The Power of Soft Power

Up in Arms
The Power of Soft Power
Sing On!
Healing Art
Punching Above Our Weight

Up in Arms

Last December, when Adam Lanza stormed into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, with a rifle and killed twenty children and six adult staff members, the United States found itself immersed in debates about gun control. Another flash point occurred this July, when George Zimmerman, who saw himself as a guardian of his community, was exonerated in the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida. That time, talk turned to stand-your-ground laws and the proper use of deadly force. The gun debate was refreshed in September by the shooting deaths of twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard, apparently at the hands of an IT contractor who was mentally ill.

Such episodes remind Americans that our country as a whole is marked by staggering levels of deadly violence. Our death rate from assault is many times higher than that of highly urbanized countries like the Netherlands or Germany, sparsely populated nations with plenty of forests and game hunters like Canada, Sweden, Finland, or New Zealand, and large, populous ones like the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. State-sponsored violence, too—in the form of capital punishment—sets our country apart. Last year we executed more than ten times as many prisoners as other advanced industrialized nations combined—not surprising given that Japan is the only other such country that allows the practice. Our violent streak has become almost a part of our national identity.

What’s less well appreciated is how much the incidence of violence, like so many salient issues in American life, varies by region. Beyond a vague awareness that supporters of violent retaliation and easy access to guns are concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy and, to a lesser extent, the western interior, most people cannot tell you much about regional differences on such matters. Our conventional way of defining regions—dividing the country along state boundaries into a Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest—masks the cultural lines along which attitudes toward violence fall. These lines don’t respect state boundaries. To understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns and the lasting cultural fissures they established.

The original North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with its own religious, political, and ethnographic traits. For generations, these Euro-American cultures developed in isolation from one another, consolidating their cherished religious and political principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bands. Throughout the colonial period and the Early Republic, they saw themselves as competitors—for land, capital, and other settlers—and even as enemies, taking opposing sides in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas—each a distinct nation. There are eleven nations today. Each looks at violence, as well as everything else, in its own way.

The precise delineation of the eleven nations—which I have explored at length in my latest book, American Nations—is original to me, but I’m certainly not the first person to observe that such national divisions exist. Kevin Phillips, a Republican Party campaign strategist, recognized the boundaries and values of several of these nations in 1969 and used them to correctly prophesy two decades of American political development in his politico cult classic The Emerging Republican Majority. Joel Garreau, a Washington Post editor, argued that our continent was divided into rival power blocs in The Nine Nations of North America, though his ahistorical approach undermined the identification of the nations. The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David Hackett Fischer detailed the origins and early evolution of four of these nations in his magisterial Albion’s Seed and later added New France. Russell Shorto described the salient characteristics of New Netherland in The Island at the Center of the World. And the list goes on.

The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps—including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history. Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities, a phenomenon analyzed by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing in The Big Sort (2008). Even waves of immigrants did not fundamentally alter these nations, because the children and grandchildren of immigrants assimilated into whichever culture surrounded them.

Before I describe the nations, I should underscore that my observations refer to the dominant culture, not the individual inhabitants, of each region. In every town, city, and state you’ll likely find a full range of political opinions and social preferences. Even in the reddest of red counties and bluest of blue ones, twenty to forty percent of voters cast ballots for the “wrong” team. It isn’t that residents of one or another nation all think the same, but rather that they are all embedded within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes—each of which a person may like or hate, but has to deal with nonetheless. Because of slavery, the African American experience has been different from that of other settlers and immigrants, but it too has varied by nation, as black people confronted the dominant cultural and institutional norms of each.

The nations are constituted as follows:

YANKEEDOM. Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders. It has prized education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public’s shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants. Since the early Puritans, it has been more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects than many of the other nations, who regard the Yankee utopian streak with trepidation.

NEW NETHERLAND. Established by the Dutch at a time when the Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world, New Netherland has always been a global commercial culture—materialistic, with a profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience. Like seventeenth-century Amsterdam, it emerged as a center of publishing, trade, and finance, a magnet for immigrants, and a refuge for those persecuted by other regional cultures, from Sephardim in the seventeenth century to gays, feminists, and bohemians in the early twentieth. Unconcerned with great moral questions, it nonetheless has found itself in alliance with Yankeedom to defend public institutions and reject evangelical prescriptions for individual behavior.

THE MIDLANDS. America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies like Pennsylvania on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate. An ethnic mosaic from the start—it had a German, rather than British, majority at the time of the Revolution—it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention.

TIDEWATER. Built by the younger sons of southern English gentry in the Chesapeake country and neighboring sections of Delaware and North Carolina, Tidewater was meant to reproduce the semifeudal society of the countryside they’d left behind. Standing in for the peasantry were indentured servants and, later, slaves. Tidewater places a high value on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. It was the most powerful of the American nations in the eighteenth century, but today it is in decline, partly because it was cut off from westward expansion by its boisterous Appalachian neighbors and, more recently, because it has been eaten away by the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk.

GREATER APPALACHIA. Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Appalachia has been lampooned by writers and screenwriters as the home of hillbillies and rednecks. It transplanted a culture formed in a state of near constant danger and upheaval, characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty. Intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike, Greater Appalachia has shifted alliances depending on who appeared to be the greatest threat to their freedom. It was with the Union in the Civil War. Since Reconstruction, and especially since the upheavals of the 1960s, it has joined with Deep South to counter federal overrides of local preference.

DEEP SOUTH. Established by English slave lords from Barbados, Deep South was meant as a West Indies–style slave society. This nation offered a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor, and consumer regulations.

EL NORTE. The oldest of the American nations, El Norte consists of the borderlands of the Spanish American empire, which were so far from the seats of power in Mexico City and Madrid that they evolved their own characteristics. Most Americans are aware of El Norte as a place apart, where Hispanic language, culture, and societal norms dominate. But few realize that among Mexicans, norteños have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work. Long a hotbed of democratic reform and revolutionary settlement, the region encompasses parts of Mexico that have tried to secede in order to form independent buffer states between their mother country and the United States.

THE LEFT COAST. A Chile-shaped nation wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade and Coast mountains, the Left Coast was originally colonized by two groups: New Englanders (merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen who arrived by sea and dominated the towns) and Appalachian midwesterners (farmers, prospectors, and fur traders who generally arrived by wagon and controlled the countryside). Yankee missionaries tried to make it a “New England on the Pacific,” but were only partially successful. Left Coast culture is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration—traits recognizable in its cultural production, from the Summer of Love to the iPad. The staunchest ally of Yankeedom, it clashes with Far Western sections in the interior of its home states.

THE FAR WEST. The other “second-generation” nation, the Far West occupies the one part of the continent shaped more by environmental factors than ethnographic ones. High, dry, and remote, the Far West stopped migrating easterners in their tracks, and most of it could be made habitable only with the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams, and irrigation systems. As a result, settlement was largely directed by corporations headquartered in distant New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco, or by the federal government, which controlled much of the land. The Far West’s people are often resentful of their dependent status, feeling that they have been exploited as an internal colony for the benefit of the seaboard nations. Their senators led the fight against trusts in the mid-twentieth century. Of late, Far Westerners have focused their anger on the federal government, rather than their corporate masters.

NEW FRANCE. Occupying the New Orleans area and southeastern Canada, New France blends the folkways of ancien régime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in northwestern North America. After a long history of imperial oppression, its people have emerged as down-to-earth, egalitarian, and consensus driven, among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy. The New French influence is manifest in Canada, where multiculturalism and negotiated consensus are treasured.

FIRST NATION. First Nation is populated by native American groups that generally never gave up their land by treaty and have largely retained cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in this hostile region on their own terms. The nation is now reclaiming its sovereignty, having won considerable autonomy in Alaska and Nunavut and a self-governing nation state in Greenland that stands on the threshold of full independence. Its territory is huge—far larger than the continental United States—but its population is less than 300,000, most of whom live in Canada.

If you understand the United States as a patchwork of separate nations, each with its own origins and prevailing values, you would hardly expect attitudes toward violence to be uniformly distributed. You would instead be prepared to discover that some parts of the country experience more violence, have a greater tolerance for violent solutions to conflict, and are more protective of the instruments of violence than other parts of the country. That is exactly what the data on violence reveal about the modern United States.

Most scholarly research on violence has collected data at the state level, rather than the county level (where the boundaries of the eleven nations are delineated). Still, the trends are clear. The same handful of nations show up again and again at the top and the bottom of state-level figures on deadly violence, capital punishment, and promotion of gun ownership.

Consider assault deaths. Kieran Healy, a Duke University sociologist, broke down the per capita, age-adjusted deadly assault rate for 2010. In the northeastern states—almost entirely dominated by Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Midlands—just over 4 people per 100,000 died in assaults. By contrast, southern states—largely monopolized by Deep South, Tidewater, and Greater Appalachia—had a rate of more than 7 per 100,000. The three deadliest states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, where the rate of killings topped 10 per 100,000—were all in Deep South territory. Meanwhile, the three safest states—New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota, with rates of about 2 killings per 100,000—were all part of Yankeedom.

Not surprisingly, black Americans have it worse than whites. Countrywide, according to Healy, blacks die from assaults at the bewildering rate of about 20 per 100,000, while the rate for whites is less than 6. But does that mean racial differences might be skewing the homicide data for nations with larger African-American populations? Apparently not. A classic 1993 study by the social psychologist Richard Nisbett, of the University of Michigan, found that homicide rates in small predominantly white cities were three times higher in the South than in New England. Nisbett and a colleague, Andrew Reaves, went on to show that southern rural counties had white homicide rates more than four times those of counties in New England, Middle Atlantic, and Midwestern states.

Stand-your-ground laws are another dividing line between American nations. Such laws waive a citizen’s duty to try and retreat from a threatening individual before killing the person. Of the twenty-three states to pass stand-your-ground laws, only one, New Hampshire, is part of Yankeedom, and only one, Illinois, is in the Midlands. By contrast, each of the six Deep South–dominated states has passed such a law, and almost all the other states with similar laws are in the Far West or Greater Appalachia.

