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Searing Photos From 20 Years of Mass Shootings in America

2 minute read

Mass shootings are a grim reality of life in the United States, with at least eight such incidents occurring in 2019 so far. The loss of at least 29 lives in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio in less than 24 hours is just the latest additions to an ever-increasing national death toll.

Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, there have been many U.S. massacres that have claimed dozens of victims. Mass shootings have become such a common occurrence, they have transformed American life — turning places that were once thought safe, like schools, movie theaters, nightclubs and concert venues, into areas where people now arrive worried about worst-case scenarios.

Yet with each shooting, there is a routine: the list of victims, the “thoughts and prayers” from politicians, the outpouring of grief from families and community members and the feelings of hopelessness that pervade the nation.

Photos can document these tragic events, capturing the horrifying moments, the loss of life, the belongings victims leave behind and the ways communities grieve and move forward — only to see another community experience similar horror in the future.

The following 13 photos capture the fear, hurt and chaos from a dozen major mass shootings in the U.S. in the 20 years since Columbine.

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colo. — April 1999: 13 Dead

View of damage to the west entryway to Columbine High School where teenage gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the school April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colo. Flags mark points where evidence such as bullet casings were found.Courtesy of Jefferson County Sheriff/Getty Images

Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Va. April 2007: 32 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
Student Kevin Sterne, is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. in this April 16, 2007 photo. Sterne was one of the wounded students who survived the mass shooting on April 16.Alan Kim—The Roanoke Times/AP

Aurora Shooting, Aurora, Colo. July 2012: 12 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Pictures
Police examine the car of James Eagen Holmes behind the theater where a gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colo. July 20, 2012. A total of 71 people were shot and 12 people were killed in the Denver-area movie theater, the local police chief said. The suspect, identified by police as James Eagan Holmes, 24, also booby-trapped his Aurora apartment with sophisticated explosives, creating a hazard for law-enforcement and bomb squad officers who swarmed to the scene.John Wark—Reuters

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn. December 2012: 27 Dead

Connecticut State Police lead students from the Sandy Hook Elementary School to safety after a mass shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.Shannon Hicks—Newtown Bee/Polaris

Charleston Church Shooting, Charleston, S.C. June 2015: 9 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
Photographs of the nine victims killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston are held up by congregants during a prayer vigil at the the Metropolitan AME Church June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.Win McNamee—Getty Images

Pulse Nightclub Shooting, Orlando June 2016: 49 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando.Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Sutherland Springs Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas November 2017: 26 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
A memorial stands in the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church one week after 26 people were killed inside in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov. 12, 2017.Carolyn Van Houten—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Las Vegas Shooting, Las Vegas — October 2017: 58 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos Las Vegas 2017
People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on Oct. 1, 2017 in Las Vegas.David Becker—Getty Images
View of the festival grounds across the street from the Mandalay Bay resort and casino, (photo taken through window of Four Season Hotel) Oct. 3, 2017, in Las Vegas. Las Vegas Shooting
View of the festival grounds showing scattered belongings and chairs, left behind at the site of the mass shooting, Oct. 3, 2017.Matt Stuart—Magnum for TIME

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Fla. — February 2018: 17 Dead

Mass Shootings Iconic Photos
Students head back to school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 for the first time after a gunman killed 17 students in the school on Valentine's Day.Mike Stocker—Sun Sentinel/TNS/Sipa USA

Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh — October 2018: 11 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
Two graves that were dug for of brothers David Rosenthal and Cecil Rosenthal who were killed at the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue are seen at the Tree of Life Memorial Park cemetery on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh.Salwan Georges—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Walmart, El Paso, Texas — August 2019: 20 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
Walmart employees react after an active shooter opened fire at the store in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.Mark Lambie—The El Paso Times/AP

Dayton, Ohio — August 2019: 9 Dead

Mass Shooting Iconic Photos
Shoes are piled outside the scene of a mass shooting including Ned Peppers bar, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said.John Minchillo—AP

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com