Wisconsin, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine. We all know these
place names and what happened there. By the time this column appears, there may
well be a new locale to add to the list. Such is the state of enabled and
murderous mayhem in the United States.
With the hope of presenting the issue of guns in America in a novel way, I'm
going to look at it from an unusual vantage point: the eyes of a nurse. By that
I mean looking at guns in America in terms of the suffering they cause, because
to really understand the human cost of guns in the United States we need to
focus on gun-related pain and death.
Every day 80 Americans die from gunshots and an additional 120 are wounded,
according to a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
Those 80 Americans left their homes in the morning and went to work, or to
school, or to a movie, or for a walk in their own neighborhood, and never
returned. Whether they were dead on arrival or died later on in the hospital, 80
people's normal day ended on a slab in the morgue, and there's nothing any of us
can do to get those people back.
In a way that few others do, I became aware early on that nurses deal with death
on a daily basis. The first unretouched dead bodies I ever saw were the two
cadavers we studied in anatomy lab. One man, one woman, both donated their
bodies for dissection, and I learned amazing things from them: the sponginess of
lung tissue, the surprising lightness of a human heart, the fabulous intricacy
of veins, arteries, tendons and nerves that keep all of us moving and alive.
I also learned something I thought I already knew: death is scary. I expected my
focus in the lab to be on acquiring knowledge, and it was, but my feelings about
these cadavers intruded also. I had nightmares. The sound of bones being sawed
and snapped was excruciating the day our teaching assistant broke the ribs of
one of them to extract a heart. Some days the smell was so overwhelming I wanted
to run from the lab. Death is the only part of life that is really final, and I
learned about the awesomeness of finality during my 12 weeks with those two very
Of course, in hospitals, death and suffering are what nurses and doctors
struggle against. Our job is to restore people to health and wholeness, or at
the very least, to keep them alive. That's an obvious aim on the oncology floor
where I work, but nowhere is the medical goal of maintaining life more
immediately urgent than in trauma centers and intensive-care units. In those
wards, patients often arrive teetering on the border between life and death, and
the medical teams that receive them have fleeting moments in which to act.
The focus on preserving life and alleviating suffering, so evident in the
hospital, contrasts strikingly with its stubborn disregard when applied to lives
ended by Americans lawfully armed as if going into combat. The deaths from guns
are as disturbing, and as final, as the cadavers I studied in anatomy lab, but
the talk we hear from the gun lobby is about freedom and rights, not life and
Gun advocates say that guns don't kill people, people kill people. The truth,
though, is that people with guns kill people, often very efficiently, as we saw
so clearly and so often this summer. And while there can be no argument that the
right to bear arms is written into the Constitution, we cannot keep pretending
that this right is somehow without limit, even as we place reasonable limits on
arguably more valuable rights like the freedom of speech and due process.
No one argues that it should be legal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater; we
accept this limit on our right to speak freely because of its obvious real-world
consequences. Likewise, we need to stop talking about gun rights in America as
if they have no wrenching real-world effects when every day 80 Americans, their
friends, families and loved ones, learn they obviously and tragically do.
Many victims never stand a chance against a dangerously armed assailant, and
there's scant evidence that being armed themselves would help. Those bodies skip
the hospital and go straight to the morgue. The lucky ones, the survivors - the
120 wounded per day - get hustled to trauma centers and then intensive care
units to, if possible, be healed. Many of them never fully recover.
A trauma nurse I know told me she always looked at people's shoes when they lay
on gurneys in the emergency department. It struck her that life had still been
normal when that patient put them on in the morning. Whether they laced up
Nikes, pulled on snow boots or slid feet into stiletto heels, the shoes became a
relic of the ordinariness of the patient's life, before it turned savage.
So I have a request for proponents of unlimited access to guns. Spend some time
in a trauma center and see the victims of gun violence - the lucky survivors -
as they come in bloody and terrified. Understand that our country's blind
embrace of gun rights made this violent tableau possible, and that it's playing
out each day in hospitals and morgues all over the country.
Before leaving, make sure to look at the patients' shoes. Remember that at the
start of the day, before being attacked by a person with a gun, that patient
lying on a stretcher writhing helplessly in pain was still whole.
ease of downloading a song, anyone with a computer and a credit card can order
thousands of bullets and shotgun shells on the Internet, along with tear-gas
canisters and speed loaders. They can get the same high-capacity ammunition
clips that infantry soldiers use. They can even get bulletproof vests and SWAT
helmets. All without fear of a single background check.
