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Suspect In Arizona Spree Killings Dies By Suicide: Report

A suspect wanted in connection with a deadly killing spree has reportedly died after a confrontation with police in Arizona.

According to ABC News, the suspect opened fire on law enforcement officers Monday morning after they surrounded a Scottsdale hotel. Police reportedly gassed the room and then sent in a robot equipped with a streaming video camera. With the aid of the robot, it was determined the suspect had died by suicide, ABC news reported.

Sgt. Vince Lewis, a Phoenix police spokesman, told WCNC News that police did not fire any shots at the suspect and no one else was injured.

The name of the suspect has not been released, but Scottsdale police said in a statement that Monday’s incident “does appear to be related to the recent homicides in Phoenix and Scottsdale.”

Authorities previously said they believed the recent killings of a forensic psychiatrist and two paralegals were committed by the same individual.

The killing spree is thought to have started at a Scottsdale business on Thursday, with the shooting death of Dr. Steven Pitt, a 59-year-old forensic psychiatrist. According to his website, Pitt had consulted police on several high-profile cases, including the killing of JonBenet Ramsey and the Columbine High School shooting.

A day after Pitt’s slaying, paralegals Veleria Sharp, 48, and Laura Anderson, 49, were shot and killed at a law office in Old Town Scottsdale. While police have said the killings appear to be related, it’s unclear what connection Sharp and Anderson had to Pitt, if any.

Police are also searching for a possible link in the killing of 72-year-old Marshall Levine, a counselor and life coach who was found shot dead in his Scottsdale office on Saturday.

Suspect sketch released by police.

“Right now, we do not know if the shooting [of Levine]… is related to the previous two shootings, but we are working closely with Phoenix Police Department in all three of these cases,” Scottsdale police spokesman Sgt. Ben Hoster told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Authorities on Saturday announced an $11,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

‘Heathers’ Reboot Scrapped, Looking For New Home After Parkland Shooting

The “Heathers” reboot slated to hit TV screens later this year has been scrapped, owing largely to the mass school shootings that have been happening all over the U.S.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series reboot of the 1980s film was scrapped from Viacom’s Paramount Network, formerly known as Spike TV. The series was poised to play off the original film’s plot, where a student gets revenge on popular teens with fatal consequences.

The show’s initial airdate had been pushed back from March 7 after the tragic Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

Sources told the publication that an early July return for the show, which had first been developed for TV Land, had been possible. However, Paramount Network heads decided against it after the recent Santa Fe school shooting, where 10 were killed.

Keith Cox, Paramount Network president of development and production, told the publication that while he and the showrunners want to keep the franchise alive and authentic, they’re aware that the movie was “done pre-Columbine” and the cultural climate has drastically changed. 

“This is a high school show, we’re blowing up the school, there are guns in the school, it’s a satire and there are moments of teachers having guns. It’s hitting on so many hot topics,” said Cox.

“This company can’t be speaking out of both sides of its mouth, saying the youth movement is important for us and we’ve done all these wonderful things to support that and at the same time, we’re putting on a show that we’re not comfortable with,” he added.

THR also notes that Viacom withdrew its involvement entirely after “the youth-focused conglomerate supported the movement that sprang out of Parkland.” Viacom channels went dark for 17 minutes on March 14, the day of the National School Walkout, in solidarity with the 17 killed in the shooting.

The series’ cast members were allegedly “relieved” that the 10-episode first season of the series would not air at present. 

The show still does not have a place to air when it is ready to see the light of day.

The reboot features classic “Heathers” stars like Shannen Doherty, aka the original Heather Duke, alongside reimagined versions of Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara, and Heather Duke 2.0.

Alabama Allows Armed Principals In Schools

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has enacted a controversial program aimed at permitting select school administrators in her state to become deputized, so they can use lethal force in active shooter situations.

The Alabama Sentry Program, which Ivey implemented via an executive memorandum on Thursday, permits select administrators in schools without police as resource officers to keep firearms on campus.

“We must provide a way for schools to protect their students in the upcoming school year,” Ivey said in a press release announcing the program.

The program, which comes amid a string of deadly school shootings, permits individuals designated as “sentries” to use “lethal force to defend the students, faculty, staff, and visitors.”

The measure does not force school districts to arm administrators and will not require them to carry guns. But it allows each school district to choose whether to arm administrators. It took effect immediately.

The measure is not being touted as a permanent solution. Larger districts may have the ability to hire school resource officers ― itself a controversial measure ― but many smaller schools can’t afford to. Ivey said her memorandum is a stopgap measure until legislatures can come up with a “concrete plan” to have a school resource officer on every campus.

