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:

Date Event Deaths
January 15 Boston Molasses Flood 15
January 16 TWA flight 3 crash 22
January 17 Cleveland Elementary (Stockton) massacre 6
January 17 Northridge earthquake 57
January 18 United flight 266 38
Total  138
Date Event Deaths
February 20 Great White nightclub fire 100
Total 100
Date Event Deaths
March 18 Tri-State Tornado, (deadliest in US history) 747
Total 747
Date Event Deaths
April 15 Abraham Lincoln died 1
April 15 Titanic sank 119
April 15 Great Mississippi Flood (1927, worst flood in US history) 250
April 15 Boston Marathon bombing 3
April 16 Virginia Tech shooting 32
April 18 1906 earthquake in San Francisco 3,425
April 19 End of the Branch Davidian siege 86
April 19 Oklahoma City bombing 168
April 20 Columbine school shooting 15
April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion 11
Total  4,110
Date Event Deaths
May 15 Cleveland Clinic fire 123
May 18 Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption 57
Total  180
Date Event Deaths
June 15 General Slocum fire 1,021
June 17 Union Station Massacre 60
Total 1,081
Date Event Deaths
July 17 Great Train Wreck of 1856 60
July 17 USMC R4Q NROTC crash 43
July 17 Kansas City Hyatt walkway collapse 114
July 17 TWA flight 800 230
July 18 Chappaquiddick 1
July 18 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre 21
July 20 Aurora, CO movie theater shooting 12
Total  481
Date Event Deaths
August 17 Hurricane Camille 248
August 17 Yellowstone earthquake 28
August 18 Hurricane Alicia 22
August 19 Salem witch trials 5
August 19 Hurricane Diane 184
Total  487
Date Event Deaths
September 16 1920 Wall Street bombing 38
September 18 Okeechobee hurricane ~2,500
Total  ~2,538
Date Event Deaths
October 15 Staten Island Ferry crash 11
October 17 Loma Prieta earthquake 63
October 20 Oakland Hills firestorm 25
Total  99
Date Event Deaths
November 18 Aggie bonfire collapse 12
Total  12
Date Event Deaths
December 15 Silver Bridge collapse 46
Total  46
Liked it? Take a second to support Ruth Suehle on Patreon!