Women: The Newest Weapon in the Fight Against Gun Violence

A young organization in Boston works to prevent sisters, girlfriends, and wives from becoming unwitting accomplices to shootings, and spreads awareness in the process.

Jessica Davis’s oldest son spent ten years in jail for shooting another man. She herself was questioned by police over a gun that, to this day, she believes her daughter bought and hid for a boyfriend.* So for Davis, joining Boston’s “Operation LIPSTICK,” which launched in April 2012, was personal.

Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killings is the product of a partnership between Boston’s Citizens for Safety and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, with grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice. Leaders of the organization say they aim to educate women about the dangers of “buying, concealing, storing, and holding” guns on behalf of men in their lives who, because of felony records, are prohibited from purchasing firearms themselves.

Buying a gun for such an individual is called “straw purchasing,” and it’s illegal.

The chief harm of straw purchasing, of course, is putting a gun straight from the purchaser’s hands into those of an individual who intends to use it to commit a crime. But straw purchasing also plays a significant role in the gunrunning industry: A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms study found that 46 percent of all firearms trafficking investigations between 1996 and 1998 involved straw purchasers. The same study found that 18 percent of straw purchasers were girlfriends or spouses. The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2012 that the University of Chicago Crime Lab studies suggest women purchase nearly a fourth of the guns that are recovered in Chicago crimes within a year of purchase.

Across the country women are being arrested for straw purchasing. Stevie Marie Vigil, a 22-year-old Colorado woman, was indicted in August of knowingly transferring a firearm to a convicted felon, who used the gun to kill Colorado prison chief Tom Clements. Vigil now faces a possible ten-year sentence in federal prison. Last month in Pennsylvania, Megan Ryan Boyle, another 22-year-old woman, was charged with purchasing guns for her boyfriend, also a convicted felon. She and 21 year-old Stacie Dawson,who is also from Pennsylvania and was charged with buying two handguns illegally for her boyfriend, are among the first to face new stiffer penalties of up to five years in prison for straw purchasing under their state’s new “Brad Fox Law,” named after a Philadelphia-area police officer who was shot and killed by an illegally purchased gun. And in 2008 when Chicago police arrested Ohmari L. Sengstacke, a convicted felon found outside then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s home, the .40-caliber handgun stowed in his car turned out to have been purchased by his wife.

Some women may be unaware that buying a gun for a boyfriend, brother, or cousin could destroy their own lives with jail time or the homicide of someone they know and love.

“I didn’t even know what straw purchasing was,” said Davis. But she found out quickly when the police found a handgun under her car and asked her to testify in court about its origins. Today, Davis and her daughter give differing accounts of the gun’s origin. Davis’s daughter, now 22, admits to having bought a gun in her teenage years, but says it was for her own protection—not a straw purchase—and it wasn’t the one the police found: that one “was from something going on in the area,” stashed under the car by someone else. Davis continues to think her daughter is covering for someone.

Inner-city women like Davis are painfully aware of the toll of gun violence. Young inner-city men—their sons, brothers, and boyfriends—are the most common victims of gun-related homicides in America. A church yard near my home in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, is filled with flags representing the number of people killed or wounded in gun violence in the Boston area so far this year. Victims of gun violence in the Boston area this year alone far outnumber the casualties of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The LIPSTICK organizers note their focus on women is a solution that does not require legislation, which even in the wake of the Newtown shootings has so far proved impossible to pass.

Straw purchasing is becoming more of a target for other organizations and for law enforcement as well. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, has partnered with the The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in a campaign with the message , “Buy a gun for someone who can’t … buy yourself 10 years in jail.” The ATF includes information on recognizing straw purchasers in online trainings for police officers, gun retailers, as well as at the U.S. gun industry’s largest annual trade show: the SHOT show.

Boston’s Citizens for Safety, the roughly 10,000-member organization responsible for launching LIPSTICK, debuted its “Where Do the Guns Come From” project in 2007, but LIPSTICK was borne from its leaders’ “ah-ha” moment a year and a half ago, when they connected the dots between studies that showed women are frequently recruited to illegally buy guns with similar anecdotal evidence they were hearing in the field.

“These women are sometimes in dysfunctional relationships where there is a power imbalance or exploitation or threatening,” said Curtis Ellis, the communications director for Citizens for Safety. “Or they are simply poor and do not understand what they are being asked to do is illegal and can land them in prison and could be directly responsible for putting guns on the streets that can kill their own family members.”

