In the wake of the tragic shooting that left nine people dead in Charleston, South Carolina, this week’s AP Style blog will review terms to use when covering violent homicides.

From the AP Stylebook:

Homicide is a legal term for slaying or killing.

Murder is malicious, premeditated homicide. Some states define certain homicides as murder if the killing occurs in the course of armed robbery, rape, etc. A murderer is one who is convicted of murder in a court of law. Unless authorities say premeditation was obvious, do not say that a victim was murdered until someone has been convicted in court. Instead, say that a victim was killed or slain.

Manslaughter is homicide without malice or premeditation.

To execute a person is to kill him in compliance with a military order or judicial decision.

An assassin is a politically motivated killer.

A killer is anyone who kills with a motive of any kind.

The AP Stylebook does not define what constitutes a mass murder or shooting, though a 2005 F.B.I. report references the consensus reached during a meeting of the Serial Murder Symposium.

“Generally, mass murder was described as a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders. These events typically involved a single location, where the killer murdered a number of victims in an ongoing incident.”

Here are some examples from Writing Explained:

  • Mr. Jones was charged with the murder in the stabbing of his girlfriend.
  • An officer pulled over 29-year-old John White, who was arrested and charged with murder, according to Andrew Johnson, the county sheriff’s spokesman.
  • The 66-year-old amateur photographer has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder for the slaying of four women.
  • The killings occurred between 1977 and 1979. Prosecutors say Adams raped, tortured, and robbed some of them before killing them.
  • Cook County Sheriff James Jones says a shooting that left a man injured appears to be a murder-suicide.
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