No one is paying attention to whether buyers have criminal histories or
mental-health records. No one is monitoring bulk sales of ammunition to see who
might be building an arsenal. Even after a young man in Colorado buys 6,000
rounds by mail order and uses them to commit mass murder, it is the rare
politician who proposes to make the tools of terror slightly harder to obtain.
When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to reinstate the
assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004. That would have prohibited the
AR-15 rifle used in the Colorado theater shooting on Friday, along with the
large 100-round magazine attached to it. But as president, Mr. Obama has made no
attempt to do so. Mitt Romney banned assault weapons as governor of
Massachusetts and undoubtedly saved many lives, but now he opposes all gun
control measures. He never repeats what he said in 2004 when he signed the ban:
“Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts,” he said. “They are
instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing
Both men fear the power of gun ideologues, particularly in swing states like
Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Carolina, where many voters have fallen under the
spell of a gun lobby that considers any restriction an unthinkable assault on
the Constitution. Senator Ron Johnson, the Tea Party favorite from Wisconsin,
spoke for the Republican Party (and many Democrats) when he said that limiting
high-capacity magazines would infringe on a basic right. “When you try and do
it, you restrict our freedom,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Freedom to do what, precisely? To fire off 100 rounds without reloading? A few
sport shooters may enjoy doing that on a firing range, but that’s hardly
sufficient reason to empower someone else to do it in a movie theater. It has
nothing to do with the basic right of home protection and self-defense found by
the Supreme Court in 2008.
A Democratic senator, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, is one of the few
officials courageous enough to propose a better idea: A ban on clips that hold
more than 10 bullets, which are not needed to hunt, practice or protect oneself.
He first proposed this last year, after a gunman in Tucson used a 33-round
magazine to shoot 18 people, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords,
killing six. The shooter was tackled when he had to reload.
The ban went nowhere and will undoubtedly be laughed off by gun advocates this
year, too. In 1993, they killed a proposal by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of
New York to impose a heavy tax on handgun ammunition, especially the bullets
that expand and cause heavy tissue damage. A few years ago, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger of California signed a law requiring identification to buy
handgun ammunition and forbidding mail-order sales. A group of gun sellers sued
and won a trial-court ruling that the law was too vague. (The state attorney
general, Kamala Harris, appealed the ruling in February.)
But the gun lobby’s legal and political victories can’t obscure the facts. The
assault weapons ban didn’t clearly reduce crime, the best study of the measure
found, but allowing high-capacity magazines would “result in more shots fired,
more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with
other firearms.” Sensible restrictions on ammunition and clips won’t eliminate
mass shootings; they may make them less likely and reduce their level of
Many politicians of both parties know this. To overcome their fear of the gun
lobby, they need only look at the faces of the victims in Aurora, Colo.
LAS VEGAS — In a sea of rifles, handguns, knives and ammunition, thousands of
gun enthusiasts gathered here Wednesday for the annual Shot Show, the nation’s
largest gun trade show, where the convention’s sponsors decried gun laws and
said there was something else to blame for the Jan. 8 deadly shooting rampage in
Tucson: the mental health system.
The Shot Show sponsors as well as several exhibitors and others attending the
sprawling event rejected suggestions of a connection between the attack and gun
control legislation. Instead, they questioned why people around the man accused
of the shootings, Jared L. Loughner — his parents, friends, teachers and the
police — had not alerted mental health authorities about his apparent mental
decline before the rampage that left 6 people dead and 13 injured.
“What happened wasn’t caused by the failure or absence of some gun control law,”
said Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports
Foundation, the organizer of the Shot Show. “It was caused by a breakdown in the
public mental health system. The question is why wasn’t this individual dealt
with when everyone around him apparently saw there were very real issues.”
“To my mind,” Mr. Keane added, “gun control is a failed social experiment, and
it is time to move on.”