Young women can feel they are buying the guns for their boyfriend, brother or cousin as a tool for mutual protection, particularly if they live in an area where guns are commonplace, said Garen Wintemute, a professor at University of California-Davis and director of the university’s Violence Prevention Research Program. For several years he did research at gun shows wearing a hidden camera. “One learns very quickly [that] straw purchases are often done by women,” he said.

At one gun show, Wintemute witnessed a woman, accompanied by a man, get turned away by a gun dealer after he asked her a few basic questions about the weapon she was looking for and she was speechless.

“The manager said, ‘Get out of here, this is a straw purchase,’” said Wintemute, who then saw the same woman, the male companion still at her side, buy a gun from a different dealer ten minutes later.

“Looking at our records anecdotally and empirically it is young men doing the shooting,” Jake Wark, spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, said. But there is a problem, he said, in the “small subset of the female public who are willing to take a role in obtaining those firearms or holding on to them, knowing they are less likely to be frisked, subject [to] a search warrant or to catch the eye of an officer.”

So why has this issue largely flown under the radar until now? Possibly because from 2003 until 2010 the Tiahrt Amendments, which were passed by Congress with pressure from the gun lobby, prohibited the ATF from releasing information, even to researchers, on where a gun used in a crime had come from. The Centers for Disease Control have also been prohibited from researching firearms-related injuries since 1996. But some change lies ahead. In one of the 23 executive actions President Obama issued after the Newton school shooting, he directed the C.D.C. “to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.”

At a recent Operation LIPSTICK meeting, Kim Odom, a pastor who has become a prominent anti-violence activist in Boston, launched a training workshop by reading a passage from her son’s journal.

“It’s a shame that some people get killed or shot every day. What we really need is peace,” wrote 13-year-old Steven Odom shortly before he was killed in a shooting near his home in 2007.

The dozen women and some men in the room shook their heads. Many have lost a son, brother, or friend to shots fired in surrounding neighborhoods.

“What Steven was articulating is a public health epidemic,” Odom said. And just like any public health epidemic, she said, the source of the problem must be identified.

After every shooting, Odom tells the workshop participants, there’s a question that must be asked: “Where did the gun come from?” Odom and another leader, Ruth Rollins, who also lost a son in a shooting, have been asking women to tweet that question after every shooting in the area, and to spread it in a cell phone video. They want this question to go viral.

They spread their message where women can be found, from churches, hair and nail salons and community events and even domestic violence shelters. They exchange stories, hold workshops, and ask women to sign pledges to never illegally buy or hide guns. One of their members is a Mary Kay lady who spreads the word as she peddles cosmetics and facial cleansers.

Outreach to women is “an incredibly useful and innovative way of tackling one part of the [gun] problem,” said David Hemenway, a Harvard School of Public Health professor who directs the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and wrote the book Private Guns, Public Health. He compared the initiative to past public health campaigns to reduce reckless and drunk driving. “It needs to be made clear, like in ‘Friends don’t let Friends Drive Drunk,’ that a good boyfriend does not ask you to do things that can destroy your whole life.”

The comparison to anti-drunk driving campaigns is an apt one. It was another women’s group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, that led the charge in that campaign as well.

The women of LIPSTICK may have a long way to go, but officials and organizers in Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Bay Area have begun contacting them for advice on setting up similar programs.

Christy Taylor, a 55-year-old paralegal, felt fragile at the LIPSTICK workshop. She would pause to dab her eyes as they welled with tears. She had just marked nine years since her eldest son was gunned down at the age of 21. And his birthday was coming up.

“I came to make a difference in our communities for our children who are survivors,” she said. Her son left behind a daughter named Jadaya. She is now 14 and wants to start an organization for kids like her and call it “Where is My Dad?”

Taylor said she plans to bring Jadaya to the next Operation LIPSTICK meeting.

That fits in with Odom’s plans. As she told the group, “We are going to have to build an army.”

*The names of some individuals in this story have been changed.

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Armed robbery suspect’s face nearly hits surveillance camera

An armed robbery suspect got a surveillance camera close-up during a holdup in West Park, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

The man walked into the Super Stop convenience store, 5600 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd., at 10:42 a.m. Friday and waited for a woman to finish making a purchase. When she walked away, he pointed a silver handgun at two clerks, cocked it, jumped onto the counter and leaned through a glass partition, nearly head-butting the surveillance camera, sheriff spokeswoman Gina Carter said.

