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Gary Younge

 Jaiden Dixon outside his Grove City home. Photograph: Courtesy Facebook/Nicole Fitzpatrick
America's war: the killing of Jaiden Dixon and Tyler Dunn

The most common adjective employed by weather reporters on Saturday 23 November 2013 was “treacherous”. But in reality there was not a hint of betrayal about it. The day was every bit as foul as one would expect the week before Thanksgiving. A Nordic outbreak of snow, rain and high winds barrelled through the desert states and northern plains towards the midwest.

There was precious little in the news to distract anyone from the weather. A poll gave Barack Obama his lowest approval ratings in years. The same day, he announced a tentative deal with Iran over its nuclear programme. That night, Fox News was the most popular cable news channel; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the highest-grossing movie.

It was just another day in America. And as befits an unremarkable Saturday, 10 children and teens were killed by gunfire. They died in altercations at gas stations, accidents in bedrooms, standing on stairwells and walking down the street, in gangland hits and by mistaken identity. Like the weather, none of them would make the national news because, like the weather, their deaths did not disturb the accepted order of things. Every day, on average, seven children and teens are killed by guns in America. Firearms are the leading cause of death among black children under 19, and the second greatest cause of death for all children of the same age, after car accidents.

I picked this day at random, and spent two years trying to find out who these children were. I searched for their parents, pastors, baseball coaches, and scoured their Facebook and Twitter feeds. The youngest child was nine, the oldest 19.

Four years ago, for a moment, there was considerable interest in the fact that large numbers of Americans were being fatally shot. On 14 December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 20 small children and six staff dead. Mass shootings comprise a small proportion of gun violence, but they disturb America’s self-image in a way that the daily torrent of gun deaths does not. “Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children … it’s changed America,” said the Democrat senator Joe Manchin, who championed a tepid gun-control bill. “We’ve never seen this happen.”

The truth is, it’s happening every day, only most do not see it; 23 November 2013 was just one of those days. Here are two of the boys’ (they were all boys) stories.

School mornings in Nicole Fitzpatrick’s home followed a predictable routine. As soon as her three sons – Jarid, 17, Jordin, 16, and Jaiden, nine – heard her footsteps, they would pull the covers over their heads because they knew what was coming: the lights. The older two would take this as a cue for the inevitable and get up. But Jaiden would try to string it out. He would climb into his mother’s bed. Then came the cajoling. “I’d tickle him,” Nicole says. “I’d pull him by his ankle.” They had a deal. If he could get himself ready – “all the way ready: socks, shoes, shirt, everything” – the rest of the morning was his. “He could play Minecraft, watch Duck Dynasty.”

It was Friday 22 November, the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination, and the papers were full of nostalgia for the nation’s lost innocence. They might have found it on Nicole’s street in Grove City, a dependably humdrum suburb of Columbus, crowned “best hometown” in central Ohio that year. It was its dependability that convinced people to stay. Nicole went to school with the parents of the children her kids went to school with.

Jaiden was ready that morning with time to spare. When Nicole threw him his socks, he threw them back, telling her he wanted to try out as a pitcher for his baseball team. He was playing on his Xbox when, shortly after 7.30am, the doorbell rang. This was not part of the routine, but nor was it out of the ordinary. The teenage girls at the end of the road would pop around if they were short of sugar or needed a lift.

Slowly, curiously, Jaiden walked around the door. That’s when Nicole heard the 'pop'

Jaiden opened the door gingerly, hiding behind it, poised to jump out and shout, “Boo!” when one of the girls showed her face. But nobody stepped forward. Time was suspended as the minor commotion of an unexpected visitor failed to materialise. Nicole craned her neck into the cleft of silence to find out who it was. She looked to Jarid; Jarid shrugged.

Slowly, curiously, Jaiden walked around the door. That’s when Nicole heard the “pop”. Her first thought was, “Why are these girls popping a balloon? What are they trying to do, scare me to death?” But then she saw Jaiden’s head snap back, first once, then twice, before he hit the floor. “It was just real quiet. It was like everything stopped. And I remember staring at Jarid.” She knew what had happened. It was Danny.

