A mass shooting at a Wisconsin spa led to calls for reform. Has anything changed?

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Ten years ago, a gunman shot seven women, killing three including his wife, at a spa in Brookfield.

In the days afterward, a victim’s brother met with the leader of the state’s largest nonprofit addressing domestic violence.

He put a piece of paper on the table.

It was a copy of the restraining order his sister, Zina Daniel Haughton, had received against her husband. She had kept it in the backseat of her car.

The moment is one Carmen Pitre, president and chief executive of Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee, will never forget.

“Despite our best efforts, systems fail,” she said, recalling the meeting in a recent interview.

The shooting at Azana Spa & Salon on Oct. 21, 2012, shocked southeast Wisconsin, an area still recovering from the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek two months earlier. 

It was an act of domestic violence. In the decade since the link between domestic abuse and mass shootings has been well-documented. 

A peer-reviewed study released last year found about 59% of the 110 mass shootings analyzed were related to domestic violence. An analysis from Bloