True Story of A Gun Death
Antonio shot and killed himself early in the morning, right outside my kitchen window. I didn’t see it. I heard it, and ran to the window to see what was going on. Antonio was lying face down, bleeding and vomiting into the cement pond. I ran out to see if I could be of any help. And, to be honest, I wanted to make sure the shooting was over.
Antonio was twitching, but it didn’t look like the twitching of life. I moved the gun, a .38 revolver, using my house key. I didn’t want him to suddenly grab the gun and start shooting even though I considered it unlikely. Then I grabbed a wrist that wasn’t bloody and found no pulse.
Other neighbors began to cautiously peer out of their apartments asking, “What happened?” I shouted, “Call 911 there’s been a shooting.” Then I ran into my apartment and called 911 myself. I told them I believed Antonio was dead but to send paramedics anyway, and that the shooting was over. The sheriffs didn’t take my word for it. They didn’t send in SWAT but they did have the paramedics wait until the detectives cleared the scene as safe (except for the biohazard bleeding into the cement pond).
What to do? Responsibility, Repression or Status Quo?
Antonio lived in the apartment next to mine for the last two decades. You might ask, was this horror predictable or preventable? What could I have done? Those are the key questions. First some background then analysis using the lens of responsibility, repression or status quo.
My neighbor was A Man of Many Faces – But did I Know Him?
Antonio was good looking and could be very charming. I thought we were friends until one day we weren’t. He’d go into tirades not only with me or about me but with most of the neighbors he came into contact/conflict with. Best friends one day, bitter enemies the next. It went in long cycles. We called the police when it got really bad. There were times when the HOA (Home Owners’ Association) had to threaten legal action. And there were times of relative peace.
Police Departments knew him.
The West Hollywood division of the Sheriff’s Department (WHSD) and LAPD knew Antonio. He lost his driver’s license due to DUIs a few years after he moved into our building. Antonio got in a fight with a cab driver outside our building which brought WHSD. He rented out rooms in his apartment to some rather strange and unsavory characters (even by West Hollywood standards). From vandals throwing furniture into the cement pond, to screaming fights in his apartment, to the guy who OD’d which had paramedics and sheriffs knocking on my door asking if I knew anything – which I didn’t, the signs that Antonio was a problem child beset by demons were well documented by law enforcement.
The Fire Department knew him.
My brother Michael came to visit me, a couple of years before he died. We closed up my apartment and walked up to Greenblatt’s for dinner. We walked home about 45 minutes later. Fire engines were in the middle of the street and next to us some guy was shouting out his window, “Hey the apartment building two doors down is on fire!”
That’s my building! You could see the back of our apartments from the street and it was easy to see the flames shooting out of Antonio’s bedroom window. The fire was so hot it melted the windows in the apartment above.
It was later determined that the fire was caused by an unattended candle which caught drapery ablaze. We were lucky the fire was in the bedroom and not the living room because, in the living room, Antonio had cases of propane gas stacked up (for what reason we never learned). The fire department took them away. Antonio had an impact on the community which even the fire department documented.
The day Antonio died
It’s like waiting for the next earthquake or the eruption of a long dormant volcano. You pray it won’t happen in your lifetime but… when it happens, you have to deal with it. So it was with Antonio
I learned from a neighbor that Antonio had been prowling around our building early that morning. He called me a bunch of times trying to leave texts on my land line which won’t accept texts (so he possibly felt abandoned). My neighbor Ruth spoke with him and he told her that the police were coming to get him and take him to the looney bin. They were not. That was all in his mind. Ruth offered to sit with him and protect him but first she had to put her dog in her apartment. She left and he shot himself.
We don’t believe it was a suicide. We/I figure he was holding the gun for protection against his imagined persecutors and, not being practiced or skilled, accidentally shot and killed himself. The shot was a through and through. We never found the bullet. It probably wound up in the parking lot next door. If Antonio had been facing the opposite direction the bullet would have entered my apartment!
People who criticized the Ferguson police as being insensitive for leaving Michael Brown’s body at the scene of his killing for four hours should have seen the view from my place. Antonio’s body laid outside my window for five hours during which time we had detectives investigating and taking statements, paramedics pronouncing him dead, and then the long wait for the coroner before they could remove the body.
We had to drain the cement pond. I am on the HOA Board so I was put in charge of draining the pool. I then had to supervise the hazmat team we had to hire to clean up the blood and vomit. Constant reminders for weeks after the incident.
I used to say that Tiberius didn’t have as beautiful a view from the kitchen in his villa at Capri as I had from my kitchen. That beauty is blunted by the constant memory of Antonio’s death.
What could I do? Responsibility
Antonio obviously had mental problems and needed help. We, his neighbors, did our best to befriend him. None of us held a grudge or tried to antagonize him, even though he could at times be disagreeable in the extreme. But we couldn’t look after him 24/7. He needed someone he trusted to keep him sober, keep him taking his meds, and keep him going to counseling. There was no one.
He didn’t trust anyone in the building for more than a few months at a time. He didn’t trust the HOA or the HOA Board. Antonio refused to allow exterminators into his place when we discovered an ant and rodent infestation originating in his apartment (and spreading to other units including mine). He said that the ants and mice had a right to life too.
What could the family do? Responsibility
Antonio ’s family was an enigma. His parents lived up in northern California. They loved him but couldn’t control him either. He was unable to hold down a steady job so his parents paid the mortgage and HOA dues on his place when his bizarre rental activities didn’t produce enough income (which was most of the time). There was a rumored accusation that his parents, knowing he was crazy, just dumped Antonio on us. When he was having a bad spell, his parents would only intervene when we threatened legal action. Friction between Antonio and his parents was obvious. Antonio didn’t trust them either.
One day, during a bad period, Antonio was outside my door screaming into a phone. He might as well have been in my apartment. He was loudly screaming, “Fuck you! Shut up. Shut the fuck up!” into his phone. I’m an openminded kind of guy, but that seemed to be taking freedom of speech a bit beyond the bounds of good neighborly relations. So I opened my door and asked nicely, “Hey Antonio, you’re a bit loud. Could you take your conversation into your apartment please?” Antonio shouted at me, “Shut up and mind your own business. I’m on the phone with my father!”
What could the law do? Repression
Antonio never physically threatened anyone in our building. He’d scream and look mighty scary but nothing legally worse than yelling (verbal assault, for which he did spend some time in jail), public intoxication, and disturbing the peace. I doubt that Antonio would have been helped by getting permanently incarcerated for what he might do. And if we were to legislate care for guys like him, it would be costly. It wouldn’t be costly to put him in a database and check in with him on alternate leap years as is often the case with foster children. But to really insure he and guys like him take their meds and actually go to counseling would take more caregivers than our society is willing to pay for.
What about the gun? Status Quo
Antonio had no computer, no social media presence. He found potential renters through church groups and rental services. He typed all correspondence on a manual typewriter. There was no way to tell if this poor troubled man was simply a nuisance or a real physical threat to himself and neighbors. We had no idea he had gun.
How did Antonio get a gun? Do we need stricter gun laws? Well, California already has a law that makes it illegal to give a firearm to anyone who is mentally ill. A rumor went around that the gun belonged to Antonio’s father and he gave it to Antonio. Law enforcement was told of the rumor but never did any investigation that I heard of, as to where the gun came from.
Somebody broke the law.
Should we have insisted that someone be punished?
If so, who?