Comparable schisms show up in the gun control debate. In 2011, after the mass shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others in Tucson, the Pew Research Center asked Americans what was more important, protecting gun ownership or controlling it. The Yankee states of New England went for gun control by a margin of sixty-one to thirty-six, while those in the poll’s “southeast central” region—the Deep South states of Alabama and Mississippi and the Appalachian states of Tennessee and Kentucky—supported gun rights by exactly the same margin. Far Western states backed gun rights by a proportion of fifty-nine to thirty-eight.

Another revealing moment came this past April, in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, when the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill to close loopholes in federal background checks for would-be gun owners. In the six states dominated by Deep South, the vote was twelve to two against the measure, and most of the Far West and Appalachia followed suit. But Yankee New England voted eleven to one in favor, and the dissenting vote, from Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, was so unpopular in her home state that it caused an immediate dip in her approval rating.

The pattern for capital punishment laws is equally stark. The states dominated by Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West have had a virtual monopoly on capital punishment. They account for more than ninety-five percent of the 1,343 executions in the United States since 1976. In the same period, the twelve states definitively controlled by Yankeedom and New Netherland—states that account for almost a quarter of the U.S. population—have executed just one person.

Why is violence—state-sponsored and otherwise—so much more prevalent in some American nations than in others? It all goes back to who settled those regions and where they came from. Nisbett, the social psychologist, noted that regions initially “settled by sober Puritans, Quakers, and Dutch farmer-artisans”—that is, Yankeedom, the Midlands, and New Netherland—were organized around a yeoman agricultural economy that rewarded “quiet, cooperative citizenship, with each individual being capable of uniting for the common good.” The South—and by this he meant the nations I call Tidewater and Deep South—was settled by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values . . . from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honor and virtue.”

Continuing to treat the South as a single entity, Nisbett argued that the violent streak in the culture the Cavaliers established was intensified by the “major subsequent wave of immigration . . . from the borderlands of Scotland and Ireland.” These immigrants, who populated what I call Greater Appalachia, came from “an economy based on herding,” which, as anthropologists have shown, predisposes people to belligerent stances because the animals on which their wealth depends are so vulnerable to theft. Drawing on the work of the historian David Hackett Fisher, Nisbett maintained that “southern” violence stems partly from a “culture-of-honor tradition,” in which males are raised to create reputations for ferocity—as a deterrent to rustling—rather than relying on official legal intervention.

More recently, researchers have begun to probe beyond state boundaries to distinguish among different cultural streams. Robert Baller of the University of Iowa and two colleagues looked at late-twentieth-century white male “argument-related” homicide rates, comparing those in counties that, in 1850, were dominated by Scots-Irish settlers with those in other parts of the “Old South.” In other words, they teased out the rates at which white men killed each other in feuds and compared those for Greater Appalachia with those for Deep South and Tidewater. The result: Appalachian areas had significantly higher homicide rates than their lowland neighbors—“findings [that] are supportive of theoretical claims about the role of herding as the ecological underpinning of a code of honor.”

Another researcher, Pauline Grosjean, an economist at Australia’s University of New South Wales, found strong statistical relationships between the presence of Scots-Irish settlers in the 1790 census and contemporary homicide rates, but only in “southern” areas “where the institutional environment was weak”—which is the case in almost the entirety of Greater Appalachia. She further noted that in areas where Scots-Irish were dominant, settlers of other ethnic origins—Dutch, French, and German—were also more violent, suggesting that they had acculturated to Appalachian norms.

But it’s not just herding that promoted a culture of violence. Scholars have long recognized that cultures organized around slavery rely on violence to control, punish, and terrorize—which no doubt helps explain the erstwhile prevalence of lynching deaths in Deep South and Tidewater. But it is also significant that both these nations, along with Greater Appalachia, follow religious traditions that sanction eye-for-an-eye justice, and adhere to secular codes that emphasize personal honor and shun governmental authority. As a result, their members have fewer qualms about rushing to lethal judgments.

The code of Yankeedom could not have been more different. Its founders promoted self-doubt and self-restraint, and their Unitarian and Congregational spiritual descendants believed vengeance would not receive the approval of an all-knowing God. This nation was the center of the nineteenth-century death penalty reform movement, which began eliminating capital punishment for burglary, robbery, sodomy, and other nonlethal crimes. None of the states controlled by Yankeedom or New Netherland retain the death penalty today.

With such sharp regional differences, the idea that the United States would ever reach consensus on any issue having to do with violence seems far-fetched. The cultural gulf between Appalachia and Yankeedom, Deep South and New Netherland is simply too large. But it’s conceivable that some new alliance could form to tip the balance.

Among the eleven regional cultures, there are two superpowers, nations with the identity, mission, and numbers to shape continental debate: Yankeedom and Deep South. For more than two hundred years, they’ve fought for control of the federal government and, in a sense, the nation’s soul. Over the decades, Deep South has become strongly allied with Greater Appalachia and Tidewater, and more tenuously with the Far West. Their combined agenda—to slash taxes, regulations, social services, and federal powers—is opposed by a Yankee-led bloc that includes New Netherland and the Left Coast. Other nations, especially the Midlands and El Norte, often hold the swing vote, whether in a presidential election or a congressional battle over health care reform. Those swing nations stand to play a decisive role on violence-related issues as well.

For now, the country will remain split on how best to make its citizens safer, with Deep South and its allies bent on deterrence through armament and the threat of capital punishment, and Yankeedom and its allies determined to bring peace through constraints such as gun control. The deadlock will persist until one of these camps modifies its message and policy platform to draw in the swing nations. Only then can that camp seize full control over the levers of federal power—the White House, the House, and a filibuster-proof Senate majority—to force its will on the opposing nations. Until then, expect continuing frustration and division.

Colin Woodard, A91, is the author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. An earlier book, The Republic of Pirates, is the basis of the forthcoming NBC drama Crossbones. He is currently state and national affairs writer at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, where he won a George Polk Award this year for his investigative reporting.



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Remembering the Names

I wasn’t going to publish the names…there were so many. Then I decide that they deserved to be remembered, indeed honored. Each of then was young, at the beginning of this sojourn. Careers and school waiting for each of them. The name I won’t say is the perpetrators because I don’t want to encourage those unstable minds who commit crimes so history will remember them. I am sorry that their families and friends are experiencing this overwhelming grief and sorrow. Though a widow, I can only express a tiny bit of the hell you must be suffering. I am sorry.



For those on the fence about LGBT members of society, each of these people were in school or working. Let us remember the injured also. There is a large list of people who need your healing prayers. Their doctors need prayers for steady hands, wise decisions, and an angel on their shoulder. It will take the loving hearts of many people to get the injured up and about. They may face some discrimination. Pray that people will look at them and just see an injured human being. For their families and friends, I pray for you that you will have the strength to give them all the care they will need. May people remember that you will need care also. May you be able, in time, to forgive the shooter and the NRA.


May God bless and heal you.

May your lives be surrounded

with love, harmony and peace,We live in peace and harmony

May your hearts


strengthened and goodness come

to you for the remainder of you lives.

—The Rebel



We need harmony

How Many More?




I don’t have an answer for the question, How Many More?, and I wish I did. What I do know is that we need more music, art, conversation, love, compassion, caring, random acts of compassion. We need to take care our ourselves and our own issues remembering there is not one of us that is perfect. We need to heal our own blemishes first before even beginning to think about someone else’s problems.


Kindness should come before boasting, healing hands before violent ones, medicines to cure diseases should come before guns. Food for every person should come before Christian Dior bags (and I love them). Housing should come before a luxury car. Trees to improve the air we breathe should come before chemicals in our food. Clean water should come before stock dividends. Helping someone should come before what color their skin is, what their sexual preference is, or what spiritual path they follow.


Peace should come before war, being a part of the family of man should be more important than how different someone seems to be. Action is more important than talking about mass shootings and doing kindnesses is more important than thinking these events should never have happened. Perhaps most important, those who have been taught not to think for themselves and not to speak must learn to speak once again or for the first time.




Unlearning not to speak


Blizzards of paper

in slow motion

sift through her

In nightmares she suddenly recalls

a class she signed up for

but forgot to attend.

Now it is too late.

Now it is time for finals:

losers will be shot.

Phrases of men who lectured her

drift and rustle in piles:

Why don’t you speak up?

Why are you shouting”

You have the wrong answer,

wrong line, wrong face.

They tell her she is womb-man,

babymachine, mirror, and penis-poor,

a dish of synthetic strawberry ice cream

rapidly melting.

She grunts to a halt.

She must learn to speak

starting with I

Starting with we

starting as the infant does

with her own true hunger

and pleasure

and rage.

—Marge Piercy, feminist poet and novelist

World Peace everywhere for everywhere

World Peace everywhere for everyone

What Happens when you Teach Hate

Police: 7th-grader calls Muslim schoolmate ‘son of ISIS,’ threatens to shoot and kill him


December 14 at 2:30 PM

An Ohio middle-school student has been accused of threatening to shoot and kill a Muslim schoolmate, calling him a “terrorist” and a “towel head,” police said.

A seventh-grader at Morton Middle School in Vandalia, near Dayton, got into an argument with another student Dec. 7 on a school bus, asking the boy if he was going to bomb him and calling the student “son of ISIS,” according to a police report. The seventh-grader faces a 10-day suspension and possible expulsion, according to the school district. Police said he also faces charges of aggravated menacing and ethnic intimidation.

The seventh-grader was arrested and transported to a juvenile detention center.

“First and foremost in our minds is the safety and security of our students,” Vandalia-Butler City Schools Superintendent Brad Neavin said in a statement. “It is important for our students and their parents to understand we take them at their word when they make these threats. We will treat all threats seriously, taking immediate and decisive action to protect the safety and welfare of our students, staff and community.”

The seventh-grader told police that he got into an argument in a school bus last week with a sixth-grader, who is Muslim, because, he said, the student never wants to sit down and plays his music too loudly, according to the police report. The seventh-grader admitted to using racial slurs and telling the sixth-grader he was responsible for bringing down the Twin Towers during 9/11 because he was Muslim, according to the report.

