Newtown draws focus, but U.S. sees 85 gun deaths per day
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.
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.
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.
At 11 a.m., 450 miles away, a police shoot-out ended differently after officers stopped a car at a Dallas apartment complex. Amid a struggle, the driver brandished a weapon and police shot him, according to a statement. Lenny Ellis, 30, died at the scene.
At 12:14 p.m., as the enormity of the Newtown massacre was becoming known, police in Cornwall, N.Y., a town of 12,600 by the Hudson River, were dispatched to Joseph Oliva's home on Mine Hill Road.
Oliva, 58, had sent a text to his sister in Virginia: "Goodbye. Take care of my daughter."
Then he killed himself with a Glock pistol. His wife, Sandra, 54, was in her bed, with a single shot to the head.
Police Chief Todd Hazard said there was no note or explanation. "He's probably the only one who knows," he said.
In Marshall, N.C., with a population of about 900, James Lagrua, 61, spent part of the day watching coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting at his home off the Appalachian Trail. He had a shotgun and two handguns.
Lagrua recently came out of retirement to work as a home health-care nurse, according to Michael Garrison, chief deputy of the Madison County Sheriff's Office.
At 9 p.m., his wife's daughter called 911 and barricaded herself in the basement of the three-story home with her two teenage daughters. Upstairs, police say, Lagrua shot his wife, Stephanie, 58, in the kitchen. He then shot his wife's 86-year- old bedridden mother, Hilma Barnett, in the head. He shot the family dog, too.
Lagrua was arrested and charged with two counts of murder and animal cruelty.
"It shocks everyone that someone could be that heartless and brutal and cold," said Mayor Lawrence Ponder, 74.
"When you hear these things, you have to accept it and say move on and hope it doesn't happen to you," he said. "It's everywhere."
Forty-five minutes after Marshall police took the call from Lagrua's house, officers in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near the Atlantic coast, arrived at the Liberty Crossing Apartments. The complex is about seven miles from Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base, and authorities had been called about a disturbance, according to a news release.
They found Lance Corporal Randall Buford, 21, dead from a bullet to the head. He had come back in June from six months in Afghanistan.
Officers arrested Lance Corporal Marcus Bo Hunt, 19, and charged him with one count of murder, according to the release.
That evening in Las Vegas, Jessica Kenny went to work at the Excalibur, a medieval-themed casino on the Strip. She had come from Illinois to start a new life, said Vondran, her uncle. Edward Brandt was a former boyfriend from home, he said.
About 8:30 p.m., Brandt, 31, walked into the casino. Not far from the entrance, he fired several shots from a handgun. Patrons fled in terror.
Brandt committed suicide at the scene. An hour later, Kenny was pronounced dead at University Medical Center from wounds to her chest and head.
"Everyone who ever met her loved her and immediately recognized what a wonderful person she was," said Vondran. "It's beyond terrible. She meant so much to us, and this crazy bastard came and took her away."
At the White House on Dec. 19, President Barack Obama referred to the killings of Lang, the Memphis officer, and Kenny, though neither by name.
"Each one of these Americans was a victim of the everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year - violence that we cannot accept as routine," he said.
Obama has backed restrictions on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, saying he will draft proposals by the end of next month to stem violence.
Nick Germak, a former National Rifle Association member, lives in that city about two blocks from the home of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who used a semiautomatic rifle to gun down children at Sandy Hook for reasons that are still unknown.
"For the first time in my life, I'll support any gun movement effort," he said. "I believe the founding fathers had a purpose for us with a right to bear arms when the British were a threat. Those days are over. There are 20 little babies we aren't going to ever see grow up."
In the tiny mountain town of Marshall, N.C., Mayor Ponder agrees. Assault weapons and metal-piercing bullets should be outlawed, he said. "Nobody needs to own them," Ponder said. "Enough is enough."
On Dec. 15. at 6 a.m., police in Charlotte, N.C., were called. Raymona Abraham, 21, had been shot, according to a statement.
At 6:09, he was declared dead.