Gun Violence

Gun Violence

Community Thrown Into Turmoil After Mass Shooting at Jewish Synagogue

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On Saturday October 27th, the Tree of Life Synagogue was thrust into a nightmare when Robert Gregory Bowers entered the building and opened fire. He carried an AR-15, as well as three handguns. The shooting resulted in the deaths of 11 people and six others were wounded. The Anti-Defamation League described the incident as the worst attack against Jews in the history of the United States.

Police tracked Bowers down after and were forced into a shootout. Bowers received multiple gunshot wounds, but none were fatal. During the shootout, four officers were wounded. Bowers was heard saying, while receiving treatment for his wounds, that “Jews were committing genocide to his people and he wanted them all dead.”

As a result of the shooting, Bowers is being charged with 11 criminal homicide counts and multiple counts of ethnic intimidation and aggravated assault. Federal charges are being brought as well for hate crimes, weapon offenses and more. While the crime scene may take a full week to investigate and process, according to FBI Special Agent Robert Jones, Bowers is expected to appear in federal court on Monday the 29th.

Jones also said that it appears Bowers had no accomplices and that his home had been searched. No information about that search has been released at this time. At a news conference, Jones said, “This was a large, complex crime scene and much work remains to be done. We don’t know why he picked this synagogue.”

The Tree of Life Synagogue is located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, just outside of Pittsburgh. It is the center of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

After the shooting, President Trump put out a Presidential Order for all federal locations to fly flags at half-staff out of respect for the victims. The President’s declaration was explicit:

“I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, October 31, 2018.  I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.”

At another news conference, Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney, said the shooting was “an unspeakable and hateful crime.” He also reiterated that Bowers had made statements about his dislike for Jewish people and the depth of his hatred for all of them.

Anthony Garcia Sentenced to Death for Killing Four People in Omaha

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In a tragic case that begins back in 2001, Anthony Garcia, 45, has received the death penalty for murdering four people. Garcia killed the four victims for revenge relating to his firing from Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska. A panel of three judges determined the sentence, after weighing it against life in prison.

The events following Garcia’s firing

Doctors William Hunter and Roger Brumback of Creighton’s residency program fired Garcia in 2001. It wasn’t until 2008 that Garcia lashed out for the first time. Authorities determined that Garcia was responsible for the stabbing of Thomas Hunter, 11, who was Dr. Hunter’s son. He also killed Shirlee Sherman, 57, housekeeper for the Hunters in Omaha.

However, though the killings were fully investigated, and substantial evidence was found, investigators were unable to lock down a suspect. For the next few years, the case went unsolved.

In 2013, on Mother’s Day, Dr. and Mary Brumback were found dead in their home. Omaha police investigated the deaths thoroughly. They realized the 2008 killings at Dr. Hunter’s home were similar. While Dr. Brumback was shot in his doorway, Mary was stabbed to death. Both Thomas and Shirlee were killed similarly in 2008.

By comparing the two cases and investigating deeper into Creighton, Garcia quickly became a suspect. Police arrested Garcia about two months later in Illinois.

Records of credit charges and phone usage show Garcia in Omaha the day of the killings. This and a preponderance of circumstantial evidence were produced by the prosecution. There was also evidence of another attack in Omaha the day of the killings. A faculty member from Creighton said Garcia tried to force his way through her back door. The home’s alarm system triggered and he fled. According to prosecutors, it was believed Garcia then sought out the Brumbacks and killed them.

Though the death penalty was given, it is not common in Nebraska. Until a month previously, with the execution of Carey Dean Moore, Nebraska hasn’t carried out an execution in over twenty years. The judges sentencing Garcia showed that it had been a fully deliberated sentence, as life in prison was an equal possibility.

Dr. Clair Hunter, Thomas’s mother, and Jeff Sherman, Shirlee’s son, were at the sentencing hearing. They both expressed the depth of their losses, and relief from the sentencing’s closure. Garcia’s family were also present. His brother Fernando spoke to reporters and expressed the family’s difficulty with understanding Garcia’s uncharacteristic actions. He also expressed sympathies for the victims’ families, hoping they find their peace.