“It’s pretty rare to get someone so clearly visible on camera, first of all,” she said. “But secondly, this guy is very brazen.”

The bald, goateed suspect wore no mask or disguise. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a white flower design on the front, light-colored baggy shorts and black running shoes with white soles. He also had a tattoo on his left forearm, the video showed.

While the suspect waves the gun and demands cash from the clerks, a woman is seen entering the store. She takes three steps before noticing the suspect reaching across the counter, Carter said.

“It’s a miracle nobody got hurt because during the robbery another customer came in, walked toward him, realized what was happening, then walked backward away from him and ran out the door,” she said.

The robber got away with thousands in cash, investigators said.

Detectives think the surveillance video is so clear that someone may identify the gunman soon, Carter said. “We’re hopeful someone out there knows who this guy is and that they’re going to contact us, whether it’s for doing the right thing or for the reward,” she said.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Theophilus Woulard at 954-321-4270 or Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493- 8477, or go to browardcrimestoppers.org. Crime Stoppers will pay up to $3,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

wkroustan@tribune.com or 954-356-4303

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Police say 24 children rescued from human trafficking scheme

PALM BAY — Two dozen Orlando children younger than 18 were crammed into the back of an older model Chevrolet work van, driven to Palm Bay on Friday and dropped off to spend more than 10 hours selling cheap items door-to-door, Palm Bay police said. If they had to use the bathroom, they were told to use the bushes. If they were thirsty, to ask residents for water, police said.

Police arrested two of the men behind the operation, which authorities said provides a window into a growing trend of human trafficking: luring children and young adults with the promise of an honest wage, transporting them in often unsafe conditions and sending them off to conduct unsupervised sales in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

“They were told to sell their goods at all costs. They rounded them up and stuffed them into the back of a van, brought over from Orlando. Food, water, it was rationed. And they were told the only way they could get anything was to sell,” said Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Palm Bay Police Department.

Monday, the driver of the van and owner of an Orlando-based group called Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol, 39-year-old Johnny Carrasquillo, and 20-year-old John Saint Hilaire, 20, faced a judge on 24 counts each of human trafficking.

Brevard Judge Kathleen Clarke ordered both men, who were arrested by Palm Bay police Friday, to be held on a $5.6 million bond each at the Brevard County Jail Complex.

Both also were charged with 24 counts of child abuse and eight counts each of employing a minor child, reports show. The case will be sent to the Brevard County state attorney’s office, where prosecutors will decide whether to press formal charges.

In the Palm Bay case, the children were picked up by 9 a.m. in Orlando and driven to Palm Bay in a van so crowded that some sat on laps and on the floor. Each row of seats was separated by makeshift plywood partitions that blocked the only exit door, Martinez said.

The teens were to be picked up, after a day of sales, about 8:30 p.m. and would not get home until close to midnight, police said. Police said it was a potential tragedy in the making.

Late Friday, Palm Bay police received a message from a Department of Children and Families agent that underage children were roaming Palm Bay streets selling cheap goods.

Martinez said the children were picked up and brought to the Palm Bay Police Department, where officers contacted DCF agents and bought pizza. “We had pizza for them. They were really hungry. And they were hovering over the water fountain,” Martinez said.

The children were turned over to their parents.

Orlando company

The Orlando-based company, Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol, bills itself as a unique educational program that helps “young people from all backgrounds become more responsible citizens,” according to its website. The site featured an open letter by Carrasquillo that was dated Sept. 9. In the letter listing Carrasquillo as the executive director, he warns supporters about four former team leaders conducting unauthorized sales.

“We have notified the police of these activities and have given them the information they need to stop them, but since they are operating in hiding and they look like us, is hard for the police to intervene unless a customer calls or we run in to them,” Carrasquillo wrote.

The website also includes a parental consent form, although Palm Bay police were not sure how much parents knew about the conditions the teens worked under.

One 13-year-old dropped off in Palm Bay told officers she was frightened after someone told her a sex offender lived in the neighborhood where she was walking. “She was scared and was walking alone on her route,” Martinez said. Carrasquillo told the girl to “cross the street,” and keep selling her items, according to police.