Mr. Keane offered that view as 57,000 people, an overflow crowd, turned out for
the 50th anniversary of the convention, which spilled out of the Sands
Convention Center and into the adjacent Venetian hotel. Throughout the day, the
lively crowd —overwhelmingly male, representing gun shops, the military and law
enforcement agencies — traipsed through fields of booths that displayed, among
other things, rifles, ammunition, silencers, camouflage gear, knives,
bulletproof vests, night goggles, holsters and, of course, pistols, including in
pink and lavender.
People attending the show were explicitly barred from carrying personal firearms
The Tucson shootings complicated plans for the Shot Show. Sponsors said they had
decided after the shootings not to get drawn into debates about gun control
until they arrived here to an event that drew 2,200 members of the news media.
Still, they said, there was never any doubt that the Shot Show would go on.
And there was little discussion of the events as the crowd surveyed this year’s
wares, reflecting a consensus that there was little chance that the shootings
would have political ramifications. “Congress is more pro-gun than at any time
in recent memory,” Steve Sanetti, president of the shooting sports foundation,
proclaimed in the daily newsletter of the convention, Shot Daily.
The carpeted expanse set aside for Glock — maker of the Glock 19 pistol that Mr.
Loughner is accused of using — was one of the largest spaces at the convention,
and it was bustling with people throughout the day. Two Glock employees, dressed
in black, stood on a riser and offered tips on target shooting.
“How many Glock shooters do we have in the crowd?” asked Randi Rogers, one of
the instructors, as she flexed a pistol in her arm, bending slightly at the
knees. As just about every hand rose, Ms. Rogers smiled and said, “Oh, I like
A Glock sales representative tending to potential customers as they looked at
pistols, including a Glock 19, said they had been instructed by the company not
to discuss the Tucson shootings or gun control.
“Tucson is a tragedy, but that’s all we have to say about it,” said the sales
representative, Tony Musa. “I have no opinion about gun control.”
Mr. Musa referred questions to a Glock vice president, Josh Dorsey.
“Basically, all I can say is no thank you,” Mr. Dorsey said, adding that no one
had raised the Tucson shootings with him.
Downstairs, Scherer Supply, an East Tennessee purveyor and maker of shooting
supplies, displayed the same kind of extended magazines, including a 33-shot
one, that was used in the Tucson shootings. Anthony Scherer, an owner of the
company, shook his head vigorously when asked about gun control advocates who
have called for restricting the sale of large magazines, which they said
contributed to the extent of the carnage on Jan. 8.
“To point any fingers at the gun industry is ignorant,” Mr. Scherer said, as
passers-by stopped to pick up and examine the magazines lined up on the counter.
“That’s like pointing a finger at Ford and blaming them for car deaths.”
“It’s the same kind of panicked reaction you get after a hurricane,” he said.
“It’s over, and everyone wants to get shutters.”
At the Smith and Wesson booth, Chris D’Amato, a Marine from Savannah, Ga.,
disputed the suggestion that a smaller magazine would have reduced the injuries
“I know where you’re going with that,” Mr. D’Amato said, when asked about the
size of the magazine in one of the handguns he and his wife were admiring on a
table of military and police guns. “It really doesn’t make much of a
Mr. Keane of the shooting sports foundation described this as a good time for
gun enthusiasts, and said that fears that the Obama administration and a
Democratic-controlled Congress would result in a round of new tough gun laws had
not been realized.
“People are pleasantly surprised about where we are,” he said. “But we remain
Mr. Keane said his organization would support strengthening the federal
background check for gun buyers, which he suggested had failed in the case of
“I’m sure the dealer who sold him the gun would have liked to know that this
person has had this mental health background,” he said.
Mark Thomas, a managing director with the foundation, said: “The scary thing
here is that the things we’ve read, the things we’ve seen, people didn’t seem
surprised at this, the way they said, ‘Yeah, he had changed over the last couple
of years.’ If you cared about that person, why didn’t you take some action?”
Still, trying to toughen the federal background check system — which is intended
to keep felons and people with records of mental health problems, among others,
from buying guns — is a subject of debate among gun enthusiasts. They say they
are concerned that it would create more obstacles for legitimate gun enthusiasts
without deterring people who should not get weapons.
On April 22, 2008, almost exactly one year after 32 students and faculty
members were slain in the massacre at Virginia Tech, the dealer who had sold one
of the weapons used by the gunman delivered a public lecture on the school’s
campus. His point: that people at Virginia Tech should be allowed to carry
concealed weapons on campus.