The sentencing hearing was disrupted when Judge Gary Randall experienced a medical issue. Omaha emergency responders took Randall to a medical facility. Judge Rick Schreiner continued in Randall’s stead and explained Randall had suffered from back pain associated with an earlier medical procedure.

 

 

Murder-Suicide in Texas Leaves Five Dead Including Shooter

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Robstown, Texas has been rocked by a multi-victim shooting at two locations, Retama Manor nursing home and a private residence. The victims were family members of Richard Starry, the shooter. Police are actively investigating the July 27th shooting, with details continuing to come forward.

Details of the shootings

On Friday evening, police responded to an active shooter call at Retama Manor nursing home. When police arrived, they found three dead, one woman and two men. 60-year-old Starry was found dead, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The other two fatalities were Starry’s father and stepmother, 85-year-old Earnest Starry and 60-year-old Thelma Montalvo.

Witnesses reported that Montalvo was visiting her husband, who was in residence at Retama Manor. Witness accounts and the motivation for the shooting have not been released. Police said it was too early in the investigation to make determinations or release detailed information.

Another visitor to the nursing home, Reuben Garcia, heard the shots fired. “I thought it was just a ladder that had fallen down, that’s what it sounded like to me. Then I heard somebody say run, run. So we ran.” Garcia recounted, explaining how he got his father out of the home.

While police were investigating the shooting scene, they received a call from a concerned family member directing them to the family home on State Highway 44. Police went to the Starry/Montalvo residence and found two more victims. 13-year-old Isaiah Starry, Earnest and Thelma’s adopted son, and Roel Mireles, Montalvo’s 41-year-old son, were both found dead at the scene. Both had been shot, presumably by Richard Starry.

Richard Starry has had minor legal trouble in the past, having been arrested in 2017 on theft of property charge. His last given address was the residence on State Highway 44, where Isaiah and Roel were found dead. He also co-owned various properties in the area, Earnest Starry being the other co-owner.

Details and information about Starry’s relationship with his relatives has not been learned. Nor has the Nueces County Medical Examiner released any details about the nature of the shootings. Chief of Police Erasmo Flores spoke to press saying investigators were being diligent in their pursuit for answers about this shooting.

Robstown police expect assistance with the investigation from the Texas Rangers. Governor Greg Abbott’s office and city officials will offer grief counselors through the Texas Department of Public Safety for those in need at the nursing home. Visitors and residents alike were equally traumatized by the incident.

 

Week of Terror Ends with Capture of “Mattress Store Killer”

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Houston police succeeded in ending a killing spree that resulted in the deaths of at least three victims. Jose Gilberto Rodriguez, 46-years-old, was captured on Tuesday following a short car chase. Rodriguez is being charged with the deaths of two people, with plans to charge him in the death of a third individual.

Details of the Crime Spree

Beginning July 9th, Jose Rodriguez began his crime spree with a home invasion and robbery. Within a few days, another home invasion resulted in the death of Pamela Johnson, 62. Johnson had been killed in her Cypress home and was discovered by police after a concerned call from her brother.

Police determined that Rodriguez stole Pamela Johnson’s vehicle and parked it at Willowbrook Mall. Rodriguez was seen later that day in the Mall via security video on Saturday. 28-year-old Allie Barrow was the manager of the Mattress Firm, located across the street from Willowbrook Mall. She was found killed by a gunshot wound on the same day Rodriguez was seen passing through the mall.

Two days later, Rodriguez’s crimes continued, when a Metro Lift driver was wounded by a gunshot from Rodriguez on Monday. Police also discovered another victim, killed by gunshot wounds, in a local Mattress One store.