“With the unfortunate continued occurrence of school violence across our country, we cannot afford to wait until the next legislative session,” Ivey said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has enacted a controversial plan intended to stop school shootings.

Hal Taylor, Alabama’s secretary of law enforcement, said the program is “a common-sense approach to increasing security in our schools.”

Dr. Eric Mackey, the state superintendent of education, also praised the initiative.

“Schools are sanctuaries of learning and, as such, they must be safe places for our children to learn, knowing that the adults around them are watching out for their safety and security,” he said.

However, not everyone is in favor of the decision.

In a statement to The Tuscaloosa News, Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP, was critical of the memorandum.

“This is the absolute worst idea imposed on students,” Simelton said. “Since the Columbine school massacre in 1999, more than 215,000 students have been exposed to gun violence in schools. The answer to stop gun violence is not to bring in more guns.”

Anne Leader, head of the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action, also told The Birmingham News she doesn’t believe guns belong in schools.

“From our research, school safety experts, teachers, [and] law enforcement officials oppose arming teachers and staff,” said Leader, whose organization advocates for gun safety and reform. “They have other jobs they are meant to be doing in schools. They aren’t trained sharpshooters and don’t have ongoing training.”

The governor tasked the state Department of Education and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency with establishing stringent guidelines for sentries. Anyone who wishes to participate must be approved by their district superintendent, school board and local law enforcement agency.

In addition to possessing a school administrator certificate and a concealed-carry permit, volunteers must pass annual law enforcement training, a mental health assessment and a drug screening. 

Individuals who meet the requirements will be sworn as reserve deputy sheriffs. Each one will be provided with an authorized weapon, ammunition, a weapon storage safe and a “distinctively marked” bulletproof vest.

Ivey hopes to get volunteers trained this summer and have them ready and on campus before the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

The Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, an organization that focuses on promoting education and helping school systems with professional development, is withholding judgment for now.

“We look forward to representing our members in the ongoing conversation,” Vic Wilson, the group’s executive director, told The Birmingham News.

Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Rhode Island Becomes Latest State To Pass New Gun Laws After Parkland

Rhode Island on Friday became the latest state to join a nationwide push to strengthen gun laws, with new measures to ban bump stocks and give law enforcement additional power to temporarily seize guns from individuals determined to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

In a bill signing event at the Rhode Island State House, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) thanked lawmakers and volunteers with gun violence prevention organizations who were in attendance.

“Because of you and your efforts, Rhode Island will be safer,” Raimondo said. “There’s no question that we need these laws, there’s no question that it’s common sense and there’s no question that it will make us safer.”

On Thursday, the state’s General Assembly gave overwhelming final approval to the pair of bills, sending them to Raimondo. Lawmakers have characterized the legislation as a necessary response to horrific mass shooting events over the past year.

The push began after an attack on a country music festival in Las Vegas in October, in which a gunman killed 58 people and injured hundreds more using rifles equipped with bump stocks ― accessories that allow semiautomatic firearms to simulate automatic fire.

Once the bump stock ban legislation goes into effect, anyone in possession of a bump stock or similar device will have 90 days to sell, destroy or “otherwise remove these items from the state.” Possession will carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, or a fine of up to $10,000.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) signed a pair of new gun laws on Friday, making her state the latest to join a nationwide

The impetus for the second round of legislation came in February, when a 19-year-old former student allegedly walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, killing 17 people. The suspect had exhibited disturbing behavior before the shooting, but local law enforcement had no authority to seize his firearms. Supporters of the so-called red flag bill said the measure might be able to prevent exactly this sort of incident.

“Too often, after a mass shooting we learn about all the warning signs people saw from the shooter and wonder why they still had guns. But the truth is, there isn’t always a legal means to stop them,” said Rhode Island state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D), one of the Senate bill’s sponsors, in a press release last week. “Our legislation provides a speedy but fair process to ensure that those who pose a legitimate risk do not remain armed.”

Rhode Island’s red flag law allows law enforcement, family members, dating partners and roommates to petition the court to have firearms temporarily removed from an individual, on the grounds that the subject poses a risk to themselves or others. A judge would then hold a hearing to review evidence and determine whether to grant the red flag petition, also known as an extreme risk protection order.

Under the new law, petitioners can also request a temporary extreme risk protection order, which allows for more immediate confiscation of an individual’s guns if the court determines there is sufficient evidence that the person poses an “imminent danger.” In those cases, hearings must be scheduled within 14 days of the order’s issuing to determine whether it should be extended further.

