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A memorial at the site of a triple murder in Uddevalla, western Sweden. Photo: Lasse Sergård/Sveriges Radio.

Murder rates rise sharply in Sweden

2:52 min

Sweden saw a spike in murders and manslaughters last year, particularly in the Gothenburg region along the west coast, according to new statistics from the National Board of Forensic Medicine.

A total 103 people were killed in Sweden in 2015, according to the country’s National Board of Forensic Medicine. That is 21 more murders and manslaughters than the year before, representing a 26 percent rise.

“We’re seeing a spiral of violence,” police commissioner Robert Karlsson told news agency TT.

In 2015, there were a couple of cases of young women killed by strangers: the 17-year-old Lisa Holm, whose disappearance sparked one of Sweden's largest missing-person searches, and the 21-year-old woman who went missing after going out for a jog and was found dead near a running track. Both cases garnered major media coverage, and according to criminologist Jerzy Sarnecki, these kinds of murders – where the victim is killed by an unknown stranger – are rare in Sweden.

There was also a number of double and triple murders in 2015: Two people were stabbed to death at an Ikea store in Västerås in central Sweden, and three were shot dead in Uddevalla in western Sweden. In October, Anton Lundin Pettersson killed three pupils at the Kronan school in Trollhättan, also in western Sweden.

The report published by the National Board of Forensic Medicine divides Sweden into six regions and the Gothenburg region stands out the most as 24 people were killed there in 2015, which is a 118 percent increase on the previous year.

”We’ve had several gang wars and it was a violent year. It’s an incredibly tragic development,” said Karlsson.

Karlsson listed accessibility to illegal heavy weapons and high-velocity ammunition as explanations for the high death rate in the Gothenburg region.

“In the past, they would shoot one bullet in the leg. Now, they’re shooting 20 shots with automatic weapons and aim to kill. Now, when people are hit, their chances of dying are bigger,” said Karlsson.

Explosives and hand grenades are also more and more common in Gothenburg and other major cities in Sweden. In June 2015, three adults and one four-year-old girl were killed in a car bomb in Torslanda outside Gothenburg.

“We’re seeing a spiral of violence with several culprits who are prepared to use these heavy weapons. Many are convicted criminals”, said Karlsson.

However, while there was a spike in murders in 2015, deadly violence has decreased in recent years and in proportion to Sweden’s population growth. Despite the dire figures from National Board of Forensic Medicine, it is too early to speak of a new trend, according to Sarnecki. “In order to make out trends in these contexts, you have to study them over several years,” he said.

Figures from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention show that deadly violence varies from year to year. Between 2010 and 2014, there was an average 80 murders per year and between 1990 and 1994 it was 107.

“The long-term tendency of fewer cases of deadly violence still apply even if we take these new, high figures from the Board of Forensic Medicine into account,” said Sven Granath, a criminologist and investigator at the National Council for Crime Prevention.

Granath added that the deadly violence affecting members of the general public who do not move in criminal circles is decreasing in Sweden. There are fewer incidences today of women and children being killed by family members and alcohol-related deadly violence between men is decreasing as well, said Granath.

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