Gun Violence

Gun Violence

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.

San Antonio Police Accidentally Shoot Six-Year-Old Boy

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In a police chase outside of San Antonio, Texas just a few days before Christmas, a six-year-old boy was accidentally but fatally shot by a police officer. The boy, who was later identified as Kameron Prescott, was actually inside his family’s mobile home when a bullet went through the home’s wall and hit Prescott in the chest. The police was in pursuit of 30-year-old Amanda Lee Jones, who was suspected of stealing a car and an attempted break-in; the police also ended up fatally shooting Jones once the pursuit was over and done with. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar commented on the death of Prescott, calling it “a tragic accident”. Salazar also said that the investigation into the incident would continue before the district attorney could determine if there was additional legal action required. Two other members of the Prescott family were also in the mobile home when the shots were fired, but only Kameron resulted injured.

 

According to deputies, Jones was spotted to have a weapon when she was first encountered by the police. Jones reportedly proceeded to threaten to shoot an officer. Once the police caught up with her outside of the Prescott home, Jones also threatened to attack the family that was inside that home, which led police to kill Jones. After the fact, police have been unable to locate a gun around Jones, but they did find a pipe with Jones’ blood left behind under the deck of the home Jones attempted to break into. Sheriff Salazar has since expressed his belief that Jones was pretending to be armed, although he says that deputies on the scene are still asserting they saw a weapon on Jones, which led to their course of action.

 

John Aguilon, George Herrera, Jesse Arias and Johnny Longoria all shot at Jones, and they have since been placed on a five-day administrative leave as the situation is being sorted out. The department is going through available audio and limited video footage, as the only body camera on the scene was partially obstructed during the key moments in the confrontation.

 

The family of Prescott has mostly stayed out of the public eye so far following the loss of their six-year-old. Salazar mentioned that he has been a friend of Steve Prescott, Kameron’s grandfather, for over 20 years. Steve Prescott is a long-time member of the nearby San Antonio Police Department. Steve Prescott, on behalf of the rest of the Prescott family, did give a public statement asking for privacy during the investigation.

Murder-Suicide At Penn State Beaver Over Domestic Issues

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52-year-old William Kelly has been identified as the man behind a murder-suicide on the campus of Penn State’s Beaver County affiliate on Wednesday, December 13. William Kelly reportedly shot his 49-year-old ex-wife Lesli Kelly with two handguns before pulling the trigger on himself. The attack was reported at 3:38 PM at the university’s food services building, which includes a student cafeteria.  However, it was later determined that the shooting happened outside, in the building’s parking lot. The police say that no students were affected by the shooting, and that the rest of the Kelly family is safe. In any case, at the time of the shooting, the university ordered an evacuation of the area and a dismissal of non-essential employees for the rest of the day.

 

According to State Police Lieutenant Eric Hermick, it is believed William Kelly arrived at the campus with the alibi of dropping off a Christmas present for Lesli, who was on her break during a shift at the food services building that afternoon. Lesli was reportedly waiting for William in a parked Subaru SUV, and William arrived in a similar-looking Chevrolet SUV. William approached Lesli with a wrapped present box before pulling out his weapons and committing the attack. Witnesses informed the police that there was some brief screaming and yelling before the shooting happened.

 

The Kellys had three children, who were staying with their relatives at the time of the shooting. The Kellys had recently gotten a divorce, and the police believe that this was “a domestic violence thing”, as Hermick put it. Lesli had filed several complaints to campus police in the past about William, although she failed to go through with a protection form abuse order. “We’re getting indications that there was domestic issues, child support issues,” Hermick elaborated. One of their children is an adult, but two are minors who were under shared custody, and police believe an argument over custody may have been a potential motive for the deadly dispute. This was initially a concern when the police found blood-stained documents inside the car, although it was later determined the children were safe.

 

As for the university, school chancellor Jenifer Cushman said that counseling would be available to students, facutly and staff. In the immediate, arrangements were also made for finals exams that were scheduled for the next day to be moved over to Friday. Campus authorities expressed some relief that the area was not as populated as it would usually be because of the winter break for many students.