Danny Thornton was Jarid’s father. Nicole had met him years earlier at Sears, where he made keys. She was 19; he was 28. “We were never really together,” she says. “It was a back-and-forth kind of thing.” She hadn’t seen him since July. He’d found her over a year earlier, in January 2012, when he was in need of help. “He was getting ready to be evicted, and we decided to let him stay. He could spend time with Jarid and keep him under control, and I could help him get a job.”

While he was staying, Danny got to know Jaiden. He took him bowling. He told Nicole that Jaiden made him laugh, even that he preferred him to his own son.

But Nicole needed her room back. That made Danny angry, and he didn’t deal with anger well. His criminal history included charges of felonious assault, domestic violence, attempted possession of drugs and carrying a concealed weapon. He was also a semi-pro, super-middleweight boxer, 5ft 11in and around 160lb, who favoured the southpaw stance: right hand and right foot forward, leading with right jabs, and following up with a left cross, right hook. “He moved all his stuff out,” Nicole says. “I don’t know where. I didn’t care.”

What she also didn’t know for some time was that, as he was packing, he told Jarid, “I have no problem making you an orphan. I’m not going to be living out of my car at 47. I have no problem shooting your mom and shooting your brothers.” He’d end his life in a shootout with the cops, he said.

Danny had talked to her about shooting other people. “He had twins. He was pissed off with the mom for filing child support on him. And he talked about if he knew where she lived, he’d shoot her and shoot the babies,” Nicole’s best friend, Amy Sanders, tells me. “He had a list – an actual, physical list – of people he wanted to kill. Nicole always thought if she was nice to him, she wouldn’t be on his list. And unfortunately she was the first one.”

Jarid didn’t tell his mother what Danny had said until September. “I stopped dead in my tracks,” Nicole says. “I said, ‘Jarid, he’s going to kill me.’ And Jarid said, ‘He’s just blowing off steam.’ I was petrified.” But time passed, and she began to wonder if Jarid was right.

Then Danny’s mobile phone subscription expired. Nicole had been paying it, but Christmas was approaching and she couldn’t afford it. On 20 November she wrote a text telling him his contract was up: “The phone’s yours. You can go and turn it on at any provider.” The message sat on her phone for a while, unsent. “I knew what he was capable of,” she says. “But I had to look out for my kids. I had to look out for me.” She pressed send.

He replied within an hour: “What fucking took you so long?”

Nicole forwarded the message to Amy. “I swear he’s gonna kill me one day,” Nicole texted. “In two years, when nobody suspects him.”

Two days later, this was the man who sped away in a blue Toyota, leaving Jaiden with a bullet in his skull. “And I struggle to try and understand,” Nicole says. “Did he shoot whoever answered the door, or was Jaiden his target? Because, honestly, he could have stepped one foot in that house and shot me, shot Jarid, shot Jordin.” Jarid fled the house, asking a neighbour to call 911. Once he got hold of the emergency services, he could barely make himself understood.

“Sir, please calm down so I can understand what you’re saying,” the operator says. “We’ve got to learn what’s going on.”

“My dad just shot my baby brother,” Jarid replies.

“Who shot him?”

“Danny Thornton. D-a-n-n-y T-h-o-r-n-t-o-n.” There is desperation and the occasional expletive interspersed with formal niceties: “Sir”, “Ma’am”, “fuck”, “please God”.

 Jaiden Dixon with his mother Nicole Fitzpatrick.
Jaiden Dixon with his mother Nicole Fitzpatrick.

“C’mon, Jaiden. C’mon, baby.”

Nicole did her best to focus. She put one hand over the wound and the other on the back of Jaiden’s head, where she could feel the bullet. She scooped him up, then laid him back down. Still unconscious, Jaiden lifted his left arm three or four inches off the ground and let it fall.

