As a member of the Nassau County Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit, Officer Arthur Lopez was among those who provided security for the second debate between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney.
A 29-year-old cop known to shovel snow from his elderly neighbor’s walk and welcome new neighbors with apple pie, Lopez had been decorated twice for saving lives. He stood ready to risk his own life should any threat have presented itself at the debate, as the questions progressed from the attack in Benghazi to gun control here at home.
Both candidates declared themselves in favor of strictly enforcing existing laws, though Romney was not in favor of an assault weapon ban such as he himself signed into law as governor of Massachusetts. Both spoke of addressing the culture of violence with education.
“Gibberish,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg later said. “A perfect example of obfuscation and very little honesty.”
Lopez and his fellow officers joined the Secret Service in keeping watch at the event at Hofstra University until Obama had helicoptered away and Romney had ridden off in a chauffeured car. Other cops and agents kept watch over the candidates as they continued to campaign in a nation where more than 10,000 people are shot to death each year.
Back in Nassau County, Lopez returned to the streets. He was at the border with New York City on Tuesday morning when he and his partner, Officer Clarence Hudson, saw a silver Honda leave the scene of an accident, its tires flat. The cops pulled the Honda over and Lopez approached on the driver’s side. He began to say something when the man behind the wheel produced a gun and began shooting. Lopez fell, mortally wounded in the chest.
As Hudson vainly tried to save Lopez, the Honda roared away on just the wheel rims. The gunman then forced over another car and ran up to the driver, 52-year-old Raymond Facey, who was speaking to his daughter on a cellphone about a vacation in Jamaica.
“Somebody’s chasing me!” the daughter would recall him exclaiming in the moment before he was shot in the head.
The gunman left Facey lying dead in the street and drove off with his car. He later abandoned it and eluded cops who searched the area house to house. The hunt ended seven hours later, when police found a man hiding in a van with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to his shoulder.
The suspect was identified as 33-year-old Darrell Fuller. He had done time for attempted murder after shooting a man three times in the back during a dispute over a parking spot in 2004. He seems to have had no trouble getting another illegal gun after his release. He now was charged with murdering Lopez.
Obama was campaigning in Florida and Ohio, states whose lax gun laws lead to them providing many illegal weapons to New York. Romney was campaigning in Nevada and Denver, minutes from Aurora and the site of the movie theater mass shooting three months ago. Neither candidate had anything to say about gun control. The murder of a Nassau County cop was just a local issue, even if that officer had kept watch over them exactly a week before.
In between that second debate and the killing of Lopez there had been another mass shooting, this one at a spa outside Milwaukee, the second in that area in two months. The gunman, 45-year-old Radcliffe Haughton, is said to have subjected his 42-year-old estranged wife, Zina, to a dozen years of abuse that included beatings and threats to toss acid in her face and douse her with gasoline. He had once fired a gun inches from her head and that of her daughter. He had been arrested earlier this month after he slashed the cars of customers in the salon where she worked.
“I don’t want to die,” Zina Haughton told the judge at a hearing on Thursday. “I just don’t want to die.”
The judge granted her a four-year order of protection.
“Did you say four years?” Radcliffe Haughton asked.
“Four years,” the judge said.
Radcliffe Haughton called to his wife, “Do I deserve that, Zee?"
“Sir, that’s a violation of the restraining order right there,” the judge said.
Radcliffe was ordered to surrender any firearms in his possession, and federal law bars anyone subject to an order of protection from purchasing one. But, sales by individuals are not subject to background checks, much less the usual 48-hour waiting period. And to find a private seller, all Haughton had to do was sit down at a computer and go to armslist.com.
The firearms answer to craigslist.org, armslist.com is one of a number of such sites where undercover New York City investigators proved able to buy handguns despite telling the seller that they could not pass a background test. The site had more than 50,000 guns listed when Haughton went on it.
Two clicks took Haughton to the handguns available in Wisconsin and another click took him to the ones for sale in Milwaukee. A final click enabled him to call up a .40-caliber automatic pistol that was going for $650. He then needed only click on a box marked “CONTACT SELLER.”
On Saturday, Haughton met the seller and bought the weapon. He had his purchase loaded and ready when he strode into the Azana Spa on Sunday dressed in black. He shot seven women, killing three, including his wife.
One woman, 38-year-old Maelyn Lind, died as she used her own body to shield someone else from the bullets, an impulse seen in multiple instances during the movie-house massacre in Aurora. Lind had been working three jobs to support her family. She was just the kind of person both candidates say makes America a great nation.
In courage and dedication and decency, Lind was kin to Lopez, who was killed on Tuesday by another illegal gun, which was not immediately recovered.
Emergency-service cops who also had provided security for the debate searched sewers for one of the weapons that had caused candidates to lapse into gibberish, a gun that had now left one of their finest comrades dead before his 30th birthday.