Church Shooting Outside San Antonio Claims 26 Lives

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On November 5, 2017, a 26-year-old man later identified as Devin Patrick Kelley entered a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, a Texas town just outside of San Antonio, and killed at least 26 people in the attack. The shooting began shortly after the Sunday morning service opened at 11 AM. Victims were of very varied backgrounds, from kindergarteners to the elderly. In addition to the 26 dead, the wounded also totaled in the 20s. Kelley died after being chased away from the area by armed locals.

 

According to police, it is believed Kelley was first spotted at a gas station across the street; he then proceeded to drive across towards the church. From there, he exited the car and began shooting from outside the church, but he quickly entered the church from the right side and continued firing bullets. He was wearing a ballistic vest and used a military styled rifle of the Ruger brand to carry out the attack in the rural location. He also carried multiple rounds of ammunition for the attack. Once Kelley exited, a neighbor fired at Kelley, although Kelley was able to enter his vehicle and flee. From there, several others began giving chase into the adjacent Guadalupe County, where Kelley crashed and passed away.

 

The FBI and the Texas Rangers are currently working in a joint investigation to determine what motives Kelley would have for the attack. Kelley was a former Air Force officer who lived in the Texas town of New Braunfels, where he grew up. He served the armed forces in New Mexico, but was court martialed in 2012 after being charged with assaulting his wife and child. The Air Force eventually discharged him in 2014 on the grounds of inappropriate conduct.

 

The first reaction from U.S. President Donald Trump, who was in the middle of his tour of Asia, came during a press conference in Japan, wherein he called the shooting a “mental health situation”, calling Kelley a “very deranged individual”. Texas Governor Greg Abbott expressed his condolences and publicly asked for “God’s comfort, for God’s guidance and for God’s healing for all those who are suffering.”

 

The timing is eerie, as this Sutherland Springs shooting occurred on the eighth anniversary of the infamous Fort Hood shooting, where 13 people were killed at a Texan military base. Some have also drawn comparisons between this shooting and that perpetrated by Dylann Roof in a Charleston, South Carolina Episcopal church, although that was later determined to be fueled by white supremacist ideology, whereas the church targeted by Kelley has a Caucasian majority in its membership.

Killing of Two Baton Rouge Men Probably “Racially Motivated” According to Police

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23-year-old Kenneth Gleason has been arrested and charged with two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder after a string of what police called probably “racially motivated” attacks. 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, a homeless man, was shot by Gleason in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while 49-year-old Donald Smart was shot in a separate incident as he was walking to his workplace, a local cafe near Louisiana State University where Smart washed dishes. In both cases, it is believed that Gleason shot them from a car and then finished the job by getting out and firing subsequent bullets as the victims were already on the ground. In a third incident, police suspect he was responsible for shots fired at a home of an African-American family, although no one was injured in that particular incident.

Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam talked about Gleason’s capture, essentially calling him dangerous and expressing his fear that, had Gleason not been captured, “[he] could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together.” The Baton Rouge police specifically charged Gleason with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of attempted first degree murder, aggravated criminal damage to property and the illegal use of a firearm. According to East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore, the prosecution is aiming to have the death penalty brought upon Gleason for his crimes. Tensions are high in Baton Rouge since last year, where Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot dead by police, which led to a retaliatory attack of three police officers two weeks later.

Gleason’s lawyer, Christopher Alexander, has released a statement denying guilt, while saying that they “look forward to complete vindication” as his case goes to court. Gleason had just left jail after posting bail for theft charges when he began his string of attacks. The 23-year-old, whose DNA was found on shell casings at the two major crime scenes, was later discovered to have literature on Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as well as a stash of cannabis. Despite what was found in his apartment, those who knew Gleason were surprised to find that Gleason committed these crimes, as most characterized him as a quiet individual who never really showed anger outwardly. Those who knew him intimately, including Matthew Drago, a former roommate of Gleason’s, did note that he occasionally displayed impulsive behavior. However, Drago also notes that, while his studies of the German language led to accumulation of German literature, Gleason was also a connoisseur of literature relating to Eastern and Buddhist philosophy. As for more recently, he was spotted shoplifting $30 worth of merchandise from a Target in Phoenix, Arizona, although those charges were dismissed. In the last couple of months, local Baton Rouge residents had spotted Gleason intermittently living out of his car, parked outside his parents’ house.