Several other young girls told police that Carrasquillo would make them “pull their bra away from their chest and shake it to see if any money falls out,” the police report said.

Growing trend

Experts have warned over the years that door-to-door sales operations using underage children was an emerging trend of human trafficking nationwide.

In 2010, Florida State University, in conjunction with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, released a report that showed Florida was a top hub for human trafficking in labor and sexual exploitation.

Labor trafficking was considered the most prevalent type in Florida, with abuse reported primarily in agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries.

“With sales crews, most of the victims are young adults, many of the victims are from low income settings looking for opportunities,” said Alden Pinkham, a case coordinator with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

In some cases, young adults answer ads left behind at bus or train stations to be part of door-to-door sales crews. Many of the participants see it as a chance to travel and even enhance their public-speaking capabilities, Pinkham said.

“We see a lot of fraud and coercion in the offers of that free ride. The victims begin to realize that there is no paycheck, no free ride back home, so they keep working despite the conditions. In my experience, I’ve never talked to any crew member who’s gotten a paycheck. It’s just a draw, maybe $15 a day split between others for food,” Pinkham said.

There have been a number of national stories involving “sales crews,” including cases of deadly traffic accidents, sexual assault and what police say was an attack on a teen by a resident in Volusia County. Friday, police also linked at least two of the juveniles to the theft of a golf cart.

When police located Carrasquillo, along with Saint Hilaire, they also found several teens in the van. Police said Carrasquillo said another van had been used, too.

Carrasquillo and Saint Hilaire remain in custody. No new court date has been set.

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Police chase gunman, hostages across Mojave Desert

RIDGECREST, Calif. — Police were investigating a deadly shooting in this Mojave Desert city when they got a chilling call — from the killer.

Sergio Munoz said he wanted to deliver a “package” to police and to kill officers, but to avoid being outgunned at the station he would instead “wreak havoc” elsewhere.

Munoz kept his word Friday during a nearly hour-long chase. With two hostages in the trunk of his car, Munoz sped along some 30 miles of desert highway, taking shots at passing motorists and trying to run oncoming cars off the road before police killed him.

Investigators were puzzling over what triggered the rampage by Munoz, 39, whose criminal record stretched back at least two decades.

There were signs his life was unraveling. He was arrested last Sunday and Ridgecrest police have said he lost his job recently. A woman who knew him said he was using and dealing heroin.

The violence began at about 5:15 a.m. Friday when police responded to a call at a home where Munoz had been staying. They found a woman shot to death and a man wounded.

Dawn Meier, the sister of the wounded man, told The Associated Press that Munoz had been staying at her brother’s house for about two weeks. She said her brother, Thaddeus Meier, told her Munoz was a friend he wanted to help out but that Munoz had been using and dealing black tar heroin.

She moved out of the house a week ago to join her boyfriend, who lived next door, after he insisted she get her 7-month-old son away from the drugs.

Her boyfriend, Derrick Holland, said on Thursday he heard Munoz complaining in the yard about how his life was falling apart and he was losing everything “due to drugs.”

Early Friday morning, Munoz showed up and told Thaddeus Meier, “We’re going to reduce all of the snitches in town,” Dawn Meier said, recounting what her brother said from the hospital where he was being treated for gunshot wounds.

When her brother declined, Munoz shot him at least twice, then shot and killed Meier’s girlfriend. Her identity has not been released.

Later that morning, Munoz called a police officer on his cellphone, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a press conference. Munoz said he had a package for police and wanted to come to the station and “kill all the officers but they had too many guns,” Youngblood said.

Police now believe the “package” was the hostages.

Nearly two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Munoz’s car and a pursuit began through the shrub-dotted desert about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. Munoz ran traffic off the road, firing at least 10 times at passing vehicles with a shotgun and a handgun.

No motorists were hurt, Youngblood said.

At one point during the chase, Munoz pulled over and the car’s trunk popped open, revealing a man and woman inside. They appeared to shut the trunk, the sheriff said. Munoz got back in the car and sped off.

In the end, Munoz pulled over again on U.S. 395, turned in his seat and began shooting into the trunk. As many as seven officers opened fire and killed him.

The hostages were flown to a hospital in critical condition, but were expected to survive. Their names have not been released and police have not said anything about their relationship to Munoz.