Eric Thompson, owner of the online firearms store that sold a .22-caliber
semiautomatic handgun to the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, did not think that his
appearance at Virginia Tech was disrespectful or that his position was extreme.
He felt so strongly that college students should be allowed to be armed while
engaged in their campus activities that he offered discounts to any students who
wanted to buy guns from him.
Thompson spun the discounts as altruistic. He told ABCNews.com, “This offers
students and people who might not have otherwise been able to afford a weapon to
purchase one at a hefty discount and at a significant expense to myself.”
The sale to Cho was not Thompson’s only unfortunate link to a mass killer. His
firm sold a pair of 9-millimeter Glock magazines and a holster to Steven
Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old graduate student in DeKalb, Ill., who, on the
afternoon of Feb. 14, 2008, went heavily armed into an auditorium-type lecture
hall at Northern Illinois University. Kazmierczak walked onto the stage in front
of a crowd of students and opened fire. He killed five people and wounded 18
others before killing himself.
We’ve allowed the extremists to carry the day when it comes to guns in the
United States, and it’s the dead and the wounded and their families who have had
to pay the awful price. The idea of having large numbers of college students
packing heat in their classrooms and at their parties and sporting events, or at
the local pub or frat house or gymnasium, or wherever, is too stupid for words.
Thompson did not get a warm welcome at Virginia Tech. A spokesman for the
school, Larry Hincker, said the fact that he “would set foot on this campus” was
“terribly offensive” and “incredibly insensitive to the families of the
Just last week, a sophomore at Florida State University, Ashley Cowie, was shot
to death accidentally by a 20-year-old student who, according to authorities,
was showing off his rifle to a group of friends in an off-campus apartment
complex favored by fraternity members. A second student was shot in the wrist.
This occurred as state legislators in Florida are considering a proposal to
allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons on campuses. The National
Rifle Association thinks that’s a dandy idea.
The slaughter of college students — or anyone else — has never served as a
deterrent to the gun fetishists. They want guns on campuses, in bars and taverns
and churches, in parks and in the workplace, in cars and in the home. Ammunition
everywhere — the deadlier, the better. A couple of years ago, a state legislator
in Arizona, Karen Johnson, argued that adults needed to be able to carry guns in
all schools, from elementary on up. “I feel like our kindergartners are sitting
there like sitting ducks,” she said.
Can we get a grip?
The contention of those who would like college kids and just about everybody
else to be armed to the teeth is that the good guys can shoot back whenever the
bad guys show up to do harm. An important study published in 2009 by researchers
at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine estimated that people in
possession of a gun at the time of an assault were 4.5 times more likely to be
shot during the assault than someone in a comparable situation without a gun.
“On average,” the researchers said, “guns did not seem to protect those who
possessed them from being shot in an assault. Although successful defensive gun
uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception
that such successes are likely.”
Approximately 100,000 shootings occur in the United States every year. The
number of people killed by guns should be enough to make our knees go weak.
Monday was a national holiday celebrating the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. While the gun crazies are telling us that ever more Americans need to
be walking around armed, we should keep in mind that more than a million people
have died from gun violence — in murders, accidents and suicides — since Dr.
King was shot to death in 1968.
We need fewer homicides, fewer accidental deaths and fewer suicides. That means
fewer guns. That means stricter licensing and registration, more vigorous
background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Start with that. Don’t tell me
it’s too hard to achieve. Just get started.
An Army psychiatrist facing deployment to one of America’s war zones killed
12 people and wounded 31 others on Thursday in a shooting rampage with two
handguns at the sprawling Fort Hood Army post in central Texas, military
It was one of the worst mass shootings ever at a military base in the United
The gunman, who was still alive after being shot four times, was identified by
law enforcement authorities as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, who had been in the
service since 1995. Major Hasan was about to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan,
said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas.
Clad in a military uniform and firing an automatic pistol and another weapon,
Major Hasan, a balding, chubby-faced man with heavy eyebrows, sprayed bullets
inside a crowded medical processing center for soldiers returning from or about
to be sent overseas, military officials said.
The victims, nearly all military personnel but including two civilians, were cut
down in clusters, the officials said. Witnesses told military investigators that
medics working at the center tore open the clothing of the dead and wounded to
get at the wounds and administer first aid.
