Texas shooter bought gun in private sale, after ban due to mental illness: ABC

A man holds flowers and a candle as people gather for a vigil following Saturday's shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

(Reuters) – The gunman who killed seven people and wounded 23 others in a rampage across West Texas on Saturday obtained the assault-style rifle used through a private sale after he was banned from having a firearm because he was diagnosed with a mental illness, media reported.

Seth Aaron Ator is pictured in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this undated handout photo provided by the Odessa Police Department on September 3, 2019. Odessa Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

Seth Aaron Ator is pictured in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this undated handout photo provided by the Odessa Police Department on September 3, 2019. Odessa Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

The gunman, identified as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, carried out the shooting spree in the neighboring cities of Midland and Odessa, shortly after he was fired from his trucking job. He called local emergency 911 responders and then an FBI tip line to make rambling statements, but did not threaten to commit violence, officials said.

After the calls, Ator opened fire on civilians and police officers in a roving series of shootings, at one point hijacking a U.S. Postal Service truck before dying in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement, police said.

Ator bought the assault-style rifle through a private sale after being prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm because he had been diagnosed with a mental illness by a clinician, ABC news reported, citing federal and local law enforcement.

Private firearm sellers are not required to run background checks on potential buyers, but they are not allowed to sell a weapon to a person who has been flagged by law enforcement under federal law.

Democrats in Congress want to close such loopholes that allow certain people to sell firearms without requiring background checks, such as in sales conducted online, at gun shows or out of their homes.

Ator had been rejected when he tried to buy a gun and his name was run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, said John Wester, assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

President Donald Trump called the Odessa-Midland shooter “a very sick person,” but said increased background checks on gun buyers would not have prevented many mass shootings in the United States in the past few years.

Trump said last month he had spoken to the National Rifle Association gun rights group about closing loopholes in background checks, but he did not want to take away the constitutional right to own guns.

The rampage followed the Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso, Texas, by a man from the Dallas area, in a massacre that killed 22 people. El Paso is about 255 miles (410 km) west of Midland.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Trump says ‘common sense things can be done’ on guns, wants NRA input

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday called for “common sense” solutions to address gun violence without mentioning what specific measures he would support and saying the views of powerful National Rifle Association lobbyists should be considered.

Thirty-one people were killed in two weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in attacks that shook the country and reopened a national debate on gun safety as Americans grapple with yet another mass shooting.

A week later, it remains unclear what, if any, specific steps the Republican president would back. Democrats are trying to galvanize public support for legislative action over what has been a contentious issue for years, even before Trump’s administration.

Trump earlier this week initially appeared to back background checks but then did not mention them in a public address on Monday that focused on mental illness and media culture. He later predicted congressional support for those background checks and blocking gun access to the mentally ill, but not for any effort to ban assault rifles.

He had promised to take action in early 2018 after 17 people were killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school but backed down after the NRA, a key financial donor to Republican politicians, weighed in.

On Friday, he appeared to want to balance any congressional action with the NRA’s views.

“I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country,” he wrote. “Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone.”

Trump said he had “been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.” The NRA, in a statement on Thursday, indicated it opposed further gun restrictions.

Congress is in recess but Trump said leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate were discussing expanding background checks for guns sales.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday rejected a plea from more than 200 mayors to call the Senate back early to consider gun legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said they had each spoken separately to Trump and that he had assured them he would review legislation that has already passed the Democratic-majority House.

The White House had said it would hold also a meeting with representatives from the technology industry on Friday to discuss violent extremism online. Trump is not scheduled to be at the White House for most of the day as he attends a fundraiser in the Hamptons in New York for his 2020 re-election campaign.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Trott)

New York attorney general probing Brooklyn police shooting death

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. Images of some faces have been obscured at source. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York State attorney general’s office said on Thursday it would investigate the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed black man in Brooklyn after he pointed a metal pipe at officers that they believed was a gun.

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

“We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said in a statement.

The death of Saheed Vassell on Wednesday was the latest fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by police, fueling more protests and heightening a nationwide debate over the use of excessive force by police and accusations of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

More than 200 demonstrators and activists took to the streets of the Crown Heights neighborhood in which Vassell was shot, chanting “Justice for Saheed.”

“They murdered my son and I want justice for him,” Lorna Vassell, his mother, said at the protest.

The family has demanded a coroner’s inquest.

Police said Vassell was killed by officers responding to reports of a man aiming a gun at pedestrians. When the officers arrived, police said, Vassell took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at them.

The officers believed the suspect was holding a firearm, a senior police official told a news conference on Wednesday, and three plainclothes officers and one uniformed officer fired 10 shots. Vassell died in a hospital.