Munoz is a felon with convictions dating back to 1994, when he was sentenced to more than two years in prison for receiving stolen property. In May, he was arrested for possessing ammunition as a felon, but the felony charge was dismissed.

Munoz was most recently arrested Sunday for investigation of possessing controlled substance paraphernalia and a felony charge of possessing ammunition as a felon. Dawn Meier said police found a syringe at the home where the slaying would happen five days later.

Ridgecrest is a city of about 27,000 people adjacent to the vast Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which sprawls over more than 1,700 square miles of desert. U.S. 395 runs through the western Mojave, below the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada.

Ridgecrest Mayor Dan Clark called the incident disturbing, especially because the small city is relatively crime free.

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Man pleads guilty in human trafficking case

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — A man arrested as part of a multistate kidnapping and human trafficking investigation pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of transporting a woman across state lines for prostitution.

Ruperto Moncillo Flores and Jacobo Feliciano-Francisco were arrested June 27 after a distraught woman walked into a police department in Hattiesburg, Miss., and said she had been abducted in Panama City Beach, Fla.

The woman had been a witness in a prior human trafficking case, which led to numerous convictions in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams said during the change of plea hearing for Flores that the victim heard her abductors call someone to take her to a “house of prostitution” in Baton Rouge, La.

Williams said Flores, of Lawrenceville, Ga., was arrested in Jones County, Miss., when his van broke down before he made it to pick up the kidnapping victim in Hattiesburg. Police were on the lookout for someone coming for the victim.

Williams said Flores had no knowledge of the abduction, but was asked to transport the woman to Louisiana for prostitution.

Another woman with Flores when he was arrested told police that Flores was taking her from Georgia to Louisiana for that purpose. It led to the charge against Flores — a violation of the Mann Act.

Flores faces up to 10 years at sentencing on Jan. 16.

Flores, a short, rotund man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair, was shackled and wore a red and white striped jail outfit during the sentencing. He needed a translator for the hearing in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg. At one point, his lawyer said Flores wanted to make sure the court understood that he was not involved in the abduction.

Williams said the abduction started an investigation into a “multistate prostitution ring and human trafficking organization.”

Feliciano-Francisco, also known as Uriel Castillo-Ochoa, is charged in U.S. District Court in Panama City, Fla., with kidnapping the former witness. He pleaded not guilty on Aug. 12 to five charges, including kidnapping and retaliating against a witness.

Another suspect is being sought in the case.

Authorities said the victim was in her yard in Florida when Feliciano-Francisco and an unidentified man forced her into a car and drove to Feliciano-Francisco’s house in Hattiesburg. Investigators say Feliciano-Francisco sexually assaulted the victim and planned to force her to work as a prostitute in Louisiana.

Williams said phone records corroborate that the abductors called Flores that day.

The kidnapping victim escaped through a bathroom window that evening and went to the Hattiesburg Police Department about 6:30 p.m.

Feliciano-Francisco was arrested at the house that night. Flores was arrested on Interstate 59 in Jones County.

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Mom turns in son in Georgia State University dorm robbery

Atlanta GA Oct 26 2013 – All three people suspected in an armed robbery inside a Georgia State University dorm room have been arrested.

GSU police Deputy Chief Carlton Mullis identified the suspects as Quinton Arnold, 18, Dantevious Devall Patrick, 18, and Dorian Demetrius Stroud, 19. Arnold is a current student, Stroud is a former student and Patrick has no affiliation with the university, GSU spokeswoman Andrea Jones said.

Authorities said just after 7 p.m. Wednesday, one of the men knocked on a dorm door in the University Commons building, while two others pointed a gun at their victims.

The robbers left with an iPad and cellphones.

One man was arrested Wednesday night. Two more were apprehended Thursday morning.
Mullis said that one of the victims recognized Arnold, who also lives in the University Commons complex. That victim texted Arnold and asked him to meet him outside on Piedmont Avenue. “He did, and we arrested him,” Mullis said.

Video cameras placed all over the University Commons building recorded footage of the three armed robbers.

Police later released a photo of the suspects from security video. Patrick “saw himself on the video and called Atlanta police and turned himself in and APD turned him over to us,” according to Mullis.

He said Stroud’s mother recognized her son from the video photo “and she brought him in to GSU police about 6 a.m.”