As the shooting unfolded, military police and civilian officers of the
Department of the Army responded and returned the gunman’s fire, officials said,
adding that Major Hasan was shot by a first-responder, who was herself wounded
in the exchange.
In the confusion of a day of wild and misleading reports, the major and the
officer who shot him were both reported killed in the gun battle, but both
reports were erroneous.
Eight hours after the shootings, Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, a base spokesmen, said
Major Hasan, whom he described as the sole gunman, had been shot four times, but
was hospitalized off the base, under around-the-clock guard, in stable condition
and was not in imminent danger of dying.
Another military spokesman listed the major’s condition as critical. The
condition of the officer who shot the gunman was not given.
Major Hasan was not speaking to investigators, and much about his background —
and his motives — were unknown.
General Cone said that terrorism was not being ruled out, but that preliminary
evidence did not suggest that the rampage had been an act of terrorism. Fox News
quoted a retired Army colonel, Terry Lee, as saying that Major Hasan, with whom
he worked, had voiced hope that President Obama would pull American troops out
of Iraq and Afghanistan, had argued with military colleagues who supported the
wars and had tried to prevent his own deployment.
As a parade of ambulances wailed to the scene of the shootings, officials said
the extent of injuries to the wounded varied significantly, with some in
critical condition and others lightly wounded. General Cone praised the
first-responders and the medics who acted quickly to administer first aid at the
“Horrible as this was, I think it could have been much worse,” the general said.
The rampage recalled other mass shootings in the United States, including 13
killed at a center for immigrants in upstate New York last April, the deaths of
10 during a gunman’s rampage in Alabama in March and 32 people killed at
Virginia Tech in 2007, the deadliest shooting in modern American history.
As a widespread investigation by the military, the F.B.I., and other agencies
began, much about the assault in Texas remained unclear. Department of Homeland
Security officials said the Army would take the lead in the investigation.
A federal law enforcement official said the F.B.I. was sending more agents to
join the inquiry. On Thursday night, F.B.I. agents were interviewing residents
of a townhouse complex in the Washington suburb of Kensington, Md., where Major
Hasan had lived before moving to Texas.
Mr. Obama called the shootings “a horrific outburst of violence” and urged
Americans to pray for those who were killed and wounded.
“It is difficult enough when we lose these men and women in battles overseas,”
he said. “It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on
The president pledged “to get answers to every single question about this
Military records indicated that Major Hasan was single, had been born in
Virginia, had never served abroad and listed “no religious preference” on his
personnel records. Three other soldiers, their roles unclear, were taken into
custody in connection with the rampage. The office of Representative John
Carter, Republican of Texas, said they were later released, but a Fort Hood
spokesman could not confirm that. General Cone said that more than 100 people
had been questioned during the day.
Fort Hood, near Killeen and 100 miles south of Dallas-Fort Worth, is the largest
active duty military post in the United States, 340 square miles of training and
support facilities and homes, a virtual city for more than 50,000 military
personnel and some 150,000 family members and civilian support personnel. It has
been a major center for troops being deployed to or returning from service in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
The base went into lockdown shortly after the shootings. Gates were closed and
barriers put up at all entrance and exit checkpoints, and the military police
turned away all but essential personnel. Schools on the base were closed,
playgrounds were deserted and sidewalks were empty. Sirens wailed across the
base through the afternoon, a warning to military personnel and their families
to remain indoors.
Military commanders were instructed to account for all personnel on the base.
“The immediate concern is to make sure that all of our soldiers and family
members are safe, and that’s what commanders have been instructed to do,” said
Jay Adams of the First Army, Division West, at Ford Hood.
General Cone said the shooting took place about 1:30 p.m., inside a complex of
buildings that he called a Soldier Readiness Processing Center. The type of
weapons used was unclear, and it was not known whether the gunman had reloaded,
although it seemed likely, given that 43 people were shot, perhaps more than
All the victims were gunned down “in the same area,” General Cone said.
As the shootings ended, scores of emergency vehicles rushed to the scene, which
is in the center of the fort, and dozens of ambulances carried the shooting
victims to hospitals in the region.
Both of the handguns used by Major Hasan were recovered at the scene, officials
said. Investigators said the major’s computers, cellphones and papers would be
examined, his past investigated and his friends, relatives and military
acquaintances would be interviewed in an effort to develop a profile of him and
try to learn what had motivated his deadly outburst.