Another student who said he witnessed the incident reported it to the school, which alerted authorities, the district said in a statement. A witness later told police that the seventh-grader said something about bringing a .40-caliber handgun to school the next day to end the argument, according to the police report, though the seventh-grader told police he did not remember saying anything about the gun.

When asked whether he might have said it out of anger, “he said he probably did,” according to the report.

“When I was finished with my interview,” Vandalia Police Det. Jennifer Chiles wrote in the report, “I asked him if he wanted to write an apology letter to [the other student], and he said he did.”

The seventh-grader wrote a letter telling him “he was sorry for what he did and sorry for scaring him.”

Ahmad Murab, the sixth-grader’s father, told The Washington Post that his son came home scared, saying: ” ‘I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to go to school.’ ” The family, he said, found out from other students what had happened.

Murab said he considers the threat a hate crime but does not blame the older student for it. Instead, he said, he blames the news media and possibly the boy’s parents for shaping his world view.

“Call a criminal a criminal; don’t call a Muslim a terrorist,” Murab said. “It gets this seventh-grader to think all Muslims are bad. I don’t blame him. You put us in a dangerous situation.”

He added: “I don’t blame the other kid. How does he know about the world? Adults are telling him to call people those names.”

Murab said his children were born in the United States and don’t deserve to be singled out.

“This country has Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and people who don’t believe in anything,” he said. “The U.S. is a melting pot.”

He added: “I don’t want to get killed because of my name. … We work; we do everything good.”

U.S. Muslims have been on edge in recent weeks, saying they are living through an intensely painful moment and feeling growing anti-Muslim sentiment after the Islamic State attacks in Paris and the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings, carried out by a Muslim husband and wife. Last week, Donald Trump — the GOP presidential front-runner — called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Murab said his son is fine and has returned to school.

It was unclear Monday whether the seventh-grader was still in custody. The juvenile justice center would not release information because he is a minor.

When The Post called a number listed for the seventh-grader’s mother, she claimed she didn’t know anything about the accusations.

Vandalia-Butler City Schools said in a statement that an expulsion hearing will be set for a later date; police said a court hearing will also be scheduled.

People need to stop hating. Religion should not divide us. Dress should not divide us. Teach the children compassion,  gentleness and kindness. 
Stop the hating.

Barbara, the Idealisticrebel

This is what you can do

This is what you can do


Guns and Domestic Violence

Originally posted at Ms.Blog,

The impact of gun violence on victims and survivors of domestic violence cannot be overstated. The statistics are chilling: Approximately 2 out of every 3 domestic violence homicides are committed with firearms; the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of homicide by at least 500 percent. At least 44 percent of mass shootings are domestic violence-related, and 61 percent of all femicides committed by men wielding guns in 2013 were related to domestic violence .

These statistics are only the most publicized, easily quantifiable manifestations of the intersection between domestic violence and firearms. Guns are used to terrorize far more often than they are used to kill. A survey by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found 16 percent of respondents’ abusers owned firearms. Of respondents whose abusers owned guns, 67 percent percent believed their abusers were capable of killing them.

These statistics are staggering, yet they are more than numbers—they are people. My colleague, Rob Valente at the Hotline, quotes two survey respondents. One respondent disclosed that her husband owns over 100 guns. She never knows where the guns are, or how many guns he is carrying at any given time. Another respondent tells of repeatedly waking up at night to the sound of her abuser releasing the safety on the gun he is holding to her head.

Recognizing the role of firearms in domestic violence, Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment prohibiting people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or people subject to permanent domestic violence protective orders from owning firearms. In enacting this prohibition, Congress took into account two important factors that differentiate domestic violence from other forms of violence: 1) Domestic violence misdemeanors are frequently pled down from felony charges and involve felony-level violence; and 2) Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors rather than a single incident, so there is a high likelihood an abuser will reoffend.

Although the Lautenberg Amendment saved countless lives, it is no longer adequate; society has changed and the law must be updated to reflect these changes. Under existing law, the definition of domestic violence only includes abuse perpetrated by a current or former spouse, cohabitant or biological co-parent. Dating abuse does not trigger the firearm prohibition, despite the fact that current or former dating partners commit approximately half of all domestic violence homicides. Likewise, people convicted of misdemeanor stalking are not prohibited from owning firearms, although stalking is a key indicator of lethality; a 10-city study found that 76 percent of women killed by intimate partners were stalked before being murdered, and 85 percent of women who survive murder attempts were stalked.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2015and its companion bill from Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Minn.) and Robert Dold (D-Ill.), Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, expand the existing domestic violence prohibitor to include dating abuse and stalking. These narrowly focused domestic violence bills could save countless lives without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. We at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, our colleagues at other organizations, advocates across the country, victims and survivors call on Congress to demonstrate their commitment to ending domestic violence by passing these two bills. The time for talk is over—it is time to take a stand!






If a man or a woman stays in a violent home, their life will continually rotate around the cycle of violence. Help is available. Look at this cycle and see if it is familiar to you.

If a man or a woman stays in a violent home, their life will continually rotate around the cycle of violence. Help is available. Look at this cycle and see if it is familiar to you.

Freedom Project

Today, I was watching CNN International. I like getting the broader picture of the news. They ran a special program called Freedom Project. It was about young girls in sexual slavery. I wasn’t sure I could watch a program with girls my youngest granddaughter’s age. I did. I am glad I did. I want to share what I learned. Now, this program was focused on America. I feel if it is happening here, then it is also happening in Europe, Asia, India, Africa and South America.


There are, in fact, people who are working to get young girls out and to help them have a life off of the streets. It isn’t easy. But young women are being helped and are now free for the first time in years.


Sexual slavery is not a kind of job any woman would sign up for. But for young ones from very dysfunctional homes, victims of physical and emotional abuse and often familial rape, the pitch to run away and have money and a glamorous life is irresistible.


They are shown a world so far from the one they come from that it is overwhelming. The glamour doesn’t last long though. For this is the world of the pimp and the world costs a lot of money. The pimp or the gang is not going to go out and earn that money.


In the twenty first century, girls are introduced to drugs and often IV drugs. Once they are hooked, they are putty in the hands of the pimps. They are often on drugs 24/7 so they can service men without stop. They won’t live long like this but the owners will just steal another girl to replace them. Then the girls are tattooed with gang signs, initials of the pimp or dollar signs or other signs which indicate money. The world now knows they are owned. They are the property of some man or men.


Every time the girls look at their bodies, they see the tattoos and think this is their life, there is nothing else to look forward to. Just men handling their bodies. Several girls interviewed told how some of the johns would hold guns to their heads, one had a man hold a knife to her belly during the act.


Some girls are helped out of the street life. They meet people who have made it their life to look for and find these young girls and help them find the person they used to be. It is a big job for the girls and for the people who get them out.


One thing that happens is that when a girl is ready, they are taken to a few certain tattoo shops where the signs that they are property and belong to someone are turned into a beautiful tattoos that obliterate the original one. Butterflies, wings and other such tattoos remind the girls that they are now free. They belong to no one but themselves.


There are some companies that will hire these girls and help them to learn skills which will, in time, enable them to get a job in the real world. They gain confidence and learn how to interact with others in the ways that will help them fit into the real world.


This is all wonderful but there are still thousands of young girls out on the streets. This is part of the reason that family violence must be eradicated. Physical and emotional abuse can make street life look glamorous. Incest within families must end and rape of all kinds must end. There needs to be loving bonds within families and every member of a family needs to know how important they are and how much they are loved.


Survivors of sexual slavery have a new chance at life. But they often carry a criminal record with them as well as the horror of the memories which will never go away. Just like the fight many vets face when they return from war and have PTSD.


The present world is harsh and crippling. It has the ability to completely destroy young lives and to change people from the person they were meant to be to a contorted version of that person. This is an ugly subject and I know it is hard to read, but we can’t turn away and avoid reality. We need to find ways to help. Helping one person is saving that person from living in a hell on earth.








US NATIONAL TIP HOTLINE        1-888-373-7888

A project of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center


Sexual slavery can be stopped, if we all want it to stop

Sexual slavery can be stopped, if we all want it to stop

Gun Control Facts

After the many fatal shootings that have happened recently, I began looking for more information on Guns in America — looking for real facts, not just supposition.

I found a website,, which contained an entire webpage on Gun Control.  I’ve excerpted some of the information, and several of the provided graphs, below, for your information.  There is a great deal more information on the actual page,, for those who are as interested as I am in separating gun fact from gun fiction.


I’ll be interested to see what you think of this, and if it falls in line with your beliefs — pro or con — regarding gun control










This research is based upon the most recent available data in 2010. Facts from earlier years are cited based upon availability and relevance, not to slant results by singling out specific years that are different from others. Likewise, data associated with the effects of gun control laws in various geographical areas represent random, demographically diverse places in which such data is available.


Many aspects of the gun control issue are best measured and sometimes can only be measured through surveys,[1]but the accuracy of such surveys depends upon respondents providing truthful answers to questions that are sometimes controversial and potentially incriminating.[2] Thus, Just Facts uses such data critically, citing the best-designed surveys we find, detailing their inner workings in our footnotes, and using the most cautious plausible interpretations of the results.


Particularly, when statistics are involved, the determination of what constitutes a credible fact (and what does not) can contain elements of personal subjectivity. It is our mission to minimize subjective information and to provide highly factual content. Therefore, we are taking the additional step of providing readers with four examples to illustrate the type of material that was excluded because it did not meet Just Facts’ Standards of Credibility.


General Facts


* Firearms are generally classified into three broad types: (1) handguns, (2) rifles, and (3) shotguns.[3] Rifles and shotguns are both considered “long guns.”


* A semi-automatic firearm fires one bullet each time the trigger is pulled, ejects the shell of the fired bullet, and automatically loads another bullet for the next pull of the trigger. A fully automatic firearm (sometimes called a “machine gun”) fires multiple bullets with the single pull of the trigger.[4]




* As of 2009, the United States has a population of 307 million people.[5]


* Based on production data from firearm manufacturers,[6] there are roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in the United States as of 2010. Of these, about 100 million are handguns.[7]


* Based upon surveys, the following are estimates of private firearm ownership in the U.S. as of 2010:


 Households With a Gun  Adults Owning a Gun  Adults Owning a Handgun
Percentage  40-45%  30-34%  17-19%
Number  47-53 million  70-80 million  40-45 million



* A 2005 nationwide Gallup poll of 1,012 adults found the following levels of firearm ownership:


Category  Percentage Owning

a Firearm

Households  42%
Individuals  30%
Male  47%
Female  13%
White  33%
Nonwhite  18%
Republican  41%
Independent  27%
Democrat  23%



* In the same poll, gun owners stated they own firearms for the following reasons:


Protection Against Crime  67%
Target Shooting  66%
Hunting  58%



Crime and Self-Defense


* Roughly 16,272 murders were committed in the United States during 2008. Of these, about 10,886 or 67% were committed with firearms.[11]


* A 1993 nationwide survey of 4,977 households found that over the previous five years, at least 0.5% of households had members who had used a gun for defense during a situation in which they thought someone “almost certainly would have been killed” if they “had not used a gun for protection.” Applied to the U.S. population, this amounts to 162,000 such incidents per year. This figure excludes all “military service, police work, or work as a security guard.”[12]


* Based on survey data from the U.S. Department of Justice, roughly 5,340,000 violent crimes were committed in the United States during 2008. These include simple/aggravated assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, rapes, and murders.[13] [14] [15] Of these, about 436,000 or 8% were committed by offenders visibly armed with a gun.[16]


* Based on survey data from a 2000 study published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology,[17] U.S. civilians use guns to defend themselves and others from crime at least 989,883 times per year.[18]


* A 1993 nationwide survey of 4,977 households found that over the previous five years, at least 3.5% of households had members who had used a gun “for self-protection or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere.” Applied to the U.S. population, this amounts to 1,029,615 such incidents per year. This figure excludes all “military service, police work, or work as a security guard.”[19]


* A 1994 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans use guns to frighten away intruders who are breaking into their homes about 498,000 times per year.[20]


* A 1982 survey of male felons in 11 state prisons dispersed across the U.S. found:[21]


  • 34% had been “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim”
  • 40% had decided not to commit a crime because they “knew or believed that the victim was carrying a gun”
  • 69% personally knew other criminals who had been “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim”[22]


Click here to see why the following commonly cited statistic does not meet Just Facts’ Standards of Credibility: “In homes with guns, the homicide of a household member is almost 3 times more likely to occur than in homes without guns.”


└ Vulnerability to Violent Crime


* At the 2013 homicide rate, roughly one in every 285 Americans will be murdered in the course of their lives.[23]


* A U.S. Justice Department study based on crime data from 1974-1985 found:


  • 42% of Americans will be the victim of a completed violent crime (assault, robbery, rape) in the course of their lives.
  • 83% of Americans will be the victim of an attempted or completed violent crime.
  • 52% of Americans will be the victim of an attempted or completed violent crime more than once.[24]


* A 1997 survey of more than 18,000 prison inmates found that among those serving time for a violent crime, “30% of State offenders and 35% of Federal offenders carried a firearm when committing the crime.”[25]



accidents_fatal accidents_nonfatal chicago chicago_handguns dc england florida michigan texas




Gun violence in America

5-year-old boy finds gun, shoots baby brother in head

Comments on the News

I am doing something I have never have done before. But it is a bad day for news. I have to explain what I am feeling.

1. An American Jihadist got into a car bomb and was in the process of driving it into the Wichita Airport. A wonderful FBI agent somehow got suspicious. I didn’t hear anything about the FBI agent but I feel we owe him a debt of gratitude. Thank you for saving all of the lives that would have probably been killed. Thank you for your bravery.

2. We had another school shooting today. Another one in Colorado. A young man went into the school asking for a particular teacher. They got the teacher out. He shot two students and then shot himself to death. My heart breaks for the families and the teacher who must be feeling horrible. I feel terrible for the family of the shooter. How do you handle knowing that your child was able to plan and carry something like this out? It has been fourteen years since the first school shooting. Fourteen years of nightmares because we do not help people with mental health problems. Fourteen years because parents leave guns lying around. Fourteen years of kids not knowing how to handle their emotions, playing violent computer games and living with bullying, hatred and violence surrounding them.

3. My oldest daughter is a special education teacher in the South, in  one of the public schools, a kindergartner brought a high powered handgun to school today. If people have guns why do they not have gun safes? How could this child’s parents leave this gun around the house where the child could get this? I believe this is neglect and parents who leave guns lying around should be charged with neglect. It is neglect and they are responsible, not a five year old.

4. A sixteen year old boy was with his friends in his car, speeding and hit another car. His alcohol levels were three times the legal limit. He also had Valium in his system. He hit the other car and killed a whole family. Then, he fled the scene. Luckily there were witnesses. But a judge has determined that he was too rich to understand the consequences. No, I am not kidding. He will serve no jail time. His parents get to put him in a $450,000 rehab facility instead. Is this judge crazy? I think so. I don’t know how rich people raise their children but they have a responsibility to teach them right from wrong.

5. My three oldest grandchildren have been in a school lockdown multiple times. I am grateful that there was no shooting despite guns being present. Another of my grandsons who lives here in a suburb of Cleveland isin first grade and today was their first practice going into lockdown. I am glad they are practicing but it is a horror that it is necessary.

6. And the Republicans do not want to extend unemployment benefits. They are worried about a huge resurgence of the “Welfare Queen.” We just had the worst depression since 1929. These people aren’t lazy, our economy is still healing. Letting these families starve, loose cars and homes really shows how Compassionate Republicans are. Shame on you. Two weeks before the most important Christian holiday, a holiday full of love and kindness of spirit, and this is their response. I think hypocrisy is ugly and we need to be authentic instead of judgmental.

I grew up in the fifties and I am an old hippie. I never had to worry about anything when I was in school except for grades and tests. I walked a mile each way and was never in danger. So me and my arm full of books and my viola made the walk twice a day in perfect safety. I would never let a child do that today. It isn’t safe. School shootings, human trafficking and pedophiles have turned childhood into a possible horror show. I want young people to know life in America wasn’t always like this. There was a completely different energy in America when I grew up. It seems that no one cares anymore what kind of world we are making our children live in.

I do, and I believe my readers do, too.  We need to do something — write your Congressman or Senator, talk to your friends and neighbors, support responsibility.  And mostly, love the children.  All the children, of any race, creed, color, regardless of who their parents are, or if they have both parents, or one parent, traditional parents or otherwise.  All children deserve love, and we owe it to them to love them all.


This hate and intolerance is not the America that our Founding Fathers dreamt of and fought for 

ONe Nation Under Guns — Reposted from

One Nation Under The Gun: Thousands Of Gun Deaths Since Newtown

Posted: 03/22/2013 9:38 pm EDT  |  Updated: 06/05/2013 5:16 pm EDT

Jason Cherkis

One Month

Devin Aryal

On the morning of his murder, Feb. 11, Devin Aryal, 9, dressed to the ticking of his race car clock. His collection of stuffed animals, won from those arcade claw games, stared back at him from their perch on his top bunk.

Devin felt he had outgrown the cutesy animal prints that had adorned the walls of his Oakdale, Minn., bedroom. He was in fourth grade now, after all. Without tellinganyone, he had yanked the prints off his walls one by one. He had yet to decide how to fill up the blank spaces.

The night before, Devin had watched the Disney channel and played with his pirate gear and a couple of toy dinosaurs on his mother’s bed. He snuggled with her on the couch and watched more television. This had become their sleepy ritual. He’d explain the plot of the television show they were watching, or recount the highlights of his day — a winning soccer goal, a new level beaten on one of his Nintendo DSi games.

“The morning was usual,” recalled Melissa Aryal, Devin’s mother. “We got up and we got ready. I dropped him off at day care at 7:45.”

On the seven-minute ride in their minivan, Aryal, 39, kept the radio off so she could talk with Devin. “He had so much to say,” she recalled. Their morning conversation always ended the same.

“I love you,” Aryal told her son.

“I love you more,” he replied.

“He would always win that game,” Aryal said. “It always gave me a good feeling.”

Thousands of gun deaths since Newtown
The Huffington Post has tracked gun-related deaths in the United States since Newtown. Click here for an interactive map of those who have died.

After a 34-year-old stranger with a 9 mm pistol and a backpack full of bullets shot Devin in the head for no apparent reason, Aryal only hears her son in her dreams. She is wrecked by the world she wakes up to, a world without Devin. He has become, for her, a composite of memories, conversation and images.

In the first week after the Newtown, Conn., massacre on Dec. 14, more than 100 people in the U.S. were killed by guns. In the first seven weeks, that number had risen to at least 1,285 gunshot killings and accidental deaths. A little more than three months after Newtown, there have been 2,244. The Huffington Post has recorded every gun-involved murder and accidental shooting death reported in U.S. news media since Newtown, revealing an epidemic that shows no signs of abating. The horrors cannot be contained behind yellow police tape or find resolution in a courtroom. For the victim’s families, the grief deforms all it touches. There’s the fear that the radio will play her favorite ballad. An airplane overhead, like the kind he flew, will strike panic. Home is not safe. One month, two months, two years, nine years since those fatal shots — the grief never leaves.

Mere days into her own grieving, Aryal’s mind is dark, except for memories of her son and his last day. They were close as can be. But no matter how hard she tries, she can‘t remember what Devin wore that day or what Devin talked about that morning. “I hate to say this,” she said. “Nothing stands out. How did I know this was going to be our last morning?”

Aryal rushed to her cashier job at a hardware store after she left Devin at the day care. She had to be there by 8. Her daughter, 19, slept through the morning and missed saying goodbye to Devin.

Devin greeted Pam Reilly, who runs the center in her toy-filled basement. Reilly’s day care, across the street from Devin’s elementary school, had been an early-morning fixture for dozens of kids for decades. It had been Devin’s second home for 5 1/2 years. Reilly was family.