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Hundreds of Park Police guns unaccounted for, report says

(CNN) — The U.S. Park Police is failing to adequately keep track of its firearms, creating an environment in which weapons are vulnerable to theft or misuse, according to a government report released Friday.

Due to “a lackadaisical attitude toward firearms management” by commanders, investigators said they found “credible evidence of conditions that would allow for theft and misuse of firearms, and the ability to conceal the fact if weapons were missing.”

In a force of approximately 640 officers, the report says, hundreds of weapons were not properly accounted for. The auditors also allege that the agency has more than 1,400 extra weapons, including 477 military-style automatic and semiautomatic rifles.

The head of the Park Police officers’ union, Ian Glick, said there are shortcomings in the “antiquated system of weapon tracking,” but public safety was never put in jeopardy.

“None of these weapons were ever seized in a crime, or found on someone who shouldn’t have one,” he said. While the tracking system has its failings, he said, “all the weapons are accounted for. Every weapon, every stick of ammo, everything is accounted for. But it’s not accounted for in the National Park Service weapons inventory computer system.”

The National Park Service declined to respond to Glick’s specific assertion. But it said it has immediately ordered a complete weapons inventory, to address the “significant, systemic firearms management problems” identified in the report.

“I have no tolerance for this management failure,” said Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. He pledged to implement the report’s recommendations on record-keeping, and went on to praise the police officers. “The brave men and women of the U.S. Park Police are professionals who put their life on the line every day,” he said, “protecting our parks for millions to enjoy.”

The report cited several examples of mishandling of weapons, including two officers it says brought their rifles home with them. But at least one example has come into dispute.

The audit asserts that a former chief of the Park Police never turned in his handgun, and 10 years after his retirement it was taken from him by an instructor at a qualification course for retired law enforcement officers, who happened to notice the former chief still had government property.

But the former chief, Robert Langston, rejects the claim, saying he never kept a handgun, he never had one taken away, and he was never asked by auditors about the allegation. The first he heard of it was when he got a call from CNN on Friday morning.

“Nobody ever confiscated a gun of mine. I would recall that,” he said. “Where did they get that?”

He said he turned in his weapon when he left government service, and showed CNN his paperwork.

When asked about the contradiction, the inspector general’s office said its report was based on Park Police records, and the discrepancy just shows the extent of the agency’s record-keeping problems. The National Park Service did not respond to an inquiry about the former chief’s paperwork.

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Kids and guns: ‘These are not isolated tragedies’

(CNN) — Dr. Angela Sauaia and her colleagues intended to study the impact modernized playground equipment had on lowering children’s injury rates. They ended up studying kids’ injury rates from guns instead.

The associate professor of public health, medicine and surgery at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora said she was neither motivated by the recent mass shooting in her area nor driven by politics.

“My colleagues and I were doing a study on playground injuries, because they were doing some remodeling projects here, and we wanted to see if that would change the playground injury rate,” Sauaia said.

“When we started coding the trauma data, which includes all types of childhood injuries that turn up at these trauma centers, and we noticed the morbid pattern of gun violence-related injuries for children … that shifted the focus of the study to document violence related to injuries involving gunshots.”

The data, she said, showed a surprising number of children were being injured, many of them seriously, by guns.

“We had the impression that mass shootings caused so many injuries and those normally do get a lot of national attention, but in looking at the numbers, gun violence was happening to children on a routine basis, and it was mostly happening out of the spotlight,” Sauaia said. “These are not isolated tragedies.”

She and her colleagues knew they were on to something, putting together a research letter called “Firearm Injuries of Children and Adolescents in 2 Colorado Trauma Centers: 2000-2008,” which was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The data covers some of the years between the two mass shootings in the Denver area — the 1999 one at Columbine High School that resulted in 13 deaths and more than 20 injuries before the shooters took their own lives, and July’s mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora that killed 12 people and wounded 58.

Columbine survivor: No child should worry about gunmen

“In the years we studied, we didn’t expect to see this many childhood injuries due to everyday gun violence,” Sauaia said. “And far too many of these were self-inflicted.”

Intentionality was difficult to determine from the data — some of the self-inflicted wounds were suicide, while others appeared accidental in nature.

The bottom line, said Sauaia: Children having access to guns.

“No matter what side you are on in the gun debate, I’ve never met a person that believes kids should have easy access to guns,” Sauaia said. “The data clearly shows this is a real public health concern for children.”