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe before being shot to death by police in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe before being shot to death by police in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Police on Thursday released security camera footage that showed Vassell approaching people on the street and pointing the pipe at them as if it were a pistol. They also released partial transcripts of three 911 emergency calls.

“There’s a guy walking around the street, he looks like he’s crazy but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s pulling the trigger,” one of the callers said.

Local media reported that Vassell was 34 years old, suffered from mental illness, and was well known in parts of Crown Heights.

His killing followed the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, 22, in Sacramento, California, that has sparked more than two weeks of demonstrations.

Officers responding to a report of someone breaking windows killed Clark on March 18 in his grandmother’s backyard. The officers feared he had a gun, but it turned out he was holding a cellphone, Sacramento police said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Bill Trott, Tom Brown)

Accused Florida high school gunman due in court, facing 17 murder counts

A man placed in handcuffs is led by police near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 14, 2018 in a still image taken from a video. WSVN.com via REUTERS

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – A 19-year-old man who had been expelled from his Florida high school was due in court on Thursday, charged with 17 counts of murder, after authorities say he opened fire at the school, unleashing one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

The ex-student, identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday and opened fire on students and teachers, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Police believe he acted alone.

Cruz was expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon for a bond hearing, faced with 17 counts of premeditated murder, said Constance Simmons, a spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office.

Cruz was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple ammunition magazines when he surrendered to officers in a nearby residential area, police said. He loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, police and former classmates said.

The shooting in a community about 45 miles (72 km) north of Miami was the 18th in a U.S. school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, continuing a troubling pattern that has played out over the past few years.

It was the second-deadliest shooting in a U.S. public elementary or high school after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

The deadliest school shooting in U.S. history was at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 people were killed.

The Florida shooting stirred the long-simmering U.S. debate on the right to bear arms, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Schools across the country have installed electronically secured doors and added security staff, but few legislative solutions have emerged.

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

Trump, who ordered flags to fly at half-staff in a sign of mourning, plans to address the nation from the White House at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT), a spokeswoman said.

A law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the Broward County district, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High board member Donna Korn told a local newspaper. The sheriff’s office also provides active shooter training and schools have a single point of entry, she said.

“We have prepared the campuses, but sometimes people still find a way to let these horrific things happen,” Korn said.

The first victim of the attack was publicly identified on Thursday as Aaron Feis, an assistant coach on the school’s football team and a school security guard who was shot while shielding students, the team said on Twitter.

 

Nikolas Cruz appears in a police booking photo after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a Parkland school shooting, at Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 15, 2018. Broward County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

Nikolas Cruz appears in a police booking photo after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a Parkland school shooting, at Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 15, 2018. Broward County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

‘THE WORST IN HUMANITY’

Hundreds of panicked students fled the building, running past heavily armed, helmeted police officers while others huddled in closets.

Parents raced to the school of 3,300 students and a nearby hotel that was set up as a checkpoint to find their children.

“This has been a day we’ve seen the worst in humanity,” Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said Wednesday.

The assailant wore a gas mask as he stalked into the school carrying a rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from classrooms into hallways, according to Florida’s two U.S. senators, who were brief by federal authorities.

Cruz had recently moved in with another family after his mother’s death in November, according to Jim Lewis, a lawyer representing the family and local media, bringing his AR-15 along with his other belongings.

The family believed Cruz was depressed, but attributed that to his mother’s death, not mental illness.

“They didn’t see any danger. They didn’t see any kind of predilection this was going to happen,” Lewis told CNN.

Cruz may have left warning signs on social media. Buzzfeed reported that a person named Nikolas Cruz left a comment under a YouTube video that read “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The man who posted the video was alarmed and contacted the FBI, Buzzfeed reported.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm those details.

Colton Haab, a 17-year-old junior and member of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at the high school, said he realized the alarms were not a drill after hearing several shots fired and learning that three people had been shot.

“That for me changed it to an active shooter scenario,” he said. Haab rushed to his ROTC room and helped usher several dozen students inside, barricading them behind curtains made of Kevlar, a material used to make bullet-proof vests.

“We grabbed two pieces of two-by-four, a fire extinguisher and a chair,” Haab said. “If he was going to try to come in the room we were going to try to stop him with whatever we had.”

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Parkland, Florida, Jonathan Allen in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. college teaches veterans to heal each others’ mental wounds

Dr. Bob Dingman, Director of the Military and Veterans Psychology Concentration, speaks to Reuters at William James College of Psychology, the first in the nation to run a program focusing specifically on training military veterans to treat the mental health problems of their fellow soldiers and veterans, in Newton, Massachusetts, U.S., May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Scott Malone

NEWTON, Mass. (Reuters) – Former U.S. Army Specialist Tara Barney will never forget the 2013 night when a fellow soldier cried as he described holding a dying friend in his arms, a wartime memory he had not shared with anyone.

