Killers Among Us

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Although the Loss family and acquaintances told Millican that Steven feared and detested firearms, even BB guns, he acquired the Colt pistol. When police later searched his car, they found a duffel containing two boxes of ammunition, a gun-cleaning kit and ear protectors. One box of ammo was of ordinary quality, the sort used for practice. The second box contained better stuff--"duty ammo" in police jargon. Unlike Tim Richardson, Steven Loss prepared long and carefully.

Loss departed from routine on his self-appointed date with destiny. Instead of pulling into Bonnie's driveway as usual, he parked on a side street. Instead of approaching the front door as always, he put on headphones, tuned them to a music station, pumped up the volume and walked a block or so before ringing the doorbell.

"Come here," he said to the unsuspecting Loss-Murphy at the door, then grabbed his ex-wife and killed her with a single shot to the head. Loss next administered several shots to Evan's head--another instance of overkill. After Craig's narrow escape, his dad pointed the silver Colt against his own head and pulled the trigger. It was Steven Loss' last bullet.

Experience teaches that probably there's someone out there on the same slippery slope as Loss. In their widely varying ways, these three cases point up another sobering truth: There's no reliable way to detect and defuse the next ticking time bomb.

In Tim Richardson's instance, for example, no single factor ordained that he would go berserk where, when and how he did, or that he necessarily would ever commit the crime he did. "The problem with such a case is you don't know when all the problems will come together, and the person explodes," observes Reid Meloy.

John Battaglia had a clearer problem with impulse control, and Mary Jean Pearle had reasonable cause to wish him behind bars. Yet Pearle also knew that she, not the girls, was the object of her ex-husband's fury.

Steven Loss was the stealthiest of all. He'd marked his family for extinction almost six months before he carried out his attack, and still no one intuited the tragedy about to unfold.

In the end, Meloy says, the unsatisfactory conclusion is to be vigilant, unafraid to ask questions and aware there is much that is hidden away even among those we know and love best.

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Stephen G. Michaud