That Sunday, the night before, had been Reilly’s birthday. Devin wanted to know if she had listened to the celebratory voicemail he and his mother had left for her. Then he wanted to talk to her about video games. “He had beaten this level on this game on my birthday,” Reilly recalled. “He thought that was pretty cool.” Aryal would later put that game in his coffin next to his body.

At about 8 a.m., Devin and the eight other children took seats at long black folding tables, surrounded by tall shelves stuffed with books and toys, and ate breakfast. Reilly served chocolate donuts, apple juice and Lucky Charms.

Devin had become the day care’s comforter-in-chief, an expert hand-holder and sharer. When a girl with cerebral palsy had trouble playing tag, he’d run a little slower so she could tag him. When his best friend Aaron got sad about his parents’ divorce, Devin was there to counsel him about the extra presents he would soon get on Christmas. He assured Aaron he’d be okay. Devin had gone through it too.

“Devin was extremely anti-bullying,” said Amy Berger, 38, whose son was close to Devin at the day care. “If he saw anyone being bullied, he would be their friend instantly — in school, day care, it didn’t matter. No one can pick on anyone. He wouldn’t allow it.” In a card left at the church, a classmate wrote of Devin: “He played with me when I was lonely.”

Just before 8:30 a.m., Devin walked across to Oakdale Elementary with Aaron and Aaron’s little sister Emily. Emily had difficulty walking. Devin held her hand.

At an extra gym period, Devin practiced jumping rope for a heart association fundraiser. He returned to Reilly’s basement at about 3:20 p.m., where he stayed until his mother would pick him up after her work. He quietly completed his homework. Forty minutes later, Reilly passed out Rice Krispies bars.

SpongeBob came on the day care television at 4:30 on channel 54. Devin had a choice between a black futon couch and an older brown couch. He played his DSi game system with Aaron. When Aaron left, Devin played with Berger’s son, Nathan.

By 5:30, most kids had left.

Upstairs, Reilly brewed a pot of Folgers regular. She had formed a little coffee club with a few of the mothers, mostly single parents. Camaraderie came easy. As the years went on, Reilly become something of an activity organizer for the grownups, arranging outings to a casino just south of Hastings, games of Yahtzee in her kitchen, horror movie nights in front of the TV in the living room. On nights when “The Bachelor” aired, she’d order pizza and the other mothers would come over and watch.

That night was “Bachelor” night.

Aryal wasn’t sure she could make it. She talked about maybe dropping Devin at her parents’ house. She wasn’t sure.

Devin knew what he wanted. He had decided that his hair was too long and told his mother he wanted a haircut. He could twirl his cowlick. That meant it was time for a trim.

Aryal thought the haircut could wait. It was their last squabble. Devin still wanted to go to the barbershop, Reilly remembered.

“Yes we are!” Devin said.

“I don’t think so,” Aryal said.

“Yes we are!” Devin said.

“I think we’re gonna wait,” Aryal said. “We’ll talk about it in the car.”

Devin put his hood up, grabbed his dark green backpack, and said his goodbyes. As he walked out, Reilly and a day care worker yelled after him: “Zip up your coat! It’s cold out!” Their last words.

He got into the back seat of their forest green 2004 Nissan Quest minivan. Aryal pulled onto 7th Street and began the same drive she had taken for 5 1/2 years. She was thinking it was too cold to go back to Reilly’s house for “The Bachelor.” She just wanted to go home and snuggle with Devin in front of the TV.

Devin talked about the double-digit multiplication homework that he had finished. He kept on about the haircut. His mom assured him she’d take him soon.

Aryal thought she heard a noise coming from under the minivan’s hood. She did not see the man in the green jacket and black jeans firing round after round into the street with a 9 mm handgun.

As Aryal turned left onto Hadley Avenue, her right arm suddenly went numb. Blood spurted.

She pulled into the Rainbow Foods parking lot, jumped from the minivan and dialed 911 on her cellphone. As she was calling, she turned and looked back. The minivan back window was shattered. The emergency dispatch operator came on the phone. Aryal’s eyes found Devin in the back seat. “I just dropped the phone and I ran to him screaming,” she said.

She found her son slumped over in his seat, unconscious. He was making long, deep breathing sounds, and was bleeding from his head. “I’d seen the exit wound on the top of his head when I was holding him,” Aryal remembered.

She held her son’s head in her arms. “I love you. Just hold on. I love you. Just hold on. Mommy’s here.”

Aryal held on to her son until the ambulance took him to the hospital. He died within the hour. She learned the news while she was being treated for her bullet wound.

Two days after the funeral, she said she couldn’t think. “I’m numb and just full of grief,” she said. “I loved being a mom.”

Fifteen days after Devin’s death, she obsessed about her son’s last moments. She stays up every night unable to sleep until five or six in the morning. Her brain can’t stop flipping back to that night. “Seeing how bloody he was,” she explained. “It’s a gunshot.”

The immediate aftermath of violent death is red tape. Vast bureaucracies must be notified. Forms need filling out. Insurance must be contacted. The school must be told. The police must ask questions.

The police came to the house and handed over what was left inside the minivan: Devin’s backpack, a laptop, papers, Devin’s rainbow-colored mittens and scarf, a case of pop, folding chairs they carried to his soccer games, and HappyMeal toys — so much of it now freckled with blood. That same day in February, an official from the school district dropped off Devin’s belongings from his desk: a reading folder, a math folder, a box of Valentine’s Day cards the kids had sent to Devin. Aryal rooted through his backpack and found his completed math homework and handed it over to the school official, not wanting to rob Devin of his final achievement.

Nhan Lap Tran was arrested near the crime scene and charged with murder. Aryal tried not to read the newspaper stories. But she couldn’t help herself. It didn’t matter that she’d end up in tears. She needed to know why. According to the criminal complaint filed in Washington County District Court, police found Tran with a loaded 9 mm handgun about seven feet from where he had been standing. A round was in the chamber. He was wearing a black fanny pack crammed with bullets. He had two more loaded 9 mm magazines in his pockets. In his backpack, police found two large knives and still more ammo.

“Tran admitted to reloading at least once in order to be able to continue shooting,” the police wrote in their complaint. In a search warrant affidavit, police alleged that Tran confessed, saying that he thought cars had been following him, and that the drivers had been parking in front of his house, revving their engines, and waking him up.

Detectives found a note on a desk in Tran’s bedroom. “Random Kill, Fake Plates,” it said. All over his walls, he had scrawled “12/12/12.”

“There’s not a clear motive that we are aware of,” prosecutor Jessica Stott told HuffPost.

A judge granted Tran’s defense attorney Susan Drabek’s request for a mental-health evaluation of her client. “He has a history of mental health issues“ she explained. “The family was without health insurance. … There was not much they could do without health insurance. The resources available to them were virtually nil.”

On the one-month anniversary of Devin’s murder, Aryal attended her first support group meeting. She said she hasn’t managed to do much more than sit on her couch with the TV’s white noise. She has been in her bedroom only to grab clothes. “I try to get in and out of there quickly,” she explained. She keeps her bedroom door closed at all times.

Aryal hasn’t forgotten the toys that Devin left on her bed on his last night. She cannot touch them. She cannot look at them. “They’re waiting for him to come back,” she said.

Six Weeks

Aleya Criswell

Marquita Thompson’s 21-year-old cousin Aleya Criswell had been the unintended victim of a shooting in her Fort Smith, Ark., home town on the afternoon of Dec. 29, 2012. Less than two months later, Thompson woke up in the middle of the night and headed to the bathroom. Peering into the living room, she thought she spotted Aleya sitting on the couch. So she sat down next to her.

“Did it hurt?” Thompson asked this vision of Aleya. She had always wanted to know.

Aleya giggled at her cousin’s question. Yes, she said, she felt pain. “Like I got stung by a bee,” she assured. “That’s what she said,” Thompson recalled. “She told me to tell her mama that she loves her, that’s she’s okay.”

It was about 3 a.m. Thompson thought she talked to Aleya for about seven minutes before she flashed “a real pretty smile” — just like in the photo a Texas aunt had made of her with angel wings — and “floated up to my ceiling.” Thompson was suddenly back in her bed. She felt a little scared

“It was like a dream to me,” Thompson, 29, said. “I don’t know if it was a dream.”

Thompson called her grandmother. It was one of those nights where nobody could sleep. Thompson’s grandmother told her she had just gotten off the phone with Aleya’s mother and one of Aleya’s aunts. Neither had been visited by Aleya. They were just unable to stop thinking about her.

On the phone, Thompson started to cry. The two ended up talking for an hour.

Aleya’s death had felt so unreal, so arbitrary.

The first of the many dominos leading to Aleya’s death fell the night before, at a high school basketball game. The sister of Aleya’s partner fought with the sister’s boyfriend — her baby’s father — after he showed up with someone else. It got heated and physical. But later that night, the two patched things up. Only Aleya’s partner, Nikki, wouldn’t let it go. She arranged to confront her sister’s boyfriend at a park the next day.

Nikki, her mother, Aleya’s brothers and other relatives went along. Aleya took a seat in the back of their van. When the boy didn’t show, they thought better of it and drove off. As they were leaving, they saw the boy with a friend. Jonathan Jackson, 23, opened fire on the van at May Avenue and North L Street, police said.

Aleya’s brothers won’t talk about the shooting. Shortly after it happened, Thompson said she got the brothers into a room. The driver gunned the van as the shots were fired. Once they got down the street, Aleya giggled. “Y’all, I think I was shot,” she said. The brothers thought Aleya was playing. “No, you all. I’ve been shot,” she said. She had been hit in the back.

They drove straight to Sparks Regional Medical Center. Relatives gathered by the dozens in a quiet room. When doctors broke the news Aleya had died, her mother, Clarissa Tucker, fainted. It took at least five minutes to revive her.

A few days earlier, on Christmas, as everyone in the family gathered to open presents, Aleya began to sing in the kitchen. “Everyone got real quiet,” recalled an aunt, Niecy Cannon, 44. “We were just listening to her. I’ve heard her sing but not like that. … Everybody cheered her on. I couldn’t believe it.”

“Y’all heard that?” Aleya asked. Singing was the only time she could get church-mouse shy.

