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Newtown draws focus, but U.S. sees 85 gun deaths per day

First Published Dec 21 2012 01:39 pm • Last Updated Dec 21 2012 01:39 pm

WASHINGTON • In Jacksonville, Fla., Dec. 14 began with the sound of gunfire off Jammes Road around midnight. The body of Patrice Sherman, a 22-year-old who worked manicuring lawns, was found at 7:15 a.m. in a ditch.

Sherman may have been the first person killed by gunfire in the United States that Friday, hours before the second-deadliest shooting in the nation’s history unfolded 1,000 miles away in Newtown, Conn. That massacre left 28 dead, including the gunman, his mother and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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By day’s end, at least 12 other people were shot dead around the nation, according to police and news accounts. Their deaths were little noticed beyond circles of family or friends.

At 8 a.m., police Officer Martoiya Lang, a mother of four daughters, was shot with a 9 mm pistol during a drug raid in Memphis, Tenn. After noon, Sandra Oliva, 54, was found in her bed in New York’s Hudson Valley, shot in the head by her husband, who turned the gun on himself. Less than 12 hours later, 30-year-old concierge Jessica Kenny was gunned down at a Las Vegas casino by a former boyfriend.

"It’s beyond sad," said Edward Vondran of Henderson, Nev., her uncle. "You can’t rationalize why someone would do something like this."

The dozen gun killings outside Newtown, which include shootings by police, represented a typical, even peaceful day, for a country that has more firearm homicides every week than Canada has in a year.

American civilians own some 270 million firearms, 89 for every 100 residents, more than any other nation, according to the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. There were an average of 85 gun deaths each day in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including two accidents, 53 suicides and 30 homicides.

"The unrelenting death toll of gun violence in America is staggering," said Benjamin Van Houten, managing attorney for the Legal Community Against Violence in San Francisco, which advocates more restrictive gun laws. "In addition to the terrible, devastating tragedies like Newtown, there are instances of gun violence that tear apart communities and families each day."

The Sandy Hook massacre was the latest mass shooting in a deadly year, following an attack in a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 58 others, and another at a Wisconsin Sikh temple that left six dead. This month, three died, including the shooter, when a man opened fire with a rifle in a suburban Oregon shopping mall.

More typically, news of shootings rarely travels beyond the cities where they happen. Yet on average a Newtown happens every day on U.S. street corners and inside homes. In that sense, Dec. 14 was unexceptional.

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About 7:15 a.m., a driver saw a body lying by the Jacksonville roadside in a residential strip of single-family homes in Florida’s most populous city. It was Sherman, who scraped out a living as a landscaper.

Shell casings were found at the scene, said Officer Shannon Hartley, a police spokesman.

Franklin Sherman, 74, was leaving the doctor’s office when he was told of his grandson’s death. He doesn’t know why anyone would kill him. Patrice was a good man, taking him to the doctor when he could, Sherman said.

Patrice’s mother passed out when she heard. She fainted at the funeral home. She couldn’t bear to see her dead son.

"They’re taking it rough," Franklin Sherman said.

About 8 a.m., Martoiya Lang was among officers who burst into a home in Memphis, a city of 652,000 where there’s a homicide every three days, according to Richard Janikowski, a University of Memphis criminologist.

Lang had been an officer for nine years, joining the elite Organized Crime Unit in 2011. That morning, when police rushed into a house to search it, a man grabbed a pistol with a high- capacity clip and fired. He wounded one officer and killed Lang.

"She was a hard charger," said Michael Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association. "She was compassionate. She was well-liked. She was one of the good ones."

The youngest of her daughters is 2.

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