“I freaked out,” Nicole says. “I said, ‘He’s still alive. He’s still OK.’ I was thinking, this is what they do on TV. CPR. Mouth to mouth. And all it was, was just gurgle…”

The emergency services arrived and took over. Nicole felt there was still hope. “I hugged the boys and was saying, ‘Be strong. We’ll get to the hospital and get him fixed.’ I kept thinking, ‘Just get him to surgery, get the bullet out.’”

With Danny’s whereabouts still unknown, the suburb’s security apparatus curled into a tight foetal ball. Within five minutes of the first 911 call, Highland Park Elementary, just one block away, went into lockdown. School hadn’t started, so the police diverted buses and told parents arriving in cars to take their children home.

But Danny was long gone, heading eastbound on Interstate 270 to Groveport, 20 minutes away, where his ex-partner, Vicki Vertin, with whom he had an 18-year-old daughter, worked as a dental hygienist. Vicki came out to meet him in the lobby. She hadn’t seen Danny for 12 years, but still lived in fear of his temper. He was wearing a grey hoodie and had his hands in the front pocket. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” Vicki told him. Danny took out his gun and shot her in the stomach.

By now, the 911 dispatch office was in overdrive. Calls were pouring in. One of Vicki’s co-workers was on the line. It took them six minutes to link the two shootings. Two of Danny’s friends also called the police. He’d told them that he’d “killed two people and that he’s not going back to jail”, and “he will not go down without a fight with police”. More schools went into lockdown. Vicki’s family were taken to a protective room.

Nicole, meanwhile, had arrived at the hospital. Detectives pulled her aside to ask if she had any idea where Danny would be going. That was when she found out he’d shot somebody else.

An hour and 45 minutes after he shot Vicki, Danny was traced to a Walmart parking lot. It was 9.46am. A shootout ensued in which one policeman was injured and Danny finally got his wish: suicide by cop.

I keep replaying seeing him falling to the ground. I keep replaying: ‘I should have done this, I should have done that'

Vicki’s first thought when she woke from surgery was that he could still be out there. ‘“Did they get him?” she asked her dad. “No,” he replied. She tried to get out of bed: “Oh my God, he’s coming back.” Her father clarified: Danny had been shot dead. It was the first time in years she’d felt safe.

Across town, Nicole was told that Jaiden wouldn’t make it. The neurologist told her that Jaiden’s CT scan was one of the worst she’d ever seen. The bullet had taken a path straight to the back of his brain, where it had ricocheted, causing irreparable damage. They put Jaiden on a ventilator while a decision was made about organ donation. “I don’t remember feeling anything,” Nicole says. “All I remember is having this image of him in his shoes. He’d just put his shoes on, and his T-shirt was on the floor. And now he’s in a hospital gown with a thing down his throat. All in about an hour or so.”

Jaiden was pronounced dead at 3.47pm the next day. Until they wheeled him away to the operating room, Nicole kept it together, but witnessing that was too much to bear. “I couldn’t see the doors close,” she says. “It was almost like they were taking him to have his tonsils out.” She had been up for 45 hours. “I just remember breaking down and crying, and then somebody put me in a wheelchair and took me out. I didn’t go back to the hospital at all.”

The fog did not clear until the viewing. “It was maybe a week after he died,” she recalls. “He was lying in his casket. And because I’d been able to touch him so much at the hospital, I went right up and kissed him, and I grabbed his hand and it was cold as stone and hard. That was when the reality hit me: Oh my God. My baby’s gone.”

Nicole’s world is now divided into before and after. “It was like, before I was in a theatre watching this movie, and since then it’s been like walking into a parking lot and trying to adjust to the bright lights from being so engrossed in this movie for so long.”

It’s not as though the movie was necessarily uplifting. As a single mother of three, she remembers being exhausted, overwhelmed and, at times, very down. “There were nights when I would come home and just order pizza because I didn’t feel like cooking. And I would stare at the TV, and Jaiden would be out or upstairs or whatever. And I wish I’d gone and played with them.”