Aleya was slowly coming into her own. After bouncing around, she had gotten seasonal work at the local Walmart that she thought might stick. She had effectively become a mother to her 3-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew — and liked it. She was still young enough to dream big, a bedroom gospel singer with aspirations for a real stage, runway beautiful who wanted to smile at something more than a cellphone camera.

Charles Thompson Sr., 74, Aleya’s grandfather, spends most of his days by himself while his wife Martha works as a health aide. Aleya visited often. He digs in his garden and tinkers with a ’76 Chevy pickup — anything to stay out of the house, he said. Once inside, where he’s not so busy, his granddaughter’s death will hit. “The minute I get in the house and sit down after about five or 10 minutes, I’m thinking about her,” he explained. “I try not to think about her too much but I can’t keep from it.”

Kathie Thompson, 47, one of Aleya’s aunts, said she can no longer listen to music. After a fire, Aleya and her girlfriend had moved into her apartment for a while. Every Sunday, the two would sit and listen to the slow jams program on 102.7 FM. She bought a little radio just for that purpose.

The radio sits on top of her microwave, unplugged. “I just don’t do it anymore. I’m scared I might hear a song she liked on the radio,” Thompson said. “It’s just way too difficult.”

Tucker can still hear Aleya in the house.

“I have been having really bad anxiety attacks,” Tucker said. “I keep thinking I hear her. I have to realize that she’s not really there anymore. I can hear her singing.”

Kathie has seen her, too, once while staying at Tucker’s after Aleya’s death. Her little niece had seen something at the back door and woke her. “We were sleeping in the living room,” Kathie Thompson remembered. “I raised up. It was a shadow. You know how you know a person’s face? It was her … We all just stared at the back window.”

Cannon said she had seen Aleya twice sitting in her living room. A couple of weeks ago, she spotted Aleya standing in her hallway. She couldn’t go back to sleep. Her husband, she said, has yet to see his niece. “He sleeps too hard,” Cannon explained. “If I see her I’ll tap him … I’ll ask him ‘Did you see her?’ and he’ll say no. He’ll go back to sleep and he’ll try to hold me. But that doesn’t help.”

Courtney Robinson, 19, used to date one of Aleya’s brothers, Tino. Even after their breakup, she still talked to Aleya all the time. About 10 days after the killing, she tried to chat with Aleya on Facebook. “Hey girl,” she wrote. It took Robinson five minutes to realize Aleya wasn’t going to write back.

Shortly after Aleya’s death, Tino discovered she had saved a recording on her phone of herself singing. He quickly downloaded it and passed it from one family member to another and another. It’s been on heavy rotation since. “We all got it on our phone,” Kathie said.

Marquita said she thinks Aleya recorded it in her bathroom. Tucker insisted she recorded her daughter in her dining room before Thanksgiving. It’s one minute, 19 seconds long and Aleya doesn’t start to sing until 17 seconds in.

The slow R&B sounds far away and distorted. You need headphones to hear Aleya’s soft, high pleas. She knows this is not a good take. Midway, she complains that her voice is cracking. Toward the very end, she says half-jokingly, “I fucked up.” She barely raises her voice above the canned beat.

“You say you wanna be with me,” she coos just high enough so you can hear the words. “But you cannot right now.”

Kathie plays that one minute and 19 seconds every morning. “That’s all I do,” she said. “I have to hear her voice. … That’s the only voice we got.”

10 Months

Melanie Colon

Gun violence happened before Sandy Hook elementary and the Aurora theater shooting. In some instances, the media took an interest. Several print outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, reported on the discovery of Melanie Colon’s body on May 12. The 22-year-old mother had gone missing a few days earlier. She was found in a wooded area behind an apartment building, a 10 or 15-minute drive north of her home. Colon was struck six times at close range with 9 mm bullets. Reynaldo Torres, the male friend she was last seen with, hasn’t been seen since.

Outside Melanie’s house is a large spray-painted mural of her framed in bands of heavenly yellow. The mural, hung on a utility pole, is can’t-miss on their skinny street in North Philadelphia. At night, when the feeling strikes, the family will illuminate the sign with white Christmas lights or candles on a wicker shelf they’ve tied to the pole. They’ll offer Catholic prayers to her.

Inside the house, there’s another large picture of Melanie on the mantel in the front room with more pictures tucked into the frame. Upstairs, there’s her bedroom. It’s a sunny Tuesday in early March. But it’s like her murder happened yesterday.

“Yo man, I didn’t know that was your daughter.”

The man was in Louis Colon’s ear. He had come across the narrow street, this man in the orange Polo shirt, to give Colon a grip and a message. “When you find that nigger, I got some hot shit,” he promised. “We’ll light [him] up.”

Colon just nodded, slumped his rounded shoulders, and made his I-got-to-goes to the man.

He jumped into his silver SUV. He just wanted to take his murdered daughter’s 5-year-old son to the playground. He’d just gotten off the phone with his therapist and was talking about seeing him that evening. Those sessions had been a near daily activity since the murder.

He knew the man in the Polo shirt from prison, where they served together — Colon doing four years for distributing cocaine nearly a decade ago. The man had recently gotten out. Colon was surprised to see him, and even more surprised how little he’d changed. “Yo, I don’t like that,” Colon said from behind the wheel as his car snaked past his neighborhood’s trash-lined vacant houses and bombed out lots. “If I see him, I’m going to avoid him.”

Colon’s face, already damp, started to perspire more heavily. “I just want to leave,” he continued, his voice rough and low. He has asthma and keeps an albuterol pump with him at all times. Every breath sounded like effort. “I should have never came back to the neighborhood. If I could have never came back to this neighborhood, maybe my daughter would still be alive.” In the neighborhood, he’d been robbed at gunpoint twice. A week after Melanie was killed, a man was fatally shot in the face. His wife found the man and comforted him until the police arrived.

This revenge offer was not unusual, Colon said. As soon as Melanie’s body was found, the whole neighborhood seemed to offer itself up as gun dealer, getaway driver, whatever needed to be done. Friends, associates, just guys Colon knew as faces on the block urged him toward revenge. He hated the pressure.

“The worst part is thinking about it — murdering somebody,” Colon said, pacing in his front room, Melanie’s big picture staring down at him from the mantel. “That’s not me. I wasn’t brought up like that. … They think it’s going to trigger me.” He’d gotten close to 10 offers, he said, most right after Melanie was killed.

“I had to get rough with a guy,” Colon said. “Not rough, but a little hostile. … What good is it going to do? For real, I don’t want anymore killing. I don’t want anybody else to die.”

It’s hard keeping it together. Colon and his wife Marybell, who he married after his prison stint, are raising nine children and grandchildren between them. They have Melanie’s son on weekends. Marybell works during the day at a nonprofit that helps teens and young adults earn their GED and enroll in college. At night, after a few Budweisers or Coronas, Colon will put on some of Melanie’s favorite salsa or merengue music and dance in the street staring up at her mural. Sometimes he doesn’t remember doing it.

Colon suffers from depression and has for years; he was diagnosed with it in prison. He said he felt guilt about getting locked up and not being there for his kids. He and Marybell have been going to Bible study on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. Every day, at noon, Marybell calls her husband. “Where are you?” she asks. “What are you doing?”

“He doesn’t talk about suicide or anything like that. You just don’t know,” explained Marybell, who has known Colon since grade school. “Because of that, I watch him a lot, you know? I keep in touch with him. We all keep in touch with each other. We are all watching each other.” Every night, Marybell goes through two questions with Colon: What was your high? What was your low?

Louis Colon and Melanie's son this past ChristmasWhen he is not going to counseling, Colon operates as the family’s safety net. Throughout the day, he checks in on everyone, taking care of doctor appointments, handling the groceries, making runs to the playground. When his schizophrenic son can’t sleep, Colon will stay up all night with him. Another son has autism and lives with a grandmother down the block. If he calls in need of one-on-one time, Colon is there, ready with his son’s favorite McDonald’s. Around the corner, he makes sure to look after his sister and her three kids. “I call him ‘The Eagle,'” Marybell said.

The morning of Melanie’s disappearance, Colon’s arm went numb. He thought it might be early signs of a heart attack. Melanie urged him to go to the emergency room. He had to be transferred to another hospital. The checkup took all day. After running an errand, Melanie returned home. She talked to her father one last time. “She’s home,” he said. “That’s what comes into my head — she’s safe.” He pointed to his head. “I told her stay home with the baby.”

During my visit 10 months after the murder, the home was bare, as if preserved as a Melanie museum. There was no clutter. No warm food smells. Tuesday night was Melanie’s night to cook. Two weeks ago, Marybell found one of Melanie’s green dress shirts in a pile of clothes in the basement. She put the shirt up to her nose. “It smelled like her,” she recalled. “I just bawled. I couldn’t take it.” She went upstairs and showed Colon.

Louis’ son, Ralphiee, 18, discovered his parents in communion over the shirt. “You want to see something crazy?” he asked. He went upstairs and retrieved a mesh laundry bag full of Melanie’s clothes from his closet. The bag had been his secret. He met the family in the front room and offered up the bag filled with her old shirts and long johns.

“Everyone started pulling clothes and smelling them and crying,” Marybell said. “It was like Melanie was still there,” Ralphiee explained. “Her scent was still on the clothes.”

By then, Ralphiee had decided that he couldn’t live in the house anymore. “We’re angry all the time,” he explained. “It’s mixed emotions at my house. My sister lived with us. She lived with mom. She lived with dad. I hate being in this house. I hate being home.” He didn’t make a big deal about it. He just moved into his younger cousin Dominic’s house. Even there, he wakes up crying.

Melanie had been Ralphiee’s safety net after his father went to prison and his biological mother entered rehab. Melanie made sure that he was picked up from school, that he was well fed, that he was happy. Even after their father returned home and married Marybell, Melanie could be fiercely protective. Just a few weeks before her death, Melanie heard that Ralphiee had tussled with a guy who was high on PCP at a nearby Chinese carry-out. It was past midnight, but Melanie grabbed a bat and went looking for the guy. When she found him hiding in a house, he refused to come outside and fight her. “If anything would happen to her brothers and sisters, Melanie was on it,” Marybell said.

