Why shooters shoot? Ex-felons examine root reasons behind gun violence

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INDIANAPOLIS- Nearly every day, someone in Indianapolis picks up a gun and pulls the trigger.

Sometimes, the bullets litter the sky; other times, the bullets hit a person.

Every time, the bullet ricochets across the city, amplifying violence, and leaving behind victims.

“… I remember to this day that I was consciously aware how much power I had. It was like an awareness I had, and I forced the woman to go into the back room and forced her to perform oral sex on me while I held a gun to her forehead,” said a man, who asked to remain anonymous during his interview with FOX59, and will be referenced as John Doe.

John Doe committed an armed robbery spree in the Circle City, and officers caught him during his final armed robbery while he attempted a third sexual assault.

“I didn’t want to kill her,” he later paused before adding more. “I remember thinking, ‘Don’t– please don’t do anything– don’t do anything! Don’t fight, please!’ I’m thinking I don’t want to kill her, right. But then you have that part of you that’s like, ‘Why did you pick up the gun in the first place if you didn’t want to kill anybody’, and it was a show of force.

After serving nearly 25 years in prison, Doe tells FOX59’s Beairshelle Edmé he is remorseful to the victims of his crimes, taking care not to instead call them ‘my victims.’ He’s also worked to uncover the underlying reasons he used a gun for power and compliance from others.

“I didn’t feel like I was accepted. I wasn’t bullied or picked on, but it was– it was just a psychological thing that I always felt inadequate,” the man said.

But John Doe was smart. He graduated high school early and tells FOX59 he quickly enlisted into the Air Force, but was later honorably discharged after once again feeling inadequate and attempting suicide, something he hid from loved ones.

“I was lying to people that were around me,” said the Indianapolis native, who was then newly engaged. “I was admitting that I had money in the bank.”

He admits now he had no money, $0.

“I drove by the store and just had this impulse to go in and rob it,” he said.

He later answered Edmé’s question on whether he was remorseful, and if he ever thought, ‘I shouldn’t do this? There’s a better way.’

“Yes– here’s the thing. I mean…” he stumbled. “There was a consciousness that I knew what I was doing was wrong simply because I was hiding and running from the crime scene.”

Later in the interview, he elaborated on his feelings during his crime spree, “… it was like fear, but at the same time power. It was like adrenaline, but at the same time dread…”

IUPUI sociologist and former law enforcement officer, Tom Stucky explains shooters often feel these range of emotions.

“A bit of a misunderstanding is that gun violence is irrational, and the reality is that that behavior is antisocial, but it’s not irrational,” he explained.

The former agent found shooters often believe violence, or the threat of it, makes sense to preserve their image, like John Doe who wanted to project financial stability and strength.

Stucky also tells FOX59 that research shows a shooter may be stuck in self-defense mode.

“It goes back to this idea of feeling under threat,” the professor detailed. “So for example, if I’m aware someone else is carrying a gun, I might feel it’s necessary to carry a gun as well, and likewise, if there is an ongoing dispute, then that can escalate over time.”

That’s something Terry Triplett, 47, understands.

“I’ll tell you what, I picked up one (a gun) back then for protection like everybody else,” he detailed. “I had no reason– I don’t want to shoot you. I don’t want to do that stuff. Other people was bringing gunplay to our neighborhood so we had to even up the odds.”

The Martindale-Brightwood native is now a community advocate, who manages a weekly food pantry, and continues to advise youth away from trouble.

“I’ve been here and done that. Everybody knows I ain’t have no problem putting in no work,” the 47-year-old boldly stated.

Triplet’s also an OG, who was no stranger to guns or violence, including run-ins with law enforcement.

“I wanted to use it (the gun) right then and there what I had in my hand,” explains Triplett, who described his behavior then as dumb and immature. “But what I didn’t do is get that gun and shoot whoever I was supposed to be shooting because I should have been locked up right now.”

Triplett says his surroundings changed his mentality, feeling a growing need to protect himself, to fire his weapon. Ultimately, an OG stopped him and took the gun.

Today, the 47-year-old tries to do the same for other Hoosiers, who he says often follow no street or moral code. His work to stop shooters ultimately changed his life.

“The bullet hit the street. It hit me on my back and I dropped,” he recalled, detailing the day in September 2005 when he was shot in the back and paralyzed.

Triplett says he was pushing several youth out of the way as an argument got heated, literally with gunsmoke.

He decribes the shooter as a kid, one who he knew and never turned him in because he believes the shooter was acting out of survival.

“The little dude– I know it wasn’t– he wasn’t– people do stuff.” Triplett said. “He didn’t need to go to jail forever.”

The local sociologist found many Indianapolis shooters face the same circumstance.

“I think there is a decision that needs to be made that, ‘Today I won’t pull the trigger.’ That is easy for me to say, that is easy for many members of the community to say,” Stucky explained. “I think it’s much easier for us, who are not in those day-to-day situations where we feel like we’re surviving day to day.”

Survival, hopelessness, unworthiness– all often play a role in why shooters shoot.

But the question for Indianapolis now is how does the city address these factors? How do we stop the violence?

Right now, FOX59 is tracking the city’s crime, speaking to victims and their families, and getting answers from city officials about solutions. Click the link to learn more about our CrimeMapping project.

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