Rodriguez’s History and Capture

Based on investigations, the motivation in these incidents appears to be money. Why any of the robberies escalated to murder is unclear at this time. Rodriguez is a known gang member and is also a convicted sex offender. His criminal history dates back to 1989. He was currently on parole, but had removed his monitor before embarking on the week of terror.

Police were alerted to Rodriguez’s location Tuesday, after he was observed in a local neighborhood. He was knocking on doors and trying to engage residents. Police suspect that Rodriguez was looking for his next robbery target and potential victims.

Rodriguez was captured on Tuesday. Police tracked him via eyewitness reports, which led to the pursuit of Rodriguez in the stolen vehicle. Fortunately, the apprehension occurred with no violence, in what the police called a “very professional takedown.”

Rodriguez will be charged with two counts of capital murder, with a third capital murder charge expected. He will also face counts for home invasion, robbery, aggravated robbery and grand theft. Authorities were pleased that Rodriguez was finally captured; the killing spree might have continued as Rodriguez was searching for more targets/victims. His capture is the result of diligent citizen involvement in the search for Rodriguez.

2-year-old, father dead in murder-suicide

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A father suspected of abducting his 2-year-old son and fleeing Long Island for Virginia have been found dead in a murder-suicide following a bitter custody fight. During the ordeal, authorities refused to issue an Amber Alert and waited over six hours to inform the public and solicit their help.

The bodies, identified by Rockbridge County sheriff’s deputies, match the identities of John and Jovani Ligurgo. They were found in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been set alight behind a residence. Suffolk County police have not confirmed the identity or either Jovani or his father John.

Ligurgo, 43, took Jovani and fled Long Island Tuesday after starting a fire in the bedroom of his condo, according to police. Maria Busone, Jovani’s mother, alerted police when Ligurgo did not show up to return Jovani to her home as required by a court-ordered visitation order. Four hours later, Ligurgo’s Jeep was seen crossing the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.

The pair were discovered in Raphine, central Virginia, around 8:45 a.m. local time Wednesday. Firefighters were alerted to a burning vehicle, and sheriff’s deputies ran the license plate through a recognition database, which was matched to an advisory sent to local law enforcement. Ligurgo did not have any apparently connections in Raphine or the area in general. “It’s like a nightmare. It’s heartbreaking.

This poor baby hasn’t even gotten a chance to live.” said Jovani’s aunt, Jackie Pulizzi, to press at the scene. She described how Jovani was just starting to talk, and what kind of cartoons he liked. “PJ Masks” and “Wallykazam” were his favorites, when he wasn’t playing with his cousins or his 26-year-old half-brother, who cried when the bodies were discovered.

Pulizzi, Busone’s sister, said Busone was in the process of petitioning for full custody of Jovani. She wanted Ligurgo to be drug tested and undergo a psychological exam as conditions of his visitation. A hearing was scheduled only a day after Ligurgo killed Jovani and himself. Busone filed the petition when deciding to end the “toxic” relationship between her and Ligurgo after three years.

Ligurgo was recently fired from his job for smoking marijuana at work, and was described as selfish, abusive, and controlling towards Busone. Her family feared for their safety. “He was not interested in working anything out,” Pulizzi said. “His thought process was, ‘If I can’t have him, nobody can.’ No man of rational thinking does that.”

Suffolk County police requested that state authorities issue an Amber Alert after Jovani’s abduction, but a state police spokesperson said information provided at the time failed to meet the criteria for an alert. Amber Alerts are only issued if a child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death, and Ligurgo’s clean record and lack of documented history of violence failed to meet that threshold. Jovani’s family said Ligurgo’s unstable behavior should have been reason enough.

Instead, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the department issued an advisory including descriptions of Jovani, Ligurgo, and the Jeep to a national alert system. Police began investigating the case as a missing person’s inquiry after they had connected Jovani’s disappearance to the fire, and waited a day later to inform the public. “We were gathering the facts of the case, we were reaching out to our law enforcement partners and then the determination was made to reach out to the media,” Hart said.