Major Hasan was assigned to the Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood.
The weapons used in the attack were described as “civilian” handguns. Security
experts said the fact that two handguns had been used suggested premeditation,
as opposed to a spontaneous act.
Rifles and assault weapons are conspicuous and not ordinarily seen on the
streets of a military post, and medical personnel would have no reason to carry
any weapon, they said. Moreover, security experts noted, it took a lot of
ammunition to shoot 43 people, another indication of premeditation.
It appeared certain that the shootings would generate a whole new look at
questions of security on military posts of all the armed forces in the United
States. Expressions of dismay were voiced by public officials across the
The Muslim Public Affairs Council, speaking for many American Muslims, condemned
the shootings as a “heinous incident” and said, “We share the sentiment of our
The council added, “Our entire organization extends its heartfelt condolences to
the families of those killed as well as those wounded and their loved ones.”
General Cone said Fort Hood was “absolutely devastated.”
News of the shooting set off panic among families and friends of the base
personnel. Alyssa Marie Seace’s husband, Pfc. Ray Seace Jr., sent her a text
message just before 2 p.m. saying that someone had “shot up the S.R.P.
building,” referring to the Soldier Readiness Processing Center. He told her he
Ms. Seace, 18, who lives about five minutes from the base and had not been
watching the news, reacted with alarm. She texted him back but got no response.
She called her father in Connecticut, who told her not to call her husband
because it might reveal his hiding place.
Finally, 45 minutes later, her husband, a mechanic who is scheduled to deploy to
Iraq in February, texted back to say that three people from his unit had been
hit and that a dozen people in all were dead.
By late afternoon, the sirens at Fort Hood had fallen silent. In Killeen, state
troopers were parked on ridges overlooking the two main highways through town.
In residential areas, the only signs of life were cars moving through the
streets. In the business districts, people went about their business.
In 1991, Killeen was the scene of one of the worst mass killings in American
history. A gunman drove his pickup truck through the window of a cafeteria,
fatally shot 22 people with a handgun, then killed himself.
Fort Hood, opened in September 1942 as America geared up for World War II, was
named for Gen. John Bell Hood of the Confederacy. It has been used continuously
for armor training and is charged with maintaining readiness for combat
It is a place that feels, on ordinary days, like one of the safest in the world,
surrounded by those who protect the nation with their lives. It is home to nine
schools — seven elementary schools and two middle schools, for the children of
personnel. But on Thursday, the streets were lined with emergency vehicles,
their lights flashing and sirens piercing the air as Texas Rangers and state
troopers took up posts at the gates to seal the base.
Shortly after 7 p.m., the sirens sounded again and over the loudspeakers a
woman’s voice that could be heard all over the base announced in a clipped
military fashion: “Declared emergency no longer exists.”
The gates reopened, and a stream of cars and trucks that had been bottled up for
hours began to move out.
Calif. — A man in a Santa Claus outfit opened fire on a Christmas Eve gathering
of his in-laws in this Los Angeles suburb and then methodically set their house
ablaze, killing at least eight people and injuring several others, the
authorities said Thursday.
Shortly after the attack, the gunman, identified as Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45,
killed himself with a single shot to the head at the home of his brother in the
Sylmar section of Los Angeles, the police said.
In addition to the eight people whose bodies were found in the ashes of the
house here, none of whom were identified, at least one other person was thought
to be missing, and perhaps as many as three. Among the total of dead or missing
were the couple who owned the home and their daughter, the estranged wife of the
gunman, the police said.
Investigators continued to search the charred structure Thursday, and coroners
said dental records would be needed to identify some of the remains.
The frenzied shooting occurred just before midnight Wednesday at the two-story
house, set on a cul-de-sac in this middle-class town about 22 miles east of Los
Angeles. Lt. Pat Buchanan of the Covina Police Department said Mr. Pardo, armed
with one or two handguns and fire accelerant, had gone to the house looking for
his former wife, Sylvia, with whom he was finalizing a contentious divorce after
only a year of marriage.
People who escaped the house got out by smashing through glass and jumping. One
woman broke an ankle when she leapt from a second-floor window.
The house was owned by James and Alicia Ortega, an elderly couple who were
retired from their spray-painting business and who often invited their large
extended family over for parties, particularly around Christmas.
