite Aid distribution center who arrived to work and opened fire, killing three people and injuring several others before turning the gun on herself, according to law enforcement officials.

The suspected shooter, Snochia Moseley, was identified as female in early reporting, and friends on Facebook referred to Moseley as “she” and “her” in several posts about the incident. The Baltimore Sun reported on Friday, however, that Moseley had begun to identify as transgender to friends and family in recent years.

Moseley’s preferred pronouns — masculine, feminine or gender neutral — were not immediately clear.

Still, statements from law enforcement depicted Moseley, who was armed with a 9mm Glock that was registered in her name, as representing a tiny sliver of an already small slice of gun crimes as a non-male perpetrator of a mass shooting.

How often are women the suspects in active shootings?

Workplace shootings, while headline-grabbing, are still uncommon. Mass shootings represent less than 1 percent of all homicides, according to a report by Pew Research Center. However, news that the suspected perpetrator of Thursday’s shooting was female distinguished the incident from other potentially similar workplace incidents.

According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation study of active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013, only six out of 160 active shooter episodes were carried out by women.

That comes out to less than 4 percent of female perpetrators in situations defined as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

“It’s sort of interesting — we talk about gender more with women than we do with men,” Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, said.

“When a male commits a mass shooting, it’s kind of a masculinity thing gone AWOL, but we don’t talk about women the same way… It’s somehow more understandable for men than it is for women,” she said.

Experts caution that there is still no cut-and-dry profile of a mass shooter.

“It’s often difficult to extrapolate from our standard book of diagnoses for this extreme behavior. You don’t get more extreme than killing people, and we’re still not good at identifying why,” Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association said in a phone interview.

“And now a woman comes along, and female shooters typically have not been in the discussions,” he said.

While female mass shooters are atypical, they are hardly unheard of.

In April, 39-year-old Nasim Najafi Aghdam stormed YouTube’s California headquarters, shooting and wounding three others before killing herself.

In 2015, Tashfeen Malik, 29, and her husband went on a shooting rampage at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead and 17 more injured, in what was at the time the deadliest U.S. gun violence incident since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Still, what connects these incidents of female-led mass violence confounds researchers.

“It’s so unusual,” Farley, the APA psychologist and Temple University professor, said.

“[Moseley is] in the right age range, 20 to 40 years old. But it’s usually been a 20 to 40-year-old male.”

Harford County police are still investigating the motive behind the Thursday event.

is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

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Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.