Ralphiee was the last family member to see her alive. He was supposed to go with her that evening, but he couldn’t fit in Torres’ Mazda two-seater. Melanie said she was just going to get her son something to eat; she’d be right back. In his dreams, she looks the same way she left him on May 8. “Her hair is short, blond, crimped-up like it was,” he said. “She had her black tights on, her black flats, and she had her checkered red and white shirt on. She looked really beautiful that day.”

Ralphiee was in the process of finishing high school. Now he visits her grave at night and posts photos of those trips to the Facebook tribute page he created. It’s become his home — the place where he can write about his lowest moments, post from an endless cache of old snapshots (Melanie at prom dressed in lavender silk, Melanie with her son, Melanie with her eyes closed blowing a kiss), encourage justice for his sister and chat with “#Team Melanie.”

“I’m not letting MY SISTERS CASE GET COLD,” Ralphiee wrote his Team recently. “Don’t never give up.”

Revenge means helping find his sister’s killer and seeing him get justice in a courtroom. About four months ago, Ralphiee said he got a tip from a girl in Camden. The girl claimed to have spotted the man Melanie was last seen with — Torres. Ralphiee texted her. He and his father arranged to meet her in Philly. “I thought it was real,” Ralphiee said.

Colon remembered his heart pounding as they waited in the car for the girl outside a downtown shopping mall. “It was crazy, man. We really thought, oh man.” He pauses from his seat on the couch. He just stops talking. They waited three hours. But she never showed.

Detective Charles Grebloski, one of two Philadelphia police investigators assigned to Melanie’s murder, said the case is cold. “Right now, Torres is the only lead in the case,” he said. “There’s nothing. They dumped her in a park, a public park. We have no witnesses there of her getting dumped. It looks like she was just dumped there. You could tell it was there for a day or two.”

In October, Colon’s namesake, “Little Louis,” was arrested after fighting with one of his father’s friends. The friend had fallen on hard times and had been staying with the family. Marybell and Ralphiee think Little Louis’s grief sparked the fight.

Little Louis had argued with Melanie before her death. He never got the chance to offer a real apology. His anger issues have gotten worse. He is still in jail on charges stemming from his arrest.

The police thought Little Louis had a gun and searched the house. They didn’t find one. The family is conflicted over whether Little Louis ever brought a gun home.

Marybell said she thinks he had something. Colon said he confronted his son about it and he told him it was a BB gun. “He wouldn’t lie to me,” Colon insisted. “I don’t think he would.”

Although he never saw the gun, Ralphiee is sure his brother had one. He said Little Louis had told him about the gun, that it was for protection. “After Melanie, you can’t trust nobody out here,” Ralphiee remembered Little Louis telling him.

“I thought it was a real gun,” Ralphiee said. “He always told me he was going to get a license to carry. Do you need a license to carry a BB gun?” Marybell said she worried that if he had a gun, he might use it on whoever he thought murdered Melanie.

In mid-March, Colon’s therapist threatened to call the police on him during a morning session. “He wanted me to talk about my daughter. He wanted to ask me some questions about what I’ve been going through. I didn’t feel like it. He said ‘you’re not [being] compliant.’”

Compliant. That’s a prison word. Colon had enough. He kicked a chair across the therapist’s room. “I felt a little relief,” he said.

1 Year, 11 Months

Cory Roberson

Al Roberson, 61, lives next door to the house where his 26-year-old son Cory was murdered on March 25, 2011. He sees the one-story wooden house, beige with white trim, every day, and still regularly makes a pilgrimage to the property’s edge in the old part of Bakersfield, Calif. He has the blueprint memorized. He thinks sometimes he can see Cory inside peering out from the window in the room where he was shot to death. It’s been vacant since.

The house was last occupied by Roberson’s sister. Moments after Cory was shot, she ran next door and told him what had happened. She had the gun — what looked like a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle — in her hand, he said.

Roberson wondered what his sister was doing with the rifle. He didn’t waste time trying to get a straight answer. He ran to Cory, finding him on the floor in a pool of his own blood in the back room.

Cory was shot in the back of the head behind his right ear. He wasn’t moving. Roberson held his son in his arms and begged him to wake up. He realized Cory wasn’t breathing, and laid him down. “Not him Lord,” Roberson said, standing in prayer. He could do nothing but pace in circles in the room, trying to think of what to do, and what to say. “My whole body just got limp,” he remembered. “I was weak. I was in a daze.” The ambulance arrived.

The events that led to Cory’s death are still being debated. But the identify of Cory’s killer was never in dispute. Cory’s 21-year-old cousin, Daniel Torres, confessed to being the triggerman.

Self-defense, he claimed. He said he’d been fighting with Cory and had fired the gun by accident in panic. Torres’ small build was no match for Cory, who was 6-foot-3 and linebacker strong — at least that was the theory. Torres wasn’t so confident in his tale to stick around after the murder. He fled the crime scene in a ’97 Oldsmobile sedan, according to the one news brief that told the story. He didn’t surrender to police until two days later.

A definitive narrative of Cory’s murder would never be dissected in a courtroom or find a verdict from a jury box. The two cousins would never get their day in court. Law enforcement authorities saw enough in Torres’ account that they decided not to prosecute him. “Every lead we got was followed up and investigated extensively,” explained Bakersfield police Detective Richard Dossey. “The District Attorney’s Office said it was a self-defense issue. … I know the family was not happy. However it was not my final decision.”

The investigation instead continued among family members. Those on the Torres side avoided all discussion of the subject. On the other side, Cory’s mother and former girlfriend talked to witnesses and tested their own common sense. That side, Cory’s side, found big holes in Torres’ story. It’s split the family further apart. There may never be a reasonable outcome.

“There are so many levels I feel about my son,” explained Camille Mooney, 52, Cory’s mother. “The loss goes on and on and on. Cory was our protector. He was the man of the family. It was just me and his sister.” Mooney and Roberson split up when Cory was 5 years old.

“We live in a neighborhood that could be dangerous. We did never worry about it because we had Cory,” she said. “He was well known. He protected our family. I feel so exposed to the world because I don’t have my son to protect us anymore. People have come into our yard and stolen things that were in our yard. That would never have happened when our son was in the yard.”

Cory’s protective nature had once extended to his killer. Mooney and Roberson both recalled that a year prior to Cory’s death, Torres had called on Cory to help him get rid of a gun. Torres had supposedly shot somebody at a convenience store in the southwest part of Bakersfield. Cory raced across town to help his cousin dispose of the evidence. He took the gun and went to a friend’s wrecking yard and had it melted down, Mooney said.

As a teenager, Cory had tried on a thug persona, but it didn’t fit. Unlike a lot of his peers, who entered the ranks of Bakersfield’s Bloods, Cory didn’t need a gun to make a living. He drove an 18-wheeler and then did temp factory work. He dated his high-school sweetheart Irene Delgado off and on his entire adult life. Due to a childhood injury, Cory could not conceive children. When he and Delgado broke up and she had two daughters by other fathers, Cory raised them as his own. He was in the delivery room for her oldest. They had broken up again just a few months before his death. But they were never far from a reconciliation. “If he loved you, he never stopped loving you,” Delgado said. “He loved hard, I guess you could say. If he loved you like with me, he was always in tune with his feelings. He knew at an early age who he was.”

Cory was alone on the road a lot and had time to think. If he struggled with something, he shared openly. He could be the opposite of macho, showing up at his mother’s doorstep just looking to talk. “He trusted me enough to lay in my lap and cry as a grown adult man,” Mooney said. “It’s a rare thing that a mother gets to have with her son.”

Now, Delgado has developed a routine if she needs to cry over Cory’s death. She waits for her daughters to go to sleep. Then she goes to her living room and puts on their favorite songs — “Second Nature” by Destiny’s Child is one — and looks at pictures of Cory. She has a specific spot on the couch — “the left side” — where she will sit.

“Usually when it’s late, I will cry myself to sleep,” Delgado explained.

The Cory who cried in his mother’s lap, who evokes tears, who listened to Destiny’s Child, isn’t the Cory as described by Torres’ family on the night of his death. That Cory, they say, wanted to kill his cousin. Despite repeated requests, neither Torres nor his mother would comment for this story.

Mooney’s side has heard a different version of events. Earlier that day, Cory thought Torres’ girlfriend had disrespected his aunt. Cory, who had been drinking, and Torres had words. When Roberson saw them hours before the shooting, he thought they had cooled off. He said he saw Torres take Cory home.

Mooney said Torres dropped Cory at her house. He was laughing and joking, she remembered, maybe a little buzzed. “I didn’t even know they were having words,” she added. “He didn’t even mention it. It couldn’t have been that important.”

Delgado had heard directly that the two had been hanging out and laughing at a convenience store an hour or so before the shooting. She told me she passed on every tip to the Bakersfield detective — even the rumors about the shooting being premeditated — but never heard back.

If Delgado can find no resolution, she’s decided to create one. She recently started writing a novelization of her life with Cory and his murder. In the novel version, she calls herself “Adonia” and Cory “Thaylen.” When they first meet, there are references to gods and goddesses, charm at full throttle.

“She opened her eyes then looked around as she began to have a feeling that someone somewhere was watching her close by. Her eyes caught his. She didn’t know who he was but, he was the most beautiful man she had undoubtedly ever seen. Her heart was stuck in her throat and she felt as if it were beating 100 times a minute. Adonia didn’t believe in love at first sight, had always debated with people about the subject matter. However, the feeling that consumed her eyes, body, mind and soul, well, she accepted with defeat what she was now experiencing would be the closest involvement to that emotion she would probably ever feel in her life He knew he needed her now and would always need her. He had been very aware of how he felt about people at an early age. He knew even if he wasn’t honest with anyone else he had to be honest with himself. Opening up his heart to love was a rare commodity but when he did he loved hard. He couldn’t fathom what it was about her that made him want to give her all of him. I don’t even know this girl but I’m gonna find out, he thought to himself.”

Like in real life, Delgado said that the Cory character will be murdered by a family member. But this time, she and Cory will have a child together. “His son is going to end up seeking justice once he grows up,” she explained. “It’s going to end up being a thought-out successful way. … He figures out some evidence to convict the guy.”