“The totality of the circumstances indicated this could be serious,” Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante told the press. “He could have turned up in a hotel room and drove back today, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”

Grand Forks Woman Kills Family With Gun Purchased Weeks Before

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Astra Volk seemed like an average with her son customer at Grand Forks’ Super Pawn, recounts store manager Michael Stamper, who saw Volk in early May. She wanted to purchase a handgun for personal and home defense, prompted by a series of recent break-ins around town. Stamper noted that Volk did not seem upset or acted in any way but normal, and her background check returned within minutes with an all-clear to buy the gun.

“She was in here with her son, and they were kind of joking back and forth,” Stamper said. “While she was filling it out (the paperwork), I was kind of chatting with her kid, kind of joking back and forth. They were talking about going to CherryBerry afterwards, and he actually invited me.”

Volk decided on purchasing a SIG Sauer Mosquito, a small .22 LR pistol popular with women. Stamper said he demonstrated how to properly handle the firearm, including how to load and unload the magazine and which specifications of ammunition were used with the gun.

Volk used the handgun no more than a day after purchase to kill her children – Arianna Talmage, 6, Aidan Talmage, 10, and Tyler Talmage, 14 – before committing suicide, according to Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel. Their bodies were discovered on May 3rd following a welfare check at their home in Grand Forks. The Grand Forks Police Department has ruled the case a triple-murder suicide, but the case remains under current investigation. The handgun sold to Volk is the only weapons recovered from the crime scene, Lt. Brett Johnson said. It is not apparent if Volk owned other firearms.

Volk previously discussed her struggles with mental illness before her death, and family members disclosed that she previously attempted suicide. However, there were no legal barriers to Volk obtaining a firearm, Zimmel said. Super Pawn conducted a proper background check with the FBI and cleared the gun purchase, according to police. “Every indication was that was completed legally and to standard,” Zimmel said.

Volk had most recently attempted suicide earlier this year, according to her mother. In 2014, police intervened when Volk’s ex-husband reported she was planning to commit suicide, according to an incident report from the Grand Forks Police Department. A week before the killings, Volk solicited financial help through the donor website GoFundMe to cover medical expenses related to her mental illness.

Anyone looking to purchase a gun in North Dakota must present a state ID, like a driver’s license, be at least 21 years old, and undergo a federal background check. Federal law requires firearm vendors to conduct national background checks, but North Dakota does not pose any addition restrictions or requirements during the purchasing process. Pawnshops must follow the same regulations if they sell firearms, according to Seth Dye, owner of Pawn Pros in Fargo. “If a customer comes to retrieve a gun after pawning it, another background check must be conducted to make sure he is eligible to receive the firearm.” he said.

The background check includes a short form to determine eligibility to own a gun, like whether the person is a convicted felon, using illegal drugs, or if a court has ruled a buyer “mentally defective”. This information is sent to the FBI, who cross-references the customer’s record with a federal database. These checks take several minutes to complete if a buyer’s record is clear and has proper ID, although delays can occur if a buyer has a common name or an unobtainable criminal history.

Career criminal accused of killing K-9 police officer and wounding his dog

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Yarmouth Police officer Sean Gannon was killed Thursday by a career criminal who racked up at least 111 prior offenses. Gannon, 32, became Yarmouth Police Department’s first full-time drug detection K-9 officer in 2011. Thomas Latanowich, 29, is accused of killing Gannon with a handgun. Nero, Gannon’s drug detection K-9, was shot in the face and neck, and is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday, according to Dennis Veterinary Hospital.

The shooting occurred in Barnstable, when Gannon and other officers were serving an arrest warrant at a home. Latanowich was arrested after a prolonged standoff, and it is unclear if Latanowich has any connection to the initial arrest warrant. Local resident Jacqueline Machado told reporters that the police “were very good, very skilled and very in control of the situation.”