Overall, 6,920 youths were injured and cared for by these trauma centers between 2000 and 2008, according to the research. Of those, 129 had injuries from firearms, and those injuries were extremely serious compared with the others.

Of the gun injuries, 50.4% required intensive care, compared with 19.3% for other trauma-related injuries. Some 13.2% died, compared with the 1.7% injured in another way. A total of 14% of the gunshot wounds were coded as “self-inflicted.”

Once-unlikely win for gun control in Colorado

The research is a good and descriptive small-scale study, said Jon Vernick, an associate professor and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, but it also is a good reminder that public health experts need to do more of this kind of research.

“This study shows firearm injures are more likely to result in a death or a treatment in the ICU than other injuries,” he said. “That should make the case for how important it is to find ways to prevent those kinds of injuries from occurring.”

Historically, he argued, public health studies such as this one have led to positive changes.

Because people studied why car accidents happened in the 1960s, for instance, public health advocates knew how to improve injury rates from such crashes, Vernick said. Consequently, such injuries declined dramatically.

“They didn’t just try to make drivers safer or try to criminalize (drunken) driving — that alone wouldn’t have worked,” Vernick said. “Because we had the research, we also knew we had to make cars safer, make the environment safer, change the social norm to make it socially unacceptable to drive drunk.

“All of this concerted effort was a public health success story, and it came about because we had the research. We haven’t had the same robust research agenda on gun violence over the last two decades, and so we are not seeing the same dramatic decline in deaths and injuries.”

How we can keep kids from shooting people

Data, Sauaia said, are available from trauma centers, but there is limited funding for studies.

Federal funding for gun research, however, is rare, outside of federal grants that are available to study other injuries. That’s deliberate. Since 1996, federal law has prohibited all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health from using funds, “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”

The National Rifle Association pushed for the legislation, maintaining that government research into gun violence is unnecessary.

“What works to reduce gun violence is to make sure that criminals are prosecuted and those who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others don’t have access to firearms,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told CNN in January, “not to carry out more studies.”

How the NRA wields its influence

A strongly worded editorial published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January called the federal government’s “neglect” of firearm injuries as a public health issue a “national shame.” It asked President Barack Obama to “make a concerted effort to get the restrictive language about using federal funds … out of future appropriations bills.”

“If the United States were to get serious about preventing firearms-related injuries and deaths, thousands of lives could be saved each year,” the authors wrote. “We can wait no longer to protect public health.”

Sauaia said she wants her paper to inform today’s debate and inspire other projects.

“We do know a lot more about how someone died of a heart attack than just how many people were injured by guns,” Sauaia said. “The data is out there; we just need the funding to be able to do this kind of work, and then hopefully we can find ways to address this major public health problem.”

Doctors asked to participate in gun debate

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Boy held in teacher’s death that closed schools in Danvers, Massachusetts

(CNN) — A 14-year-old boy was being held on a murder charge Wednesday after the body of a female teacher was found in woods near the high school in Danvers, Massachusetts.

All seven schools in the suburban Boston town were closed as a result of the investigation.

The report of Colleen Ritzer’s death comes two days after a student with a gun killed a teacher in Sparks, Nevada.

Authorities found Ritzer’s body behind Danvers High School after the 24-year-old failed to return home after classes Tuesday, the Essex County District Attorney’s Office said. Searchers found blood in a second-floor bathroom, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told reporters at a news conference.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, was in her second year of teaching at Danvers High School, her aunt said.
He did not release the cause of her death.

The boy, who also had been reported missing Tuesday afternoon, was arrested early Wednesday after being found walking down a street, Blodgett said.

He was to be arraigned on a murder charge in a closed juvenile court session Wednesday, Blodgett said. There are no other suspects, he said.

Blodgett did not say whether the boy is a student at the school and said he could not release the boy’s name or his connection to Ritzer because he is a juvenile.

“This is a terrible tragedy for Colleen Ritzer and the entire Danvers community,” Blodgett said.

Ritzer’s aunt, Shirley Martellucci, said the family was in shock.

“We’re holding up as best we can,” she said.

Ritzer, who lived with her parents, was in her second year teaching at the school and was working on her master’s degree, Martellucci said. She had never had any trouble with students, she said.