If a judge decides to issue a full extreme risk protection order, the subject must typically surrender their guns to law enforcement and remain away from all firearms for at least a year. Violating such an order would be a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill also establishes a penalty of up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine for anyone who knowingly provides false information in a red flag petition.

Rhode Island is now one of nine states with a red flag law on the books and one of four, including Florida, to have enacted new legislation since the Parkland shooting. Critics of the measures have raised concerns about the lack of due process. Gun rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island found common ground in opposing the state law, arguing that firearms shouldn’t be confiscated unless the owner is alleged to have committed a crime.

Lawmakers have introduced other bills this session to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and semiautomatic rifles commonly referred to as assault weapons. Those bills have yet to be considered.

Texas Governor’s School Safety Plan Proposes Modest Changes To Gun Laws

Twelve days after a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday released a wide-ranging set of proposals that he says will keep students safer.

The 43-page document covers a number of areas, including school security, mental health care and gun laws related to firearm safety.

At a press conference at the school district headquarters in Dallas, Abbott called the plan a “starting point,” while working to balance his standing as a gun rights supporter with his newfound willingness to explore modest reforms of firearm laws.

“I doubt there has been a Texas governor with a more pro-gun record than myself,” Abbott said. “I can assure you, I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed. But I will always promote responsible gun ownership, and that includes keeping guns safe and keeping them out of the hands of criminals.”

Among Abbott’s proposed changes to gun laws would be a strengthening of his state’s child access prevention law, which currently only applies to incidents in which a child under 17 obtains a “readily dischargeable” firearm from an adult’s property.

The alleged attacker in Santa Fe, a 17-year-old student, reportedly took his father’s legally owned revolver and shotgun and brought them to class concealed under a trenchcoat. Because of the gunman’s age, his parents can’t be held criminally liable for his actions under state law.

Abbott said he supports adjusting the statute to cover anyone under 18, as well as strengthening the penalty to a third-degree felony in any case where child access results in death or serious bodily injury. The current law only provides for misdemeanor charges.

The law should also be clarified to include both loaded and unloaded guns stored around children, which could make it easier for prosecutors to pursue these charges, the proposal states. Recent reports have shown the Texas law is used very infrequently.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks at the annual National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on May 4.

In addition, Abbott called for the legislature to authorize a study on a “red flag” law, which would allow law enforcement, family members, school employees or district attorneys to file petitions seeking the removal of firearms from dangerous individuals.

Eight states currently have red flag laws on the books, and three states, including Florida, have put these laws in place since the February shooting in Parkland. The NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association has said it would oppose any such measure over concerns that it could lead to the violation of due process. Abbott has clarified that any confiscation of firearms must come after “due process is provided.”

A Texas red flag law could have a substantial effect on shootings, said Ed Scruggs, spokesman for Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit focused on gun violence prevention.

“We believe that has a lot of potential to prevent major tragedies and especially suicides,” he told HuffPost.

The governor’s report specifically notes that red flag orders “could have been used to prevent the shootings” at Sutherland Springs, where 26 people were killed at a church in November, and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed.

Abbott also urged lawmakers to work on legislation to require gun owners to report when their firearms are lost or stolen within 10 days. An estimated 177,000 guns were stolen in Texas between 2012 and 2015, according to a 2017 report. Only 12 states currently require gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm.

Overall, the proposal is far from perfect, Scruggs said. But considering the reliably fraught politics of the gun debate in Texas, it could have been worse.

“There are some positive steps that most people would classify as moderate steps or basic steps, but for Texas it really represents some form of progress,” he said.

Although Abbott’s willingness to discuss changes to gun laws may come as a surprise to some, most of his proposed measures don’t involve legislative reform.

“The strategy that I most strongly encourage the Legislature to consider is greater investment in mental health,” Abbott said at Wednesday’s press conference.

Abbott specifically described his support for expanding a telemedicine program designed to identify junior high and high school students at risk of committing violence and intervene by providing them with mental health services. The program, developed by Texas Tech University and facilitated through the university’s health services center, is already in use in a number of Texas school districts and has shown positive results in the form of reduced truancy and discipline among referred students.

The document lays out a number of measures to fortify schools by increasing the number of armed personnel, potentially including teachers, on campus. Other proposals would increase the use of metal detectors, monitoring and surveillance, and would explore new construction to maintain greater control of school entrances, exits and external access.

Altogether, the initiatives would cost $110 million to implement, around $70 million of which is already available in the form of federal funding and state grants, according to the report.