Latanowich is described by Yarmouth police as a “notorious and violent” career criminal who has 111 prior charges on his record. A timeline provided by the Boston Globe documents Latanowich’s criminal history, which includes a September 2005 assault with a deadly weapon charge, a string of charges in early 2006 including battery, assault with a deadly weapon, and violating a restraining order, and most recently, allegations of assault and battery in December 2016.

After his release from jail in June 2014, Latanowich was to remain on probation until November of this year. Latanowich missed a home visit and a drug test on April 4th and 5th, and after failing to appear for both check-ins, an arrest warrant was issued on April 6th. Latanowich appeared in court on Friday and pled not guilty to charges of murder. He is currently held without bail.

WBZ4 Boston’s I-Team discovered Yarmouth Police had attempted to stop Latanowich for a traffic violation just ten days before the shooting. The suspect allegedly failed to stop after flagged by state police, before veering into a residential area and abandoning his vehicle. State police did not closely pursue Latanowich due to adverse weather conditions and potential bystanders. Latanowich did not have an active warrant at the time, but he was known to officials in the area as a perennial and violent offender.

Marie Piotte, who is identified as Latanowich’s ex-partner in previous charges against him, remarked that he was a “whole different person” when angered. “He would grab me, he would choke me.” Latanowich’s criminal history includes multiple entries where he is alleged to have beaten Piotte.

Originally facing a maximum of seven months after opening fire on Gannon and his K-9 partner, Latanowich now faces life in prison if convicted.

Georgia elementary teacher arrested in murder of siblings

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Michael De’Sean White, 26, has been arrested in connection with a 2016 gang-related shooting. White’s arrest comes 17 months after Daveon Coates, 15, and his sister, Tatiyana Coates, 11, were found dead in their home on Libby Lane in Jonesboro. Both were shot in an apparent home invasion motivated by a gang rivalry. White was arrested Friday at Toney Elementary School, where he was employed as a fifth-grade teacher since last August.

Daveon and Tatiyana were not the alleged targets of a retaliation killing, investigators say another 15-year-old was the intended target of the killing and may have been present during the shooting. Clayton County police spokeswoman Maj. Tina Daniel confirmed that White is being charged with Daveon and Tatiyana’s murder, in addition to two other counts of murder, but refused to say if White was the shooter or an accomplice. “It is still an open and pending investigation at this time,” Daniel said. “It appears that there is more than one [shooter]”.

Authorities began investigating White after a weapon was recovered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where gang violence flared up days after the Jonesboro shooting. “At this time, we do believe that the gun in Chattanooga was involved, somehow related in the incident.” Daniel said. Clayton County Police Chief Mike Register said the ballistics investigation is ongoing and the connection between the shootings in Jonesboro and Chattanooga was under way. Several Clayton County investigators were heading to Chattanooga, along with members of the FBI-Atlanta Safe Streets Gang Task Force to further investigate the weapons connection.

Little is known about White’s participation in the shooting or his potential gang affiliations. “We are still investigating his gang affiliations, but he is clearly associated with the men who were there that night and we know the shooting was gang-related. We are still working some very strong leads and we are committed to bringing justice to those two innocent children,” said Daniel. “It’s just unimaginable that someone who is entrusted to help mold children’s futures would be tied to something like this.”

White has been removed from Toney Elementary School until the criminal investigation is complete, district officials said. Before becoming a fifth-grade teacher, White was employed by the district as a paraprofessional starting in March 2017. DeKalb County Schools released the following statement after White’s arrest:

“On March 23, 2018, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was made aware that an employee at Toney Elementary School was arrested and charged with a crime. The district is fully cooperating with law enforcement agencies in DeKalb and Clayton counties in a combined investigation. Per standard procedure, the employee was removed from his/her position until official results of an investigation are released. DeKalb County School District’s first priority is the safety of our students and staff. All employees must submit to a thorough background check with DCSD’s Public Safety division before being hired in any capacity. This specific employee was checked twice in 2017; and on both occasions, nothing indicated this employee may be involved in criminal behavior.”