“I can’t even talk to my wife like this,” she recalled her friend saying. “Nobody would understand.”

Barney, now 34, says that moment defined her future.

She finished her four-year enlistment and enrolled in William James College, which says it is the only U.S. psychology graduate school focused on training veterans as counselors.

Founded in 2011, the school’s programs aim to address the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health conditions experienced by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other conflicts.

“If you talk to most vets, they want to talk to people who have had the same sets of experiences,” said Robert Dingman, the director of military and veterans psychology at the school, located west of Boston. “We don’t believe by any means that only vets can help vets, but we think it’s a good career pathway.”

Estimates of how many of the country’s 19 million veterans experience mental health problems vary widely. A federal government report released last year found that about 40 percent of veterans who received care through the Veterans Health Administration were diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse condition, most commonly depression, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other data suggest that figure may represent a higher rate of mental health and substance abuse than is seen among the overall population of veterans. An analysis of medical research by the RAND Corp think tank found that rates of PTSD likely range from 5 percent to 20 percent of veterans.

CULTURES COLLIDE

William James College wants to bridge the cultural divide between veterans, some of whom view seeking mental health care as akin to admitting weakness, and psychologists and counselors, many of whom know little about military culture.

The gap is wide enough that Barney’s fellow student, Adam Freed, left a graduate psychology program at Yale University when he realized he was failing to connect with patients’ issues related to their or their loved ones’ military service.

“It was just something that was completely alien to me,” said Freed, 31. “I became increasingly interested in why didn’t I get it?”

Freed decided the best way to understand was to enlist. He signed up for the New York Army National Guard and went on to serve a tour in Afghanistan before enrolling at William James. This month he returned to active duty as an Army captain and military psychologist.

The college, previously known as the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology before renaming itself after the 19th-century philosopher, regarded as one of the founding thinkers of American psychology and brother to novelist Henry James, boasts a growing population of veterans, who this year represented about 50 of its 750 students.

Barney said her friends and even her wife were skeptical when she told them she was planning a career in psychology after stints as a prison guard and working on Army missile systems.

But the experience with her fellow soldier friend had convinced her that her military service would be invaluable as a counselor, she said, adding, “Some people just don’t want to know the veteran’s experience.”

Several students in the program said they also hope to overcome the cultural gaps that can make it harder for therapists to connect with veterans.

Fewer than one in 12 adult Americans have served in the armed forces, and the students said many veterans are wary of discussing their wartime experiences with people who do not share a military background.

Freed recalled a psychologist asking him during a job interview what it felt like to be “blown up.” Freed had avoided such an incident in combat but said he did not consider the topic as appropriate for casual conversation.

“I don’t think people ask about other forms of trauma with the same laissez-faire attitude,” Freed said. “I would confidently say that they would not ask, ‘What was it like to be raped?’ These are both things that are extremely, extremely traumatic and yet they are treated in a very different way.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

Most U.S. troops kicked out for misconduct had mental illness: study

FILE PHOTO - U.S. army soldiers are seen marching in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A majority of U.S. troops discharged from the military for misconduct during a four-year period ending in 2015 had been diagnosed with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, a new study found.

The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office will likely add to scrutiny over whether the U.S. military is doing enough to care for troops identified with mental health issues during their service, instead of simply casting them out.

The GAO analysis showed that 62 percent of the 91,764 servicemembers discharged for misconduct during the fiscal years 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed within the previous two years with conditions including PTSD, TBI “or certain other conditions that could be associated with misconduct.”

Twenty-three percent of the servicemembers received an “other than honorable” discharge, which made them potentially ineligible for health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans’ advocates have long complained about a lack of support for former U.S. servicemembers who do not have honorable discharge papers, something new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced plans to address.

The watchdog said the Navy does not require medical examination or screening of some sailors who are being kicked out of the service for misconduct. It said the Army and Marine Corps “may not have adhered to their own screening, training and counseling policies related to PTSD and TBI.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart)

Addiction Diagnoses May Increase With New Guidelines

Psychiatrists and other mental health specialists who are revising the industry’s main mental health manual are poises to reclassify additions in a way that will result in millions more people being labeled as addicts, according to a New York Times report released today.

The revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.) expands recognized symptoms for drug and alcohol addition and reduces the required number of symptoms for a diagnosis. In addition, gambling would be considered an addiction for the first time. Continue reading