To gun violence prevention advocates, it would be well worth the investment. Since 2009, Texas has experienced at least 20 mass shootings involving at least four fatalities apiece, the most of any state. These events have included the Sutherland Springs massacre, two separate shootings at Fort Hood, a 2016 attack on police officers in Dallas and many instances of domestic violence.

Abbott’s plan follows three days of roundtable discussions held last week with a number of groups, as well as survivors of the Santa Fe shooting.

Many of the measures in Abbott’s blueprint would require approval from the Texas Legislature, which is not currently in session. Abbott said he would be open to calling a special session to consider the bills, as long as there was “consensus” among lawmakers on some of the legislation.

If the governor doesn’t act, the legislature will reconvene in January, two months after the November elections, when Abbott will face Democrat Lupe Valdez, the former sheriff of Dallas County.

In the wake of the Santa Fe shooting, Valdez and others have called for Abbott to pursue stronger gun laws, and specifically universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Abbott’s plan dismisses that proposal, arguing that many criminals get firearms via the black market, where background checks don’t apply.

Read the entire plan below:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders Chokes Up Over Child’s School Shooting Question

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke on everything from Roseanne Barr to the FBI during Wednesday’s press briefing, but it was a question by a child reporter named Benje Choucroun that rattled her most.

“At my school, we recently had a lockdown drill,” said Benje, 13, when Sanders called on him. “One thing that affects my and other students’ mental health is the worry about the fact that we or our friends could be shot at school. Specifically, can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these senseless tragedies?”

Sanders responded that “as a kid, and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying for a kid to go to school and not feel safe.”

“So, I’m sorry that you feel that way,” a visibly emotional Sanders went on. “This administration takes it seriously and the school safety commission that the president convened is meeting this week… to discuss the best ways forward and how we can do every single thing within our power to protect kids in our schools and to make them feel safe and make their parents feel good about dropping them off.”

The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the question, but according to a report in USA Today, Benje is from California, and is in Washington, D.C., covering a sports event for Time for Kids magazine.

Many on social media had a lot to say about the exchange, particularly about the poignancy of the question and Sanders’ emotional response:

Benje is already garnering much praise on social media, which is surely good for his burgeoning YouTube page, which features the young journalist talking about everything from the National Rifle Association to the weather.

Thanks for asking the tough questions, Benje.

Florida Cop In Trouble After Wishing Car Accident On Gun Violence Protest

A Florida police officer could face disciplinary action after he said on Facebook that he hoped “some old lady loses control of her car” at a protest against gun violence last Friday. The comment was posted beneath a photo of protest organizer and Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg.

After stiff criticism from Facebook readers, K-9 officer Brian Valenti of the Coconut Creek Police Department deleted the remark. He said it was intended as a joke, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

One reader took a screenshot of the remark and emailed it to Coconut Creek Police Chief Albert Arenal on Saturday, the newspaper reported.

“Whether someone agrees with these students or not, it is in very poor taste for a police officer to make the following comment regarding students that have just been through a tragic shooting,” she wrote.

Arenal responded that the officer’s comment was “unprofessional and inappropriate” and that Valenti “will be offering an apology,” the Sun-Sentinel reported. The chief said that any other action to be taken concerning the post would be determined this week.

Valenti posted his remark while young activists, including Parkland shooting survivors, were holding a “die-in” at a Publix supermarket in Coral Springs on Friday. The teens were targeting Publix because the grocery chain had donated $670,000 to Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, a Republican who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout.”

The protest began with 17 chalk outlines of bodies in the parking lot to remember the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.

Some people supported and others attacked the demonstration on a Facebook page. Valenti wrote: “I hope some old lady loses control of her car in that lot. Jus sayin …”

Minutes before the protest began, Publix announced that it was suspending corporate-funded political contributions. Hogg hailed that decision and declared on Twitter: “The young people will win.”

On Monday, he asked, “So when are we doing a die-in at Trump Hotel?”

Border Patrol Alters Account Of Guatemalan Woman’s Death

U.S. immigration authorities have altered their account of the Border Patrol’s recent fatal shooting of Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzáles, a 20-year-old woman who had traveled from Guatemala to Texas to help pay for her education.

After the shooting on Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection released a statement saying a lone Border Patrol agent was responding to a report of illegal activity near a culvert in Rio Bravo, Texas, when he “came under attack by multiple subjects using blunt objects.”

“The agent fired at least one round from his service issued firearm, fatally wounding one of the assailants,” the statement read, referring to Gómez Gonzáles, a Maya-Mam indigenous woman.

Two days later, the agency canceled a scheduled news conference about the shooting and instead released a new statement with a different version of events, according to CNN.