The first time I met Nicole was in her office, four months after Jaiden’s death. It was her birthday, but she hadn’t let on to her co-workers and had no plans. She was wearing a hoodie bearing Jaiden’s name and face and the word legendary. Her friend had set up a website so they could sell them to raise funds. But she found it difficult to see his face. “I have school pictures in the living room over the mantel. I catch myself diverting my attention so that I don’t have to look.” She was in therapy, but struggling with the advice. “They keep saying that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. They keep saying, ‘It’ll get better.’ But I’m kind of at the point where I don’t see it.”

Five months later, she still couldn’t see it. We had dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse and went back to her house to meet friends. If anything, she was in a darker place. Most evenings she stayed up late to avoid going to sleep. Her mind kept whirring – an apparently endless loop of what-ifs and horror sequences. “I keep replaying seeing him falling to the ground. I keep replaying: ‘I should have done this, I should have done that. I should have opened the door.’”

In the reception area of St Joseph’s Cemetery, where Jaiden is buried, a range of pamphlets is assembled to assist the bereaved: Losing Your Mom, Losing Your Dad, Talking With Your Kids About Funerals, Grieving The Death Of A Grown Son Or Daughter, to name but a few. There is pretty much every permutation of grief but one – a pamphlet entitled Losing Your Young Child. Because that’s not supposed to happen.

Sanilac County has a lower population density than Finland and is slightly less racially diverse than Norway (it is over 95% white). According to Michigan’s department of agriculture, Sanilac leads the state in the acreage devoted to soy, corn, wheat, dairy farms and general cattle operations. Straight roads lead past silos, Dutch barns, grazing livestock and fallow fields, interspersed with the occasional township and homestead.

Marlette, population 1,879, is Sanilac’s third-biggest town and a 25-minute drive from the county seat of Sandusky. The shiny blue water tower bearing the town’s name announces itself from afar to the left, while McDonald’s golden arches peer over the trees to the right. Brittany Dunn, 20, wouldn’t be anywhere else. “I’d rather live here than in the city,” she says.

“It’s more laid-back,” agrees her grandmother, Janet Allen.

I am sitting in a pizzeria with four generations of the Dunn family: Janet, Lora Dunn Bartz (Janet’s daughter), Brittany (Lora’s daughter) and Ciannah (Brittany’s seven-month-old baby), as well as Thomas Bartz, Lora’s husband.

This vast expanse of land was Tyler Dunn’s playground. To a city dweller like me, the 11-year-old sounds like a character from Mark Twain. He loved trapping animals, hunting, catching fish in the creek behind the house, four-wheeling and dirt-biking in the summer, sledding in the winter. The Dunns lived three miles down a dirt road off Highway 53. Several miles from the nearest traffic light, even streetlight, and surrounded by fields, he was safe to do his own thing.

That year, deer hunting season started on 15 November, pheasant shooting on the 20th. “Tradition here is that the opening day you can just about close all the schools, because the kids are going hunting,” Sanilac County sheriff Garry Biniecki tells me. But with the exception of Tyler, hunting season didn’t particularly excite the Dunns. None of his immediate family hunted, and although Tyler enjoyed field sports, there is little evidence he was particularly good at them. One winter, Brittany’s boyfriend took Tyler trapping, but for more regular hunting trips Tyler turned to his friend Brandon.

Brandon (not his real name) lived about a mile away, on a dirt road off Tyler’s. Brandon, who was 12, would sometimes pick up Tyler on his go-kart, and they would roam the neighbourhood. They had been friends since kindergarten, but weren’t inseparable. Once, Lora told Tyler he could no longer play with Brandon after Brandon abandoned him in town and went off with another friend.

Brandon was living with his father Jerry, who owned a trucking company. Jerry often took his son hunting and occasionally trucking, too. If Tyler was over, Jerry would take them both. Jerry’s truck runs, ferrying milk and topsoil around the midwest, usually took him away for 11 hours at a time. He’d give the boys some money to help him out. Sometimes Jerry would have them sit up front; at other times, they’d be in the back playing video games. Tyler loved it.

