A gunman armed with several handguns walks into a school, kills 16 children and an adult, then turns the gun on himself, in an all-too familiar scenario of horror.
But it wasn't a U.S. tragedy: it was the Dunblane school massacre of 1996, in Scotland, one of the United Kingdom's deadliest shooting rampages.
Such shootings take an emotional toll on communities wherever they happen - and even though experts say mass shootings are not on the rise, the images of such tragedies have become all too common lately.
A rampage in Aurora. Another in Portland. Now, unbelievably, 27 dead in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Among the victims: 20 young children.
The grim suburban body count of the past few months makes it sometimes seem as if nowhere is safe in 2012, as if mass shootings in public places are happening more than ever.
But decades of crime statistics suggest a different picture: After spikes in the 1990s and 2000s, both in the number of deadly shootings and victims, mass public shootings have followed no discernible trend. The number of shootings rose in the early 1990s, then dropped just as precipitously. A decade later, it happened again.
In spite of high-profile cases of the past few weeks, there hasn't been an uptick in mass shootings this year, said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University. Fox tracks mass murders dating back to 1976 and said most occur inside places such as homes and workplaces. But he said public shootings in restaurants and malls are nothing new.
"It's awful," Fox said. "Yet this is not an epidemic and we're not seeing a new upward trend."