The new statement, issued Friday, had no mention of “blunt objects” and claimed the agent ordered a group of immigrants to “get on the ground,” but they ignored his commands and “instead rushed him.”

The second statement also referred to Gómez Gonzáles as “one member of the group” instead of “assailant,” the term the agency used on Wednesday.

Customs and Border Protection did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment on its two different accounts of the shooting.

News of Gómez Gonzáles’ death spread after a video of the shooting’s aftermath, filmed by local resident Marta Martinez, was uploaded to Facebook and received more than 4.7 million views.

Martinez, who lives next to an empty lot where the shooting took place, told CBS News affiliate KENS 5 that she heard gunfire and began filming what she saw.

In Martinez’ video, paramedics can be seen performing chest compressions on the victim. Martinez can also be heard asking the immigration officials, “Why did you shoot at the girl? You killed her!”

Gómez Gonzáles reportedly graduated from a program in forensic accounting in 2016. Her mother Lidia Gonzáles told a local news channel that their family is poor, so her daughter went to the U.S. to look for a job to further her education, according to a translation by The Guardian.

“She told me she wanted to keep studying at university but we don’t have the money,” Gonzáles said. “We’re poor and there are no jobs here. That’s why she traveled to the U.S. But they killed her. Immigration killed her.” 

The FBI and the Texas Rangers are investigating the incident with assistance from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The agent who shot Gómez Gonzáles is on administrative leave. 

Spokesmen for CBP and the FBI declined CNN’s request for comment on the shooting, citing the pending investigations.

There Were 2 Mass Shootings In Texas Last Week, But Only 1 On TV

DENTON, Texas ― Amanda Painter sat at the kitchen table in an unfamiliar apartment with an absurd dilemma: She had nothing to wear to a vigil for her three dead children.

Her clothes were at home, but her home was now a crime scene.  

Less than 100 hours after her children were murdered, Amanda, 29, found herself in a Walmart, hobbling down the aisles, the gunshot wound to her neck concealed by a gauze bandage. She found a suitable purple shirt and kept her head down. She hadn’t expected to see so many children at the store, laughing and playing. For eight years, Amanda answered to “Mommy.” Now, her babies ― Odin, 8, Caydence, 6, and Drake, 4 ― were gone. Each time she closed her eyes, even to blink, they returned.

Last week, Amanda’s ex-husband, Justin Painter, 39, entered her home in Ponder, Texas, and fatally shot her boyfriend, Seth Richardson, 29, her three children and then himself. He intentionally kept Amanda alive, he told her, to live with the pain.

It was an unthinkable tragedy.

Two days later another unthinkable tragedy occurred, more than 300 miles away. A student opened fire in a high school in Santa Fe, killing 10. Both events were mass shootings ― that is, they each involved at least four fatalities ― and both were in Texas.

There’s no place worse than Texas when it comes to mass shootings. Since 2009, the state has experienced 20 incidents, the most of any state. In 65 percent of cases, the victims included a romantic partner or family member of the shooter, just like what happened to Amanda.

Yet most people only hear about the school shootings ― and not Amanda’s story.

Donna Bloom, director of legal services at Denton County Friends of the Family, visits Amanda at the transitional housing.

When HuffPost interviewed Amanda, she had just been released from the hospital and was settling into an apartment 20 minutes away from her home, provided by the local domestic violence organization, Denton County Friends of the Family. Advocates stocked the apartment with comfort food, flowers, bath bombs and toiletries, and scribbled inspirational messages on the mirrors. “We are here for you!” someone had written in dry-erase marker. “This is a place to heal and feel safe.”

Amanda was visibly in pain, and moved slowly around the apartment, wincing.

She’d been asleep in bed with her boyfriend when her ex-husband showed up that morning. Seth was lying next to her, his arm wrapped around her body, his stomach pressed into her back, when Justin came in and shot Seth in the head. The bullet went through Seth’s body and into Amanda’s, fracturing her neck and breaking her ribs. Her physical injuries were nothing, she said, compared to her emotional pain. In conversation, Amanda would appear composed for a minute, sometimes two, but then her face crumpled, contorted by grief.

“Your life can always get worse,” she said, breaking down. “I don’t think mine can get any lower. Somehow, I’m still fucking standing, and I’m going to keep going, and I don’t know how, but I’m going to keep going.”

Everyone kept asking her what she needed, she said. The only thing she needed she couldn’t have.

“My kids were my coping mechanism, and now they are gone,” Amanda said. “He knew when he took them from me, he took everything. He’s won.” 

The relationship

Amanda met Justin online when she was 17. They both played “World of Warcraft.” Her username was Amarella; he was Torak. She lived in Richmond, Virginia, and he lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They chatted on the internet for a year, getting to know each other’s stories.