Relatives said about 25 people, among them many children, were inside the home
celebrating when Mr. Pardo knocked on the door around 11:30 p.m. He had
apparently disguised himself as a hired entertainer for the children in order to
When a guest opened the door, Lieutenant Buchanan said, Mr. Pardo stepped inside
the house, drew a semiautomatic handgun and immediately started shooting,
beginning with an 8-year-old girl who was hit in the face but who survived, as
did an older girl who was shot in the back.
As Mr. Pardo unleashed a barrage of gunfire in the living room, relatives
smashed through windows, hid behind furniture or bounded upstairs. Then he
sprayed the room with accelerant, using a device made of two pressurized tanks,
one of which held pressurized gas. Within seconds, the house was ablaze.
Joshua Chavez of Seattle was visiting his mother’s house, which sits behind the
Ortegas’, when he heard a loud explosion. “Then I saw black smoke and this large
flame,” he said.
Mr. Chavez ran out to the backyard and heard three girls, including the one who
had been shot in the back, trying to climb over his mother’s wall. “There’s some
guy shooting in there,” he said one of the girls told him.
“About 20 seconds after that,” he continued, “the house was totally on fire. One
girl said that a guy dressed as Santa started shooting.”
Another neighbor, Jeannie Goltz, 51, saw three more partygoers fleeing the
burning home. One of them, a young woman, had escaped upstairs from the living
room but broke her ankle when she jumped out a second-story window.
SWAT teams arrived shortly after Ms. Goltz had shepherded these three survivors
into another neighbor’s house, but by that time Mr. Pardo was on his way back to
Police officers said they could not recall so horrific a crime in Covina, and
neighbors said they would never have imagined anything so grisly on their quiet
The Ortegas had lived in the house for more than two decades and were known for
their family spirit, their generosity and their dog, which frequently escaped
“I would generally play Santa for the family every year,” said Pat Bower, a
neighbor of the Ortegas for 25 years. “The family was always together. Brothers
and sisters, aunts and uncles were always in the house. They were a gigantic
family. We all envied them, actually.”
Robert and Gloria Magcalas lived next door to the Ortegas for 11 years but were
celebrating Christmas Eve with relatives in Los Angeles. Their own home was
barely spared the flames.
“They were a big, loving family,” Mrs. Magcalas said. “We usually exchanged
gifts with them today. They gave us tamales and cookies every Christmas.”
The police said they had found two handguns in the ruins, and an additional two
pistols at the scene of Mr. Pardo’s apparent suicide. Officials said they would
continue to search the crime scene Friday, seeking information about the
identities of the dead.
A gunman opened fire from a balcony in a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska, on
Wednesday, killing eight people, wounding five before taking his own life,
Following is a chronology of some of the deadlier mass shootings in the United
States in recent years:
March 1998 - At Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys aged 13
and 11 pulled a fire alarm and began shooting teachers and classmates as they
left the school, killing four students and a teacher.
April 1999 - Two students shot to death 12 other students and a teacher at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, before killing themselves.
July 1999 - A day trader killed his wife and two children before shooting nine
people to death at two Atlanta brokerages. He then killed himself.
September 1999 - A 47-year-old loner killed seven people in a Fort Worth, Texas,
Baptist church. Then he killed himself.
November 1999 - A Xerox copier repairman in Honolulu gunned down seven
co-workers before fleeing, triggering one of the biggest manhunts in Hawaii
history. He was located and surrendered to police after a five-hour armed
March 2005 - A 16-year-old high school student gunned down five students, a
teacher and a security guard at Red Lake High School in far northern Minnesota
before killing himself. He also killed his grandfather and his grandfather's
companion elsewhere on the Chippewa Indian reservation.
October 2, 2006 - A local milk truck driver who was not Amish, tied up and shot
10 Amish schoolgirls aged 6 to 14 in their classroom, killing five of them
before turning the gun on himself in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about 60
miles (97 km) west of Philadelphia.
April 16, 2007 - A university in Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech, became the
site of the deadliest rampage in U.S. history when a gunman killed 32 people and
December 5, 2007 - A gunman opened fire from a balcony in a shopping mall in
Omaha, Nebraska, killing eight people and wounding five, before taking his own
life, police said.