Gun-seizure laws grow in popularity since Parkland shooting
By RYAN J. FOLEY
Monday, February 11
In the year since the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school, more and more states have passed laws making it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence against others, and courts are issuing an unprecedented number of seizure orders across the country.
Supporters say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the U.S. Gun advocates, though, say such measures undermine their constitutional rights and can result in people being stripped of their weapons on false or vindictive accusations.
Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to 14. Several more are likely to follow in the months ahead.
More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized for weeks, months or up to a year were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others, according to data from several states obtained by The Associated Press. The actual number is probably much higher since the data was incomplete and didn’t include California.
The laws gained momentum after it was learned that the young man accused in the Florida attack, Nikolas Cruz, was widely known to be mentally troubled yet had access to weapons, including the assault-style rifle used to kill 17 students and staff members last Valentine’s Day at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Parkland would never have happened if Florida had a red flag law,” Linda Beigel Schulman said during a recent news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign his state’s new law any day. Her son, Scott Beigel, was a teacher and coach killed during the Parkland attack.
Florida passed a red flag law as part of a gun-control package in the wake of the shooting. Aside from New York, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont also have adopted variations since then. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington already had similar laws.
Several states are debating them this year, including New Mexico, where two students were killed in a school shooting in December 2017.
Mike Heal, police chief in the town of Aztec, responded to the shooting at the local high school and testified in support of the red flag proposal, saying, “I know I cannot keep everyone safe, but give me the tools to try.”
The laws are being invoked frequently in many of the states that have them.
Authorities in Maryland granted more than 300 petitions to temporarily disarm individuals in the three months after the state’s law went into effect Oct. 1. Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said the cases included four “significant” threats of school shootings, and that a majority of the people who were subjects of the orders were suffering from mental health crises.
“These orders are not only being issued appropriately, they are saving lives,” Popkin told lawmakers last month.
In Vermont, a prosecutor obtained an order to strip gun rights from a teenager released from jail after being accused of plotting a school shooting.
Florida courts granted more than 1,000 orders in the first nine months of its new law. Broward County, which includes Parkland, has been at the forefront, accounting for roughly 15 percent of cases statewide.
Among the first people subjected to the law was Cruz’s younger brother, who authorities said was showing signs of violence after allegedly trespassing at the high school after the shooting. In another case, Florida authorities took dozens of firearms from a bailiff accused of threatening other courthouse employees.
Connecticut has the nation’s longest-standing red flag law, which went into effect in 1999 after a mass shooting at the state lottery office. Authorities there say new awareness of the law contributed to a spike in 2018 in warrants issued to take away weapons — 268, the highest total on record, according to court data.
The rise reflects the more aggressive posture police have adopted since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and other attacks.
One study found that the Connecticut law reduced gun suicides by more than 10 percent in recent years and that a similar law in Indiana led to a 7.5 percent drop.
“It really gives us a unique opportunity as prosecutors to come in before the violence has occurred. Often we are tackling it on the other side,” said Kimberly Wyatt, a prosecutor in King County, Washington, who has been seeking one or two such orders per week in and around Seattle.
She said authorities use the best available research and their judgment, looking at whether a person has talked about suicide, threatened others, stalked someone or shown signs of a mental health crisis.
Gun-rights advocates argue that the laws can be used unfairly based on unproven accusations.
“In today’s society, the police are going to err on the side of caution. The threshold for issuing these types of warrants has been lowered,” lamented Scott Wilson Sr., president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.
Debates in state legislatures often turn on how much due process gun owners should receive and who can petition for the orders. In some states, only police can file the petitions. Other states allow members of the person’s household, relatives, school officials, employers and health care providers to do so.
Most states allow for temporary orders that are issued for days or weeks. Judges then hold hearings to decide whether to extend them for up to one year.
During the debate in New Mexico, Army veteran Rico Giron testified that people could see their guns seized over grudges between family members or neighbors.
“It’s incredibly dangerous because it opens the door for vindictiveness and revenge,” Giron said.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely, said he wants parents to have another option if they have a child suffering from mental illness.
“The state has an obligation to say, ‘Yes, there is something we can do for you,’” Ely said.
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.
Follow Ryan J. Foley at https://twitter.com/rjfoley
Part of The Associated Press story package marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Parents question whether shooting drills traumatize kids
By CAROLYN THOMPSON
Sunday, February 10
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Long before an ex-student opened fire on his former classmates in Parkland, Florida, many school districts conducted regular shooting drills — exercises that sometimes included simulated gunfire and blood and often happened with no warning that the attack wasn’t real.
The drills began taking shape after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. But 20 years later, parents are increasingly questioning elements of the practice, including whether the drills traumatize kids.
April Sullivan was pleasantly surprised by an “I love you, Mom” text from her daughter last May, even though she knew the eighth-grader wasn’t supposed to be using her cellphone during school in Short Pump, Virginia. But she did not know that her child sent it while supposedly hiding from an intruder. The girl didn’t know the “code blue” alert was a drill.
“To find out later she sent that text because she was in fear for her life did not sit well with me,” Sullivan said.
Henrico County Public Schools have since changed the way they conduct drills, making clear at the start that the events are not real and notifying parents as the drill begins or right after, district spokesman Andy Jenks said.
The backlash underlines the challenges administrators face in deciding how far to go in the name of preparedness.
Thirty-nine states require lockdown, active-shooter or similar safety drills. Other states have less explicit requirements or leave it to districts, according to the Education Commission of the States. A Mississippi task force has proposed twice-yearly active-shooter drills.
But even as the drills become routine for many of the nation’s 51 million elementary and secondary public school students, there is no consensus on how they should be conducted, experts said. No data exists, for example, to show whether a drill with simulated gunfire is more effective or whether an exercise that’s been announced in advance is taken less seriously than a surprise.
“Some hard data on each question are needed with urgency,” said University at Buffalo professor Jeremy Finn, who gathered experts from around the country to evaluate school security measures at a conference in Washington, D.C., in October.
After Columbine, lockdowns that involved bolting the door and crouching quietly out of sight became the norm. In 2013, the Department of Education recommended giving staff latitude to evacuate, barricade classroom doors or, as a last resort, fight back by throwing things or rushing the attacker.
“Do you really want it to be your kid who’s the one who takes the bullet and winds up with a plaque in the lobby of the school saying he went down as a hero?” asked Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, parent Nanette Adams, who disagreed with the decision to adopt a widely used safety protocol during a September drill at her 15-year-old son’s high school. The protocol is known as ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
“To me, this just seems like an indirect admission on the part of the schools that they really have no control over who gets into the building, and the school security officer isn’t enough to keep the place safe so we need to hold the kids accountable for doing it,” she said.
In 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers issued joint guidance that cautioned that while drills have the potential to save lives, those “not conducted appropriately” can cause “physical and psychological harm to students, staff and the overall learning environment.”
After public criticism of the unannounced Short Pump drill and others, the Virginia House of Delegates last month considered, but defeated, legislation requiring schools to give parents advance notification. The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Schuyler VanValkenburg, a high school teacher, said opponents argued that the heads-up would hinder safety by letting students take it less seriously.
“I think that’s baloney. They’re very aware of what can happen in this day and age. They all see the news. They all see social media,” said Sullivan, whose daughter declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press but described the drill for Richmond television station WWBT a few days later.
“I thought I was probably going to die that day,” she said. “We hear the door handle jiggling up and down and then we see the door open, and it’s our resource officer telling us it’s a drill.”
When her son’s school fired blanks during a drill, Adams questioned whether it was really necessary to expose children to the sound of gunfire. Others complained that such realistic exercises can take a toll on classroom learning even after the drills are done.
Mo Canady, executive director of the school resource officers’ group, recommends districts save the most intense exercises for staff only. As the decision-makers, he said, “they need to know a little more what that’s going to feel like.”
For students, lower-stress drills that have them listening to instructions and running through the motions, like traditional fire drills, should be the focus, he said.
“We need to be as prepared as we can,” Canady said, “but it doesn’t mean that we’ve got to terrify students to get them prepared.”
‘I can’t bring Alyssa back’: Grieving Parkland mom fights on
By KELLI KENNEDY
Monday, February 11
PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Every morning, Lori Alhadeff makes breakfast for her two boys, gets dressed and sprays on her daughter’s Victoria’s Secret perfume.
The scent is part of her armor, propelling her through her whirlwind of a day as she fields hundreds of emails and juggles two phones, a constant reminder of why she ran for and won a seat on the local school board, and started a foundation to make schools safer. Why she called out President Trump in a televised, gut-wrenching tirade.
“I smell Alyssa,” Lori Alhadeff says, “so I feel like she’s more a part of me.”
A year ago, 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff was one of 17 people killed by a gunman who stalked the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And now, her mother keeps up a dizzying pace of advocacy, insisting that it helps her handle the grief, though there is the sense that if she ever allowed herself to stop she would be swallowed whole by sorrow.
“For me, it’s honestly still 2/14/18,” she says, through tears that often come as she remembers her daughter. “It’s not really set in that this is a reality for me. I feel that Alyssa is still coming home. She’s at her soccer game and she’s still going to walk through this door.”
When word of the shootings spread on that Valentine’s Day a year ago, Lori rushed to the high school with her husband, Ilan, and best friend, Emily Price. Other students, running from the school, told them Alyssa had been shot.
They split up and went in vain to different hospitals, looking for Alyssa without success. The Alhadeffs spent an agonizing night at a hotel.
The next morning, morgue workers would not allow them to their see their daughter. All they would show them was a photo of Alyssa’s face.
“That’s when I knew with 100 percent certainty that Alyssa was killed,” her mother says.
Alyssa had tried to hide under a table in her English class. The gunman, armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, sprayed bullets through a window; Alyssa was shot 10 times, in the heart, on the top of her head and in her femoral artery — her “soccer leg,” her mom says.