Amanda’s was complicated: Her mother struggled with drug addiction, and Amanda and her identical twin sister, Ashley, were frequently uprooted as kids, bouncing from school to school.

Justin offered stability, and a chance at a fresh start. He was 10 years older and had a job at a Walmart distribution center in Oklahoma. When she was 19, he drove to Virginia to pick her up and bring her home with him. It was the first time they’d met in person.

Once they were in Oklahoma, Amanda recalled, it seemed like Justin wanted her to stay indoors and only play video games. Within a few months, she was stir-crazy. She planned a trip back to Virginia to see her family. While there, she discovered she was pregnant. She didn’t really want to go back to Oklahoma, she said, because she already harbored concerns about the relationship. But she also worried about being a single mother. She had grown up in poverty, and she didn’t want that for her baby.

Without much choice, she went back to Oklahoma to be with Justin. Her son Odin was born in 2009. Caydence came next, in 2012. They moved to Texas to be closer to Justin’s family. Then came Drake, in 2013.

During their nine-year relationship, Justin was not physically abusive toward her, Amanda said, but sometimes she felt afraid of him. When he was angry, he would slam things ― the television remote, his computer chair. She said he was controlling, especially when it came to family finances. She was not given a debit card until after Caydence was born. Before that, every time she needed anything ― diapers, milk, gas for the car ― she had to ask for cash.

Amanda said she often felt depressed. Every so often, she said, she would tell Justin she wasn’t happy and he’d beg her to stay, saying he couldn’t live without her.

She said he also threatened that if she did leave, she’d lose the kids.  

“It’s not a huge surprise to me that there wasn’t a lot of physical violence, because it wasn’t necessary,” said Donna Bloom, director of legal services at Denton County Friends of the Family and one of the advocates who stayed with Amanda in the days after the shooting. Physical violence, she said, is just one of many tools people use to control their partners.

“Amanda is a pretty compliant person, so it didn’t have to escalate to physical violence,” Bloom said. “He could use these other tools to achieve the same objective, which is to be in control.”

The separation and the gun

Last year, Amanda finally decided to leave Justin. She was about to turn 28 and felt a growing sense of independence, thanks to a new job. “I thought, if I’m going to take care of the children and work full-time and take care of the house, I just need to get out,” she said.

On April 21, 2017, she told Justin she wanted to try separating, and that she was going to move in with a friend. That night, she said, she and Justin went to sleep together, but in the morning, he wasn’t in bed. She found him in another room, crying. She said he told her that while she was asleep, he had gotten out his gun, loaded it and planned to kill himself.

Scared for the safety of her children, Amanda decided to leave right away. Justin grew angry, she said, and starting throwing things, breaking their flat-screen television over his knees. She buckled the kids in the car and went back in the house to get the gun. It was still loaded, she said. She put it in the trunk.

“I took it because I was afraid he was going to shoot himself,” Amanda said.

She wasn’t the only one who was worried. According to a police report obtained by HuffPost, Justin’s stepfather called 911 that morning to request a welfare check on his son, and an ambulance was called. Police confirmed to HuffPost that Justin was voluntarily admitted into a mental health facility.

While he was seeking medical help, Amanda moved out with the kids. When he returned home, she said, they both took turns caring for the children. Her shifts at a nursing home were unpredictable, and she needed his parenting support. Still, she was surprised when he filed for divorce that summer. He fought for primary custody, and got it.

“I didn’t have any money,” Amanda said. She went to court without a lawyer.

Amanda was granted visitation with her children every other weekend. This worked out for a while, she said. Their relationship grew amicable. Sometimes Justin came over for dinner. Other times, they did stuff with the kids together.

But there was one point of contention: the gun.

Earlier this year, Amanda recalls, Justin’s family asked her to return his gun. Amanda didn’t want to give it back, she said, but she felt like she had no choice. Justin told her she could get in trouble for allegedly stealing it. So she reluctantly gave it back to Justin’s family, she said. At some point, Amanda believes, they returned it to him.

It was the same gun he brought to her house and used to kill her children, police confirmed to HuffPost.

Justin’s family did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The incident

On the evening of May 15, Amanda and Justin took the kids out for pizza. During the car ride, Amanda told Justin about her new boyfriend, that it was serious and he was planning to move in with her.  

For the past few months, Amanda had been in a long-distance relationship with Seth Richardson, whom she knew from her teen years. They, too, had met through “World of Warcraft,” and had kept in touch for decades.

“We just had this bond, it never left,” Amanda said. “There was so much positivity when we were together.”