Roberson hasn’t found such an outlet. He just keeps watching over that house. He’s the one caught in the middle between the families. It’s still his nephew who murdered his son. “My son was pretty big, okay?” he said. “I feel maybe Daniel was scared. [Cory] might have jumped at him or said something and the gun went off. That’s what I’m hoping.”

But Roberson knows better. “It looked like the way Cory was laying, he might have been sitting down,” he said. He wondered how his son came to be shot in the back of the head, and why his sister took the murder weapon.

“I wished it was somebody else,” he explained. “I would have handled it myself.” He told me he would have “emptied a gun” into his son’s killer. “But it was my sister’s kid. I just swallowed it. Cried inside.”

On Jan. 20 of this year, Cory’s sister’s fiancé, Otis Taylor II, was fatally shot outside his grandmother’s house in Bakersfield. Two decades earlier, Taylor’s father had been killed blocks from there.

On March 12, Cory’s sister gave birth to a baby boy. She named him Otis Taylor III.

Mooney said only Torres’ sister has come to visit the newborn. The rest of that side of the family has stayed away. “They haven’t laid eyes on him,” she said. “That’s great with me.”

Nine Years, Two Months

Chris Heyman

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Jenny Heyman drove 45 miles or so from Riverside to Whittier, Calif., just south of Los Angeles. There was traffic all the way. She felt relief when she finally made it to the flower shop near the cemetery. The people in the shop know her well and are patient with her. After reviewing the flowers that were available, she made sure to pick out something that would last in the heat — an important consideration she had learned from trial and error over the years. Roses or daisies, she found out, can’t hold up in the Southern California heat. She picked purple chrysanthemums and ordered three dozen.

Heyman then made her way to Rose Hills Memorial Park, Rainbow Gardens Lot 1035, Grave No. 3, to see her son, Chris, who was 17 when he was killed. To the east, she had a view of a meandering pond and tall, swaying weeping willows. It was unusually hot, about 95 degrees. Heyman brought an umbrella to shade the headstone.

Chris was born on Nov. 6, 1986, and died on Jan. 18, 2004. On the headstone, he beams from his high school yearbook photo, sitting in front of a generic sky blue background in a maroon-collared shirt and dark tie. A surfboard under a palm tree and an airplane had been engraved into the black stone. On their memorial website, his parents wrote: “struggled a long time to finally get this done.”

The headstone lies flat on the ground. Heyman took out an edger and cleared away the scruff. After she was finished, she poured water over the headstone and dried it with a white terry cloth towel. She then got out a toothbrush to scrub the grime from the etchings, her back to the blazing heat. Finally, once the headstone was cool enough and clean enough, she rubbed it with a waxy gel called “cultured marble clear polish.”

“I needed to see him,” Heyman said. “It calms me down to be with him.” Her mother-in-law had just undergone heart surgery. Her daughter and her daughter’s family had moved in with Heyman and her husband, Bert, temporarily while they sell their house. For the past three months, she had been having pain in her joints that doctors couldn’t seem to figure out. At times, she hasn’t been able to walk.

Heyman talked to Chris about “everything and nothing.”

Heyman had been there for hours and still wasn’t done. “I’m still cleaning it,” she said. Finally, she declared, “it looks pretty again.” As she got ready to leave, she cried. She gave him a kiss and walked away. She hit rush hour and it was hell getting home. In the car, she sang along to Usher, remembering that Chris once danced to the R&B singer as he watched him on TV. For a while after his murder, she’d talk to Chris while she was driving.


Gun deaths in America

Gun deaths in America


death due to guns: men, women and children

death due to guns  : men, women and children


Heyman had waited up the night Chris was killed. He hadn’t made it home before curfew. Normally, he’d call. “I was calling him every half-hour and it was getting late and he was supposed to be home and I kept calling him and calling him and he never answered,” she said.

She was alone when the police knocked on her door at 4 a.m. The police showed her Chris’ driver’s license. That’s not Chris, she told them. Her husband Bert was working the graveyard shift at the Miller Brewing Co., Irwindale plant. When the police reached him, they told him he needed to come home right away. “Can’t this wait another couple hours when I get off?” he asked.

A man emptied a modified AP-9 fully-automatic submachine gun into the Mustang that Chris and his friends were driving. They were at the I-210 freeway overpass, about a mile from home. Chris and a friend were killed. The shooter, and an accomplice, had gone out in search of meth, and believed the Mustang had almost hit them. It may have been a different car. That’s all it took. Nearly 50 shell casings were found at the scene.

In the weeks leading up to the shooting, according to trial evidence, the shooter had fired on two others with the machine gun. This time, Chris died instantly in the back seat with fatal wounds to the head and neck. His friend, Blake Harris, slumped over dying in the passenger seat.

The Mustang driver pulled into a McDonald’s and called 911. According to the transcript, he told the dispatcher: “Something happened. My back window is shattered and my two friends are like almost dead. Their heads are bleeding dramatically.” The dispatcher replied: “OK. Was somebody shooting?” The friend explained: “I don’t know. My back windows are shattered and both of them are down bleeding. … One’s bleeding like all over.”

In the aftermath, their town of Rancho Cucamonga and Chris’ high school embraced the Heymans, offering endless tokens of healing. The night after the murders, residents gathered at a nearby church to mourn and tell stories. The mortuary donated Chris’ light blue and silver casket for the standing room-only funeral. The high school instituted two scholarships in Chris’ name and named the December soccer tournament after him. Every year, Heyman and her daughter Tanya hand out the trophies to the winning team. In a rose garden on school grounds, the staff added a plaque in Chris’ memory. The local newspaper put Chris’ death on the front page every day for a month.

The night of Chris’ funeral, Lanny Woosley was arrested and charged with the murders. He was convicted of both murders as well as nine other crimes including three counts of attempted murder and a carjacking. He was sentenced to multiple life sentences. Heyman said the district attorney “was a great guy.”

“He promised us in Chris’ honor he was going to have the trial within two years of when he was killed,” Heyman said. “It was two years to the date that it happened.”

About a year later, the Heymans packed up their house and moved 20 minutes away. It got to be too difficult to even go to the grocery store. There was always someone staring at them and whispering. It didn’t help that the shooter’s mother worked at the checkout. The Heymans were tired of seeing the freeway overpass, of trying to avoid it. All the reminders could leave Jenny Heyman mute.

The conviction and all the anniversary vigils and trophies in her son’s name have never been enough. Heyman had stayed home to raise Chris. Now she spent her days as a postal worker delivering mail. Once on her route in a new development in Corona, she lost it when a Cessna airplane flew overhead. These were the types of planes her son flew in flying lessons. It knocked her hard. Heyman called her boss in tears. He had to tell her to breathe.

The post office job has turned out to be an ironic choice. Even nine years later, grief has a way of disorienting Heyman. When it boils up, she starts forgetting things and can lose her sense of direction. She might as well be on another planet. “It’s something I can’t control,” she said. “All the sudden you don’t realize where you are going. All the sudden I forget everything.”

Boys that look like Chris still throw her. “I have to realize it’s not him,” she said. It takes a moment to shake the sensation. Seeing his old high school friends now as grown men confuses her, too. “I think that timed stopped at Chris’ age,” she explained.

Heyman said that November (the month of his birthday) through January (the month of his death) is her “numb period.” She feels nothing. She can’t control it. She doubts antidepressants will make a difference, so she doesn’t try. The numbing is just the way her body deals.

Every year on Chris’ birthday, she returns to the overpass. Twenty-one was tough. Heyman bought a piece of chain-link fence and tied it to the bridge. She weaved a ribbon through it to spell Chris’ name. She was proud that she thought of something that didn’t blow away. “Sometimes I think it would be easier to be dead than alive,” she said.

The day before our first interview, Heyman said she experienced one of her mental fogs. I asked what triggered it. “Talking to you,” she replied matter of fact.

At least Heyman can talk about Chris. Almost a decade later, the loss still has the power to overwhelm Chris’ dad, Bert. The grief has only gotten worse, more impossible. After a few minutes answering questions, he broke down and stopped talking. He agreed to email me instead. That night, after finishing work at the brewery, he found a quiet office and began to write and cry. He finished the email from home.

“I’ve always loved my kids equally as much as possible, but there is something special about a Dad’s relationship with his Son just as there’s a special relationship a Dad has with his Daughter. I guess for me he was a chip off the old block, that’s my boy, he was my buddy,” he wrote. “All the hopes and dreams that I didn’t achieve, were what I’d hoped he would. And that was taken away. … I’ll always have to think about what could have been.”

Something as routine as eating lunch still sticks out. Every night, Chris would stop whatever he was doing and make his father lunch before his graveyard shift. “How many Dad’s can say that their Son’s made them lunch, yes I paid him $5 bucks a day to make my lunch to give him some extra spending money, but he would be out with his friends and he’d come home before I left for work so he could make sure my lunch was as fresh as could be, he’d then go back out with his friends and still get home by curfew,” he wrote. “Amazing kid, I still miss those sandwiches, I always knew they were made with love. Or when Carl’s Jr came out with the $6 dollar burger and my wife wasn’t home, there would be a Carl’s Jr bag with burger, fries and a coke. He’d buy it with his own money, never expecting me to pay him back. Just wanting to be sure that I had something to eat.”

Bert goes on in another email the next day. I had asked about Chris’ flying lessons. “I can remember Chris’ solo flight like it was yesterday, it was agony and ecstasy all at once. I was as proud as I could be watching him take off in a small two seater Cessna from #24 runway at Cable Airport in Upland, CA. … To watch him take off and bank left was amazing, to watch him circle the airport come in for a touchdown and take right back off exhilarating. He did that I believe 4 times, (we have it on 8mm tape) when he landed and came back to where we were waiting.”

Benjamin Hart, Alana Horowitz, Peter Finocchiaro, Melissa Jeltsen, Brad Shannon, Mark Hanrahan, Adam Goldberg, Chelsea Kiene, William Wrigley, Preston Maddock contributed research to this story.