Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, Associated Press
It was just past 1 a.m. when they found Christopher Cotton's body, slumped in the driver's seat at a Buffalo, N.Y., intersection, shot dead by an assailant who left all the car's windows up, the doors locked. Little more than an hour earlier, the pharmaceutical technician had joined family for drinks and YouTube videos, then went to meet his girlfriend. He never made it.
The killing of the 42-year-old father of three was the industrial city's first murder of the year. But for a country that would not wake for hours, the slaying was merely the first of another deadly day, the latest uptick in an endless count of Americans who are killed with guns.
The school massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 was a horrific anomaly. Most fatal shootings claim only a single life and draw only the briefest attention.
From the biggest cities to the smallest towns, more than 31,000 people die of gunshot wounds in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's an average of nearly 87 a day. About 30 of those are murdered. More than 50 take their own lives. Still others die in accidental shootings, during police intervention or from other causes.
The Associated Press set out to chronicle one such ordinary day — Jan. 19. There is no way of knowing exactly how many shooting deaths there were on that Saturday. But just one shooting made national news: A former pastor, his wife and three children were slain at their home near Albuquerque, N.M. The couple's 15-year-old son, Nehemiah Griego, was charged with their murders.
Most, though, will recall the day as the start of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, capped by the presidential inauguration, each prompting reflection on how to quell violence. But in a nation whose citizens own more than 300 million guns, such events do not disrupt the metronomic toll of shootings.
And in that way, Jan. 19 was just another day.
By 2:41 a.m. slumber cloaked most of the homes on tree-lined Deer Trace Drive in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough, Ga. But inside one house, three boys stirred. A pair of brothers — 14 and 15 — were hosting a friend for a sleepover. Earlier in the evening, their mother had given them permission to examine her empty .38-caliber revolver, police said. But sometime over the next few hours, the boys loaded the weapon, then put it aside and apparently forgot.
It's not clear what prompted the younger boy to pick up the gun again. But when he pointed it at his brother and pulled the trigger, the bullet hit the Union High School sophomore in the chest. Emergency workers were unable to save him.
Investigators have determined the shooting was accidental. But the 14-year-old has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and investigators may present his mother's case to a grand jury.
The boy would not be the only victim of an accidental shooting on this day: Within hours, Jeffrey Dennehy, 23, died in Gresham. Ore., when a gun held by a close friend mistakenly discharged.
At 1:04 a.m., Anthony Burns, 31, was shot dead on an east Cleveland street. Four people have been charged with his murder.
The White Castle on St. Louis' north side was bathed in light, even at 3:50 a.m., when Thomas Donovan stepped to the burger joint's counter and drew a pistol. Back in November, with a security camera rolling, a masked man wielding a shotgun held up the same restaurant before fleeing into the darkness. Police say that man was Donovan, 21, who lived nearby. This time, though, two off-duty police officers hired by the manager were waiting.
The officers, who were in uniform, ordered Donovan to drop the gun.
"Why, at that last moment they said 'Freeze!' he carried on, that's what gets me, you know what I mean?" says George Fields, among a group of older men who gather at the restaurant for coffee.
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