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May 18, 2009

“It was almost like looking in the devil’s eyes.”

On March 10, 28 year-old Michael McLendon began a shooting rampage at the ranch-style home in Coffee County, Alabama, where he lived with his mother. First, he shot and killed her and her four dogs, then laid them on and around the living room couch, which he soaked with paint thinner and lit on fire.

McLendon then got into his Mitsubishi Eclipse wearing a vest loaded with ammunition and armed with a .38 caliber handgun, a shotgun, and two assault rifles (an SKS and a Bushmaster). He drove south to the town of Samson to a white frame house where he had lived for years with his uncle, James White, 55, and aunt, Phyllis White. The two were sitting on the porch with their daughter, Tracy M. Wise, 34, her son, Dean, 15, and a family that lived across the street: Andrea Myers, 31 (the wife of a local sheriff’s deputy), and her two children, 4-month old Ella and 18-month old Corrine. McLendon’s great aunt, Virginia White, 74, was in a trailer parked in the White’s yard. McLendon exited his vehicle and opened fire on them all, killing everyone but Phyllis White and Ella Myers. Phyllis White ran to a neighbor’s house and was saved when McLendon’s gun jammed. Ella was rescued by a neighbor, but had to be taken to a hospital later for surgery for a gunshot/shrapnel injury. A neighbor who saw McLendon as he pulled away from the house in his Eclipse said of him: “It was almost like looking in the devil’s eyes.”

But McLendon was not done yet. He killed another man, James Starling, 24, on a nearby street, shooting him in the back as he tried to run away. Starling was the father of two children and had another on the way. McLendon then rounded the corner and killed Sonya Smith, 43, outside a convenience store. Two men, Jeffrey Nelson, 50, and Greg McCullough, 49, were injured at the store.

McLendon then continued on to the town of Geneva. At this point, police were in pursuit of him. McLendon was still spraying fire, and killed motorist Bruce Malloy, 51. When an officer tried to ram McLendon’s Eclipse, he fired into the officer’s vehicle, narrowly missing him. McLendon then evaded a roadblock and drove to Reliable Products, a metals plant where he once worked. There he engaged in a shootout with law enforcement officers before finally entering the business, turning a gun on himself, and taking his own life.

During the entire rampage, which lasted approximately 50 minutes, McLendon fired more than 200 rounds, killed 10 innocent people, and wounded six.

Subsequent investigation revealed that McLendon held a permit to carry a concealed handgun which had been issued by the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department. A friend of his, Cecil Knowles, told reporters that McLendon had a lifelong fascination with guns. Officials have yet to indicate where McLendon purchased the firearms used in the shootings, but have indicated they were all bought legally.

After the rampage, authorities who investigated the home McLendon lived in with his mother found notes he had left on a dresser and kitchen table. “The notes had lists of co-employees and employers who apparently had done him wrong,” said 12th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Gary McAliley. “Along side of the names, he wrote notes on who had done what, for example, ‘turned me in for not wearing earplugs.’ The note also listed three different locations of employers.” Investigators also found 20 to 30 boxes of ammunition, a bullet-proof vest, and “dozens of soot-covered DVDs on how to commit acts of violence, including how to shoot into a moving car and building a homemade gun silencer.” McLendon stopped showing up to his job shortly before the rampage, spent his free time shooting guns at the local firing range and behind his home, and talked “about being depressed about his failure to become a Marine or a police officer.” He had also been involved in an argument with family members over custody of a family Bible, and had recently received a letter from a lawyer representing another family member telling him to back off. “He was excessively upset about that,” said McAliley.

He had obviously planned to go out in grand style,” observed Colonel Chris Murphy of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Disturbingly, McLendon is not the only mass shooter in recent months who held a concealed carry permit:

These incidents and others provide powerful evidence that screening procedures for concealed carry permit holders are as minimal and ineffective as those for gun purchasers in the United States. Hopefully, state legislators across the country will begin putting the safety of their citizens ahead of the interests of the gun lobby, which has consistently defended existing standards for permit holders—and even acted to weaken them further.


  1. This brings a few questions to mind.

    How could improvements to the screening process have shown the authorities what McLendon was going to do? He didn't have any criminal record or other disqualifying factors at the time he applied for his permit (as far as I know). It would seem the only screening technique that would have aided authorities here would be the ability to predict the future.

    More importantly, what difference did McLendon's CCW permit make? What did he do that he could not have done without a CCW permit?

  2. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. It is unclear at this time whether or not Michael McLendon had a criminal record, but there are certainly other warning signs that the local sheriff's office could have picked up on before issuing him a permit.

    Competent screening of an applicant for a concealed carry permit should involve more than a computerized background check. It is well established that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) run by the FBI is missing millions of records that would otherwise disqualify an individual from buying a gun. These records have not been forwarded to the database by the states. We have also seen many cases of deranged shooters who were issued permits (or sold guns) because state police had not received the necessary documents regarding criminal convictions or mental health adjudications from local courts.

    In many "May-Issue" states, the screening process involves an actual background investigation, which is far more effective. Such an investigation would involve interviews with the applicant's family, friends or co-workers, and possibly even contact with the applicant's doctor to attest to his/her physical and mental health.

    Based on the limited amount of information that has been released publicly, such a process would have turned up multiple red flags on Michael McLendon. McLendon was severely depressed; had made lists of people who had wronged him (which included contact info of past employers); owned a collection of DVDs that talked about "how to commit acts of violence, including how to shoot into a moving car and building a homemade gun silencer"; and had recently got into heated confrontations with members of his family, which resulted in one of them issuing a letter to him through an attorney warning him to back off. Any or all of this information could have been revealed through an investigation, indicating that McLendon was a potential threat to public safety.

    As for your second question, obviously McLendon felt the need to apply for a concealed carry permit in his county (as opposed to carrying a concealed weapon unlawfully). At which exact point he "snapped" and decided to become a killer is unclear. It is also unclear as to whether he used his permit improperly prior to becoming a mass shooter; he very well might have. In any case, issuing a permit to carry a concealed weapon to someone who is deranged or who has a proclivity toward violence is about as clear a threat to public safety as we can imagine. - CSGV