“She always wanted to be a teacher, all her life,” Martellucci said. “It’s just unbelievable that someone would take her life at such a young age.”

Twitter users who identified themselves as Ritzer’s students were similarly dismayed.

Ritzer “was literally the sweetest, most harmless person ever,” Twitter user samanthawxo posted Wednesday. “She always wanted to help anyone in any way she could.”

“I honestly don’t think I will ever look at the high school the same knowing my favorite teacher died there,” Twitter user ingrahamsays posted.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the district closed all of its schools after the discovery of Ritzer’s body.

Danvers, a town of about 26,000 people about 20 miles northeast of Boston, has a high school, a middle school and five elementary schools.ice said. Searchers found blood in a second-floor bathroom, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told reporters at a news conference.

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Emanuel willing to compromise on mandatory minimum for gun crimes

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday signaled a willingness to compromise on his demand for a mandatory minimum, three-year sentence for gun crimes less than a week after it triggered a racial divide in the City Council.

“If you are legal, you have a gun and you have your F.O.I.D. card, I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in young kids, 17 or younger,” the mayor said.

“I’m interested in….what happened to Hadiya Pendleton. I’m interested in the individual at the park in Back of the Yards, who just did a minor stint at boot camp [who] should have been behind bars. If you’re going to protect our communities, our gun laws have to be stiffened.”

On the eve of the Il. Legislature’s fall veto session, Emanuel reiterated that Chicago Police take more guns off the streets than any big city in the nation.

The mayor said he’s also reassigned hundreds of officers from desk jobs to street duty, put rookie officers on foot patrol in high-crime areas and invested “record amounts” in summer jobs and after-school programs.

“Gun laws in the city of Chicago are the weak link in the criminal justice [system] and the three-year minimum and truth-in- sentencing 85 percent is essential if we’re going to have any deterrents. Too often, the criminal justice system is a revolving door and the same offender is back on the street committing crimes,” he said.

Last week’s debate on the mandatory minimum, three-year sentence for gun crimes–and a companion requirement that those convicted serve 85 percent of their sentences–divided the City Council along racial lines.

White aldermen were all for the bill championed by Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

African-American aldermen had such grave reservations, they threatened to send the resolution back to committee. They argued that mandatory minimum sentences failed miserably in the war on drugs and a similar approach to gun crimes would result in more of the same.

“We have spent countless police hours stopping men, frisking them at a disproportionate rate than our numbers in society and it is causing such a stigma in the community, such a schism that our people don’t trust the police,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Brookins acknowledged that “something has to be done” about Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence. But, it’s “boots on the ground”—not stiffer sentences.

“We need more police officers. And that has been shown in the 7th District. They have had the resources in that community and they were able to drive violent crime way down,” he said.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) agreed that the black community has had “Class X felonies driven down our throats” and adding “fuel to that fire” is not the answer.

“We have got to think about the jobs. We’ve got to think about education. We’ve got to think about a lot of different facets other than just locking up black and Hispanic kids,” Ervin said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) pointed to the “good kid” who gets a gun to fend off pressure to join a gang and the senior citizen in his ward who shot and killed a home invader.

“There’s a lot of old people in our communities who have guns, unfortunately. Why are they afraid? Because they don’t feel like they’re protected. Is it just because of the violent people in society or is it because they don’t feel like they’re getting all the protection that they deserve or they need,” Burnett said.

“It’s wrong to feel like you have to have a gun. It’s wrong to have an illegal gun. But also, it’s wrong for us if we mandatorily give a person who made the wrong decision three years who may not have ever done anything to anyone….There needs to be some discretion.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) urged his colleagues to tell Springfield “what we want” to prevent gun policy from being “dictated by other parts of the state” in a way that causes “bloodshed in our neighborhoods.”

He added, “Gang members that all of you have in your communities, like I have in mine, that don’t care about getting locked up because they know they’re going to be back on the streets in six months. Those are the people [who] would be effected by this.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s floor leader, agreed that the City Council needs to speak with a unified voice to combat a National Rifle Association that has held sway in Illinois for too long.

“This is an issue that is defining, not only the city of Chicago, but cities across the country. And it is defining our city to the rest of the world,” O’Connor said.

“If we back down on trying to get the strongest possible measures that relate to gun violence, we are essentially saying to the rest of the country and the rest of the world, `It’s not our job anymore. It’s not us.’ “

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