 Tyler Dunn at home in Marlette, Michigan. Photograph: Courtesy Facebook/Justice for Tyler Dunn
Tyler Dunn at home in Marlette, Michigan. Photograph: Courtesy Facebook/Justice for Tyler Dunn

On Thursday 21 November, Jerry had taken the boys hunting. Tyler had slept over on Friday night, and on Saturday afternoon the boys were scheduled to accompany Jerry in the truck down to Springfield, Ohio, 260 miles south and back. Lora dropped Tyler’s bike off at the house around 2pm, but the boys never used it because it was too cold: –8C, with winds of over 25 miles an hour.

Shortly before Jerry was about to leave, the boys said they wanted to stay home. He left them to it. He made this trip as often as three times a week, and Brandon took care of himself fine. Lora didn’t know that by the time she dropped the bike off, Jerry was already gone. “Tyler knew he wasn’t allowed there unless there was supervision,” she says. But he didn’t call, and nor did Jerry. Lora went out with Thomas to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday 90 minutes away in Union Lake. Jerry checked in with the boys a few times. The last time Brandon called Jerry was around 6.30pm, to ask if he could order pizza.

Almost two hours later, Brandon walked out of the house with his hands up, wearing red shorts with no shirt or socks, the police telling him to keep his hands where they could see them. He had just called 911 and told them he had shot Tyler.

“Do you have any weapons?” the policeman yelled.

“No,” Brandon said. “It’s on the kitchen floor.”

I would want eye for eye. Brandon needs to be gone. I don’t think he should be able to live his life

A policeman walked Brandon to his car as he pleaded: “It was an accident. I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”

An officer went inside, where he found a lever-action rifle on the kitchen floor and Tyler on the dining-room floor, in a Mountain Dew T-shirt and sweatpants, with a large pool of blood surrounding his head. There was a huge wound on the left side of his head. The policeman found no pulse, called dispatch, and told them Tyler was dead. As he left, he saw a shotgun lying on the living room couch and four holes in the dining-room window.

Nobody but Brandon will ever know for sure what happened that night, Sheriff Biniecki says. Brandon claims they were playing Xbox when he got a rifle out of Jerry’s closet to show Tyler. He asked Tyler to hold it while he went to get his milkshake from the bedroom. He came back and took the rifle from Tyler, who passed it to him butt first, the muzzle pointing in Tyler’s direction. Brandon was resting it against the wall when the gun got caught on his pocket and went off.

Brandon sat in the car while police combed the house. He’d been crying and was visibly shaken. When they searched him, they found two 12-gauge Remington buckshot shells and a mobile phone. There was blood on his hands and on the phone. When asked how he’d come by the shells, Brandon said he’d found them earlier that day and stuck them in his pocket for safekeeping.

Inside the property, the police found a veritable arsenal. In Brandon’s room was a Remington 1100 shotgun, loaded and perched against the dresser with one round in the chamber and four in reserve. There were two more single-shot shotguns near the closet. In the top dresser drawer, there was some marijuana in tin foil and two rolled joints. When asked later how many guns he had in the house, Jerry couldn’t remember. First he said seven or eight, then between five and 10.

Brandon didn’t know Tyler’s address, but he could describe his house. The police went there to find only his sisters at home, who told them to call their grandmother. Janet came shortly after midnight and was told the news. She called Lora. There was no reply: she’d left her phone in the car to charge. When she came out, she saw several missed calls and dialled Janet.

“Are you on your way home?” her mother asked.

“No – why?” Lora replied.

“I think you need to come home.”

She wouldn’t explain why, but that didn’t unduly concern Lora. She assumed her daughters had thrown a party and got caught.

Night falls heavy in Sanilac County, cloaking the land in uncluttered darkness. On dirt roads with no street lamps for miles, the flashing lights of stationary police vehicles announce themselves with the force of a lighthouse. On the way to her mother’s house, Lora saw the lights on Brandon’s road and drove towards them.