17 Students Killed in Mass Shooting at Florida High School

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17 students were killed at a Florida high school where the shooter used to attend. The gunman, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated first-degree murder, officials said Thursday. Cruz attempted to escape by blending in with a crowd of escaping students but was arrested in nearby Coral Springs. Fourteen students, including five with life-threatening injuries, were injured in the shooting.

Recently expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS for disciplinary issues, Cruz was re-enrolled at another school in Broward County, according to Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie. The morning of the attack, Cruz hailed an Uber to the Douglas campus with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle in tow, along with multiple ammunition magazines. Broward County Sherriff Scott Israel said it was not yet clear if Cruz possessed other weapons during the attack, nor is there evidence that Cruz collaborated with other potential suspects in the shooting.

Investigators are reviewing social media posts made by Cruz, which Sherriff Israel described as “very disturbing”. The FBI was made aware of a YouTube user named “Nikolas Cruz”, who posted a comment claiming “I’m going to be a professional school shooter”. Despite receiving this information six months before the shooting, the FBI did not act on the tip. The suspect was treated as a district hospital for “labored breathing” but quickly released.

Former classmates of Cruz described him as a loner, who was “off” socially. Brandon Minoff, who took two classes with Cruz his sophomore year, said he “wasn’t surprised” when Cruz was charged. “I got paired with him for a project, and he started talking to me about his life — how he was held back twice, expelled from two private schools.” Sebastian Toala, said he “never really got close to [Cruz], because I always had a feeling there was something wrong.”

“You come to the conclusion this is just absolutely pure evil,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, his hands clutched over his chest. Gov. Scott, who is rated highly by the National Rifle Association, did not answer the press’ questions over how Cruz obtained a semi-automatic rifle. “There is a time to continue to have these conversations about how, through law enforcement, how through mental illness funding, to keep people safe, and we’ll continue to do that,” the governor said.

President Donald Trump also tweeted “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Shooting leaves four dead at Pennsylvania car wash

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A shooting in Melcroft, Pennsylvania left four people dead and one injured on January 28th. The gunman, Timothy O’Brien Smith, 28th, is on life support after sustaining a gunshot would to the head. It is unknown if the wound was self-inflicted at this time. Local news channels have reported that the shooting was linked to a violent domestic dispute involving Smith. The four victims were killed after being shot with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a 9mm handgun. Smith was also in possession of a .308 caliber rifle and was wearing body armor at the time of the shooting.

The four victims have been identified as Chelsie Lou Cline, 25; Seth Cline, 21; William Scott Porterfield, 27; and Courtney Sue Snyder, 23. Another woman whose name is being withheld survived the shooting by hiding in a nearby truck, and only sustained minor injuries from broken glass. The woman is cooperating with the investigation into the shooting.

Fayette County district attorney Richard Bower said that Smith “[is] not expected to survive” the wounds sustained during the shooting. Bower said that no motive has been established from facts gathered during the investigation, but a relative of a woman killed in the shooting told reporters from WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh that Smith was a former partner of one of the victims. Allegedly, Smith was upset from one of the victims breaking up with him.

A second local television station, WPXI, reported that the gunman had been romantically involved with one of the victims. The identity of Smith’s former partner is unknown at this time. Officials at the scene said two victims were discovered inside a pickup truck, and two others were found in the same parking lot as the truck. Three vehicles – including the pickup truck two of the victims were found in – were towed from the scene for further analysis.

This shooting was the 21st and deadliest high-casualty shooting to date, as tracked by the Gun Violence Archive. Public mass shootings in the United States frequently involve past domestic violence issues. Devin Patrick Kelley, the shooter who killed 26 people at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church, had a criminal record of domestic abuse. A similar shooting in Plano, Texas that claimed the lives of seven people, also listed domestic violence as a motivation for the shooting.

A 2017 report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, found that over 50% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 involved family or romantic partner violence. However, an analysis by the New York Times of 358 mass shootings in 2015 concluded that only one in ten high-casualty shootings related to domestic violence.