Seth lived in South Carolina, and had recently decided to move to Texas for Amanda. They hoped to start a family together. At the time she broke the news to Justin, Seth was already on the road, making the 19-hour drive to Texas.

Justin’s face fell, Amanda said. Even though they’d been separated a year, he was still holding out hope for reconciliation.

“I saw him fall apart,” she said. “He kept saying, ‘I’m trying to love you, I’m trying to change.’”

He started driving erratically, she said, and screamed at her and the kids. When they got back to her house, she had to plead with him to allow the kids to stay for dinner. She promised to bring them back to his house afterward.

Amanda and her kids ate pizza on her bed (pepperoni for Odin and Caydence; black olive, sausage and mushroom for Drake; onion for her) and watched the movie “Atlantis.” They cuddled. After dinner, Amanda drove them back to Justin’s house, and gave each of them a goodnight kiss. She watched them file inside.

Once she got home, she fell asleep. Around 6:30 the next morning, she got a call from Seth. He had finally arrived at her house.

“I didn’t even hang up the phone. I threw it on the bed and ran outside,” she recalled. “I hugged him and kissed his neck and hugged him and hugged him. I was just so excited he was there. It meant our life was about to start.”

Seth was exhausted from driving, and they soon fell asleep together, spooning on her bed. They didn’t rest long. Some time around 8 a.m., Amanda woke to a loud bang next to her head.

It was unlike anything she’d ever heard, and her back was alight with searing pain. Her ears rang and she was paralyzed with confusion. Then she heard more bangs.

“Seth!” she screamed. “Seth!”

Moments passed ― minutes? Seconds? Time collapsed for Amanda. Then she heard a voice in the doorway. It was Justin.

“Seth’s dead. The kids are dead. And you’re going to have to live with it,” she recalls him saying.

He shot himself in front of her.

She managed to turn herself over, and saw Seth lying beside her. He was shot.

Amanda grabbed her phone and dialed 911, stumbling into the living room. She prayed that Justin was bluffing about the children, trying to scare her. Then she saw a shoe lying on the ground. A little leg. Closer, and she could see all three children, shot to death.

Neighbors said they saw Justin arrive at the house Wednesday morning with the children and bring them into the home.

Amanda collapsed on the ground. For some reason, her arms weren’t working. She wanted to pick up her children, but she couldn’t. “I thought my body was breaking down because of my mental state,” she said.

In reality, she had been shot. When Justin shot Seth, who was asleep cuddling her, the bullet went through him and into her body.

The ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital, but she didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to leave her children behind. Later, a female detective told her that the first responders all made a pact ― they would not let the children ride in the same vehicle as their deceased father, the man who stole their lives.

While in the hospital, Amanda posted a series of emotional videos on her Facebook page, explaining what had happened. She felt a desperate urge to share, to unload her grief for others to see and reckon with. But it backfired. In the comments, she said, people were blaming her for what happened.

Why? Because she left.

The vigil

It was a bright, clear evening at Parkview Elementary School in Fort Worth, where Odin had been in second grade and Caydence was in kindergarten. At 4, Drake was still in day care, but he’d been looking forward to attending the school when he was old enough, like his big sister and brother.

Around 100 people gathered to mourn. Parents held on to their children tightly. The crowd was quiet, save for the sounds of sniffles and subdued crying. In front of the school, people left offerings of teddy bears and bouquets of flowers.

Amanda sat near the back, on a stone bench, flanked by her twin sister. Her face was pained. She cried, on and off, and listened as student after student took the microphone to offer a memory of her children.  

“Odin always used to hit my head with his locker accidentally because he had the locker above me.”

“Caydence used to play with me at recess.”

“Whenever I was on the lonely bench, Odin would ask if I wanted to play with him.”

“He was always happy. I never saw him not be happy. He always had a big smile on his face.”

Afterward, each child was handed a helium balloon to write a message on and send up to heaven ― up to their friends. One balloon popped loudly next to Amanda and she startled, jumping up and retreating tearfully to the parking lot.

It sounded too much like a gunshot.

Once the balloons were up in the air, fading into the night sky, she came back.

She sang “Amazing Grace” along with the crowd, and held a flickering white candle. The program was over, and people started to disperse, gathering up their families and walking to their cars.

Amanda stood alone. And then, one by one, children began to approach, lining up to see her. They hugged her legs, squeezed her chest, kissed her cheek. They knew what she needed.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Trump Opens Door For U.S. Gun Industry To Sell More Firearms Abroad

The Trump administration is forging ahead with a previously sidelined plan to allow U.S. gun manufacturers sell their products abroad more cheaply and easily.

