Despite the recent spate of shootings, Seattle's murder rate is relatively low for a large metropolitan area. However, the city has seen a spike in gun-related crime over the past year.

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WASHINGTON — The spate of bloody violence in Seattle this month has rocked what is one of the nation’s safest large cities.

The five deaths in two separate shootings by a lone gunman Wednesday bring Seattle’s homicides this year to 21 — matching last year’s tally and exceeding by two the total for all of 2010.

Seattle’s murder rate has been relatively low for a large metropolitan area. In 2010, it ranked 78th among 94 cities with at least 200,000 people, according to the most recent full-year report from the FBI.

That’s far below that of violence-racked New Orleans, which has about half as many residents as Seattle but nine times as many homicides.

Seattle ranked 60th for violent crimes, which along with homicides include rapes, robberies and aggravated assault.

The city, however, has seen a noticeable spike in gun-related crime the past year. Seattle Police data show there were 589 robberies and assaults involving firearms between April 2011 and March 2012, compared with 460 during the preceding 12 months.

Experts caution against reading too much into blips in crime data. Nationally, violent crimes of all types have been abating for several years.

But other cities are also grappling with a spike in murders this year. Chicago was hit with 10 homicides over the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police laid much of the blame on gangs.

Seattle police have said the spate of shootings here since the beginning of the year has more to do with access to guns than gang activity.

New Hampshire, a state that sees few murders, was shocked by four homicides from three separate shootings during a 72-hour span last month. Boston and Atlanta, too, have been hit with an increasing number of deadly shootings. Officials in those cities worry that warmer weather may be partly responsible for the surge in murders.

Even before Wednesday’s killings in Seattle, residents were unnerved by seemingly random shootings in recent days that hit unsuspecting victims.

Last Thursday afternoon, a Madrona father was killed in a Central Area intersection while running errands with his children and parents. Police said the shooter was aiming at someone else across the street.

Then on Saturday night, a bystander outside the Northwest Folklife Festival was shot in the leg near the Space Needle by a suspected gang member also shooting at someone else. The victim wasn’t seriously injured.

Despite fluctuations in homicide rates, certain features of the crime remain largely unchanged, according to the FBI. For instance, victims of homicides nationally are disproportionately male, under 30 and nonwhite.

And 57 percent of the 13,636 people murdered in the United States in 2009 — the most recent year from which detailed data are available — were killed by spouses, children, employees, acquaintances, neighbors or others they knew.

Kyung Song: 202-662-7455 or