Does More Tragedy Happen In April?

[Editor’s Note: We are re-sharing this post as it seems to be getting some attention today in light of the passing of Prince.]

Does April Go Hand in Hand With Tragedy?

Over the weekend, the thought crossed my mind, well, it’s almost mid-April, time for a tragedy to happen. And I’m not a pessimist by nature. It’s just started to feel the last few years like mid-April is circled on the calendar with “Tragedy!” written across it in big red letters. But surely it’s not really that way–it just feels like it. Right?

The Definition of Tragedy

That means it’s time to count. To compare how April events stack up next to the rest of the year. The hard part is criteria. History is vast. For my sanity, with some other GeekMoms’ help, I narrowed it down to this. Events must:

  • Have happened between the 15th and the 20th of the month.
  • Caused fatalities.
  • Be in the US.

We made an exception for “in the US” on the Titanic but counted only American deaths. (Not entirely consistent, but compromise.) I also excluded war deaths, which is largely excluded by the “in the US” part, but this notably cuts out the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in US history, killing 23,000 on September 17. In fact, these criteria exclude quite a few notable historic events in those date ranges, including:

And of course, I almost certainly missed some things that are similar to others here, but I think it’s safe to assume I would miss them equally across the calendar, so we’ll call it a wash. (This is hardly deep scientific inquiry.)

The Hard Facts on Tragedy in April, According To Our Criteria

Here’s a comparison of that date range in each month with the number of fatal, tragic events in blue and the number of deaths in red:


As it turns out… April does stand out a bit. I also learned I’m not sure I want to travel on July 17 again (see table below). That leaves the question of why.

There is at least one April event due to connection–the Oklahoma City bombing was in part a reaction to what happened at Waco two years earlier.

The August events are clearly seasonal, weather-related. But other than that, there’s not a lot of pattern here, which makes it that much more interesting. Of course, the proximity of anniversaries on the calendar is not really a sign of anything, and I truly expected my counting to show more evenness across the year.

I’m not at all suggesting there are deep, mystical forces at work or some connection like a blue box always showing up for Christmas in London. It’s just interesting to see.

For reference, here’s the list of events I used:

January 15Boston Molasses Flood15
January 16TWA flight 3 crash22
January 17Cleveland Elementary (Stockton) massacre6
January 17Northridge earthquake57
January 18United flight 26638
Total 138
February 20Great White nightclub fire100
March 18Tri-State Tornado, (deadliest in US history)747
April 15Abraham Lincoln died1
April 15Titanic sank119
April 15Great Mississippi Flood (1927, worst flood in US history)250
April 15Boston Marathon bombing3
April 16Virginia Tech shooting32
April 181906 earthquake in San Francisco3,425
April 19End of the Branch Davidian siege86
April 19Oklahoma City bombing168
April 20Columbine school shooting15
April 20Deepwater Horizon explosion11
Total 4,110
May 15Cleveland Clinic fire123
May 18Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption57
Total 180
June 15General Slocum fire1,021
June 17Union Station Massacre 60
July 17Great Train Wreck of 185660
July 17USMC R4Q NROTC crash43
July 17Kansas City Hyatt walkway collapse114
July 17TWA flight 800230
July 18Chappaquiddick1
July 18San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre21
July 20Aurora, CO movie theater shooting12
Total 481
August 17Hurricane Camille248
August 17Yellowstone earthquake28
August 18Hurricane Alicia22
August 19Salem witch trials5
August 19Hurricane Diane184
Total 487
September 161920 Wall Street bombing38
September 18Okeechobee hurricane~2,500
Total ~2,538
October 15Staten Island Ferry crash11
October 17Loma Prieta earthquake63
October 20Oakland Hills firestorm25
Total 99
November 18Aggie bonfire collapse12
Total 12
December 15Silver Bridge collapse46
Total 46
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