The proposed rule, published Thursday in the Federal Register, would shift control of U.S. firearm exports from the State Department to the Commerce Department, in a move the regulatory language said is aimed at reducing “procedural burdens and costs” on American gunmakers doing international business.

The plan would also save the U.S. government money by simplifying the licensing process, according to the proposal.

As a result, gun companies would likely be able to expand foreign sales of popular civilian firearms and accessories that have attracted controversy in the U.S. These include semi-automatic military-style guns like AR-15s, .50 caliber rifles, scopes and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines.

That would be a boon to an industry that has experienced sharp declines in sales since Donald Trump’s won the White House in 2016, after years of record sales driven by fears that former President Barack Obama would tighten gun laws. The Obama administration had mulled a similar export plan during his first term, but abandoned it following the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

If the rule change takes effect, foreign arms sales are expected to increase as much as 20 percent, according to the National Sports Shooting Foundation, the gun industry’s trade association. Other arms trade experts have predicted a much smaller boost.

But the plan has also raised concerns among foreign policy experts and some Democratic lawmakers who say that the reduced oversight under the new system could increase gun violence in other nations by putting more powerful weaponry in the hands of human rights abusers and criminal factions, as well as the civilian population.

Direct civilian access to U.S.-made weapons would depend on their nations’ gun laws.

It was already problematic, and now all the indicators are that the gates will open and there won’t be any controls on who gets weapons that are legally exported.
John Lindsay-Poland, gun violence researcher

Under the current version of the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department issues licenses and attempts to monitor the flow of U.S. firearms, including who ultimately receives exported guns. Larger arms exports are also subject to scrutiny from Congress and the public, a system that has at times effectively prevented firearms from ending up in the hands of corrupt governments, terrorist organizations and especially violent foreign law enforcement bodies.

In 2016, for instance, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) blocked a proposed arms export deal between the U.S. and the Philippines, amid reports of human rights abuses by that nation’s police forces. 

The Commerce Department, critics of the proposed rule change said, lacks any of the infrastructure or oversight ability to properly monitor what happens to U.S.-made weapons once they leave the country.

“When it comes to Commerce, the inspection program isn’t transparent, it doesn’t report to Congress, and it’s unclear what they do at all,” said John Lindsay-Poland, a researcher for Global Exchange, an international human rights group.

“We anticipate there will be even less oversight by Commerce now than there was by State,” he said. “It was already problematic, and now all the indicators are that the gates will open and there won’t be any controls on who gets weapons that are legally exported.”

Democrats and human rights groups have warned that the rule changes could worsen gun violence problems in foreign countries, particularly in Mexico and other Latin American nations.

The proposed rule change, slated to go into effect no less than a month after a public comment ends in July, would be “extremely hazardous to global security,” Cardin said in a statement.

“Small arms and light weapons are among the most lethal weapons that we and other countries export because these are the weapons that are most likely to be used to commit atrocities and suppress human rights, either by individuals, non-state groups, or governmental security and paramilitary forces,” Cardin said.

House Democrats have introduced legislation to block transferring the arms export oversight to Commerce, but it’s unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Congress. 

On this one fundamental human concern, the thing that matters most to us, our physical safety, and the physical safety of our loved ones, we don’t lead.
Sen. Chris Murphy

From 2009 to 2014, more than 73,000 U.S.-made guns were seized in Mexico, and 70 percent of guns used in Mexican homicides in 2017 were manufactured in the U.S., according to the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control. In past years, more than 90 percent of guns seized in the Bahamas and roughly 80 percent of firearms seized in Jamaica are made in the U.S. And in Brazil, police have reported finding an escalating number of American-made rifles in crimes and shootouts between rival drug gangs.

Many of those guns are illegally smuggled into Latin America. But firearms also reach criminal factions thanks to legal exports and sales to police: in Mexico, more than 20,000 firearms, many of them American-made, have been lost by or stolen from police since 2006, Lindsay-Poland said.

“All of the evidence and experience with gun violence in Latin America indicates that there will be more blood from U.S.-sourced weapons” thanks to the rule change, Lindsay-Poland said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a gun control advocate who opposes the proposed rule change, said this week that the U.S. could be on the verge of “exporting” its epidemic of gun violence to other nations.

“We created the modern open economy, we created participatory democracy, we created the internet age, but on this one fundamental human concern, the thing that matters most to us, our physical safety, and the physical safety of our loved ones, we don’t lead,” Murphy said at a forum on the arms trade. “In fact, we do the very opposite. The United States runs at the very back of the pack.”

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