The Alhadeffs would finally be reunited with their daughter as they planned her funeral.
“Her body was really cold,” Lori Alhadeff recalls. She tried to warm Alyssa with her hands, “to bring her back to life.” She clipped locks of the girl’s long, brown hair, to keep.
Seething, she asked her husband to drive her to the park where students and media had gathered. She approached a line of reporters.
She did not know what to say. But she felt compelled to speak.
“A crazy person just walks right into the school, knocked on the window of my child’s door and starts shooting, shooting her and killing her,” she screamed. “President Trump, you say what can you do, you can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands, put metal detectors at every entrance to the school.”
CNN captured the moment live; her rage was so overwhelming, her grief so palpable, that for a moment the shaken anchor struggled to speak. The outburst would be seen worldwide.
After the funeral, Alhadeff’s grief quickly turned to action.
A 44-year-old former teacher, Alhadeff started Make Our Schools Safe, aiming to harden schools against intruders and to train students and teachers so they know how to respond. Test scores don’t matter, she says, if kids don’t come home alive.
She and her husband marched with Parkland students in Washington, demanding gun control. And in May, she was elected to the school board.
“I have to keep pressing forward. I know that I can’t bring Alyssa back but … if I can change the life of one person … ,” she says, her voice trailing off in tears.
Emily Price’s daughter Abby was Alyssa’s best friend. The two families moved to Parkland five years ago. Their girls shared the same birthday and quickly became inseparable.
Lori, Emily and Abby visited Alyssa’s grave on Thanksgiving.
“There’s some days that I feel like staying in bed and not doing anything and it just feels like it’s the end of the world … (Lori) is able to draw strength from Alyssa on a daily basis and get up and be a force to be reckoned with,” Price says.
Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina died in the shooting, says Alhadeff isn’t afraid to demand answers from school administrators when other board members are too timid.
“The other board members need to have the courage to stand up and ask the tough questions that Lori has started to ask,” says Petty, who lost his own bid for the board.
Her fearlessness is out of character for the petite and normally reserved Alhadeff.
“That was Alyssa enabling me to use my voice,” she says.
Alyssa was in many ways a typical teenager. She loved boys and going to the beach. She excelled in math and Spanish, was a gifted writer and captain of her soccer team. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
She didn’t have a boyfriend and wasn’t looking forward to Valentine’s Day. Lori knew that and tucked a pair of earrings and a chocolate bar in a gold bag for her. Alyssa was delighted and Snapchatted about it on the way to school before her mom dropped her off.
“I told Alyssa that I loved her,” she says. It was the last time she would see her daughter alive.
Reminders of Alyssa are everywhere: Photos of Alyssa along with her brothers, now 11 and 14. The silver heart necklace Lori wears, etched with a picture of mother and daughter. The stones painted with Alyssa’s name, leading up to the front door.
Much of Alyssa’s turquoise-colored bedroom remains untouched. Her retainer is still there, as are mementos of teammates and friends. Her yellow soccer jersey, No. 8, hangs on the wall. And her dirty clothes are still in the hamper by the bed.
“I haven’t washed them yet because it’s too hard,” her mother says, crying again.
“I want her back. I want her back.”
Associated Press writer Terry Spencer contributed to this report.
Find all The Associated Press’ coverage marking one year since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, at https://apnews.com/ParklandFloridaschoolshooting .
Suspect charged in fatal shooting of Milwaukee officer
Sunday, February 10
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A man who was charged Sunday with killing a Milwaukee officer during a drug raid on his home told investigators that he didn’t realize it was police trying to break down his door, authorities said.
Jordan P. Fricke, 26, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and other crimes in the fatal shooting of 35-year-old Officer Matthew Rittner, who was part of a tactical unit trying to serve a warrant to search the home for illegal drugs and weapons on Wednesday morning.
According to the criminal complaint, police announced their presence several times and said they had a search warrant, and an officer yelled “police” right before Fricke fired four rounds through a hole in the door that Rittner had made with a battering ram. Rittner died of a gunshot wound to the chest.
Fricke was in bed with his girlfriend when they were awakened by loud noise and yelling. He told investigators that he never heard anyone yell “search warrant.” He said he thought he heard someone say “police” but didn’t think it was actually the police trying to break into his home, the complaint states.
Fricke’s girlfriend said she saw him shoot at the kitchen door and that she knew police were at the door because she heard them identify themselves, according to the complaint.
A $1 million cash bond was set Sunday for Fricke, who remained in jail. A court commissioner found probable cause to hold Fricke for further proceedings, and a preliminary hearing was set for Thursday.
Fricke’s attorney, Michael L. Chernin, declined comment.
Rittner, a 17-year veteran of the force, was the third Milwaukee officer killed in the line of duty in eight months. The department had previously gone more than two decades without such a death.
Rittner’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at Oak Creek Assembly of God Church in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.