She called her mother. “Mom, do you have Tyler?”

“I think you’d better just come here,” Janet said.

“And then she put the police officer on the phone,” Lora recalls.

“Don’t go there. Just come here,” she told her, and Lora obliged.

“There’s been an accident,” the policewoman said when she got to the house.

“OK,” Lora said.

“Your son’s in Lapeer county hospital.”

“OK,” Lora said. “Why didn’t you tell me, because I just came through Lapeer?”

“No, Lora,” the policewoman said. “He’s been shot and killed.”

While Lora was halfway home, Jerry was at the sheriff’s office in Sandusky. It was 2am. He had been called and asked to pick Brandon up. The police asked him whether there were any custody issues between him and Brandon’s mother, Connie, and whether he often left his son alone. Asked if any of his weapons were loaded, he said they might have been. Finally, they asked if Brandon had taken hunter safety classes. Jerry said he was doing the apprenticeship programme, in which a child aged 10 or more can hunt for two years without a safety certificate if with an adult. Beyond that, he had given basic instructions. “I told him to hold the gun with the barrel pointing in the air. Never to point the gun at anyone, and never put any shells in the gun unless you are outside.”

 Marlette, Michigan – population: 1,879.
Marlette, Michigan – population: 1,879.

How the gun got into Brandon’s bedroom was a mystery to Jerry. He thought it had originally been in the living room and didn’t remember moving it. All the guns were his, apart from the 20-gauge, which he’d bought Brandon. He said the .30-30 rifle that killed Tyler had been in his closet the whole time; he’d put three rounds in it a year earlier and not touched it since. It was only then that Jerry was told why Brandon was there.

Guns were more available in Brandon and Tyler’s world than for any of the day’s other victims

Had Brandon not shot Tyler, a handful of minor episodes relating to his behaviour would probably never have amounted to anything. But he did, and over the next few days police interviews provided hints that, even if this was not an expected turn of events, it was always a possibility.

In her police interview, Connie said she had always been nervous about the number of guns Jerry had in the house, and assumed they were loaded. And then there were the incidents at school: the day before hunting season began, Brandon had boasted that he had pointed a 20-gauge at a boy’s stomach while it was loaded without the safety on. He also joked that the boy should put antlers on his head and run around so Brandon could shoot him. The child who overheard them thought they were “goofing around” about the antlers; he also thought “they were serious” about aiming at the boy’s stomach.

Guns were more available in Brandon and Tyler’s world than for any of the day’s other victims. In much of rural America, guns are an everyday part of life, for recreational and practical reasons. “Being a rural community, we have problems with everything from skunks to critters,” Sheriff Biniecki explains. “It’s not uncommon for a farmer to have a firearm handy.”

With so many guns around, the potential for calamity is ever present. A few weeks earlier, two local men said they were shot at by a duck hunter. Five days after Tyler was shot, a 16-year-old shot himself in the foot while hunting 20 minutes away. Although Biniecki treats each gun death as its own discrete tragedy, one nonetheless detects in his voice a weary familiarity with cases such as Tyler’s. The key to preventing accidents, he says, is education and parental responsibility. “I think we need to use the opportunity to further educate parents that if you do have a gun, unload it and put it away. Teach your kids the safety rules. And then, over time, don’t get lax with it, because children are always curious. Put those two things together and bad things can happen.”

In January 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, Barack Obama started a second term that became increasingly strident in its advocacy for gun control. He sought to shift the climate of caution by issuing “a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence”.

But the problem has been ongoing. On 14 November 2013, nine days before Tyler was shot, Obama nominated Vivek Murthy for surgeon general. Republican legislators focused on Murthy’s support for an assault-weapons ban and a tweet he’d sent in 2012, after the mass shootings at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado. “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue. #DebateHealth,” he wrote. It took more than a year for him to be confirmed by the narrowest of margins, after the National Rifle Association rallied its members.

On 20 February 2014, Jerry and Brandon appeared in district court. Jerry was a three-time felon, previously convicted, among other things, of dealing drugs and operating a vehicle while impaired.

In the US, felons are not allowed to have guns, so Jerry was charged with possession, a crime carrying a maximum of five years in prison. For leaving two boys alone with loaded guns that ended in the death of one of them, he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a 90-day misdemeanour. He was released on $2,500 bail. Brandon was arraigned in juvenile court and charged with careless discharge of a firearm, causing death, which carries a maximum two-year sentence. On 10 April, Brandon pleaded guilty; on 5 May, Jerry pleaded no contest.

At a hearing on 1 May, Lora told me, Connie wept as her son stood in grey sweatpants and a hoodie, and the judge placed him in “intense probation” at her home. The next day he was sentenced. There were 29 terms to his probation. He was sent to a junior detention facility for 10 days, with a further 20 days to be enforced if he failed to comply with the other 28 restrictions (including a 7pm-to-7am curfew, participation in anger-management classes, random drug and alcohol testing, paying for Tyler’s cremation, and a minimum of 10 written assignments). The probation would be reviewed every 30 days, said the prosecutor, who expected it to last until Brandon was 18 or 19. Six weeks later, the judge sentenced Jerry to a year for weapons-firearms possession and 90 days for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Tyler’s family believes they both got off too lightly – particularly Brandon, who they are convinced shot Tyler on purpose. To them, the story doesn’t hang together. Lora doesn’t buy the idea that the latch got caught on his shorts: “I believe his finger was on the trigger.”

Over pizza with Brittany, her mother, stepfather and grandmother, I ask what would constitute justice.

Brittany pauses. “I would want eye for eye.”

“You mean you want Brandon executed?” I ask.

She nods. “Brandon needs to be gone. I don’t think he should be able to live his life.”

I look around the table. “Does everyone agree?”

They all nod.

“And Jerry?”

“He should have time for what he did,” Lora says.

“He should probably sit inside for the rest of his life,” Brittany adds. “He had a role in it, but he technically didn’t pull the trigger.”

According to the Sanilac County News, Lora has since filed suit against both Brandon and Jerry, seeking more than $25,000. I ask her if Jerry or Connie have reached out to them. She says they have had no contact since Jerry’s girlfriend came over, a few days after, to return Tyler’s effects. Would they have liked to? “It would have been nice for them to say something. Put a card in my mailbox or something.”

“Even at the court they could have turned around,” Janet said.

“Yeah, when he stood up in front of the judge and said it wasn’t his fault,” Lora recalls.

“Well,” Janet says, “it wasn’t his fault. Because he wasn’t home.”


This is not a story about gun control. It is a story made possible by the absence of gun control. Americans are no more violent than anybody else. What makes their society more deadly is the widespread availability of firearms. To defend this by way of the second amendment – the right to bear arms – has about the same relevance as seeking to understand the roots of modern terrorism through readings of the Qur’an. To base an argument on an ancient text is effectively to abdicate your responsibility to understand the present. Adopted in 1791, the second amendment states: “A well–regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” These 27 words have been elevated to the level of scripture, inscribed on a blood-soaked pedestal thwarting all debate, more than 200 years after its passing.

None of the family members I spoke to raised the second amendment. Almost all believed guns were too readily available; none believed there was anything that could be done. But when I told them of other families who had lost children that day, they seemed shocked. It was as though they had lost a loved one in a war, unaware that the same war was simultaneously claiming other lives – indeed, unaware that a war was taking place. As though it were happening only to them, when in fact it was happening to America. Every day.

This is an edited extract from Another Day In The Death Of America, published next week by Guardian Faber at £16.99. Order a copy for £12.50 from the guardian Bookshop.

Another Day In The Death Of America is published by Nation Books on 4 October in north America. To pre-order a copy for $16.89, go to

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RT @jotaemi: Acabo de llegir això del @garyyounge sobre la importància que coses que passen cada dia arribin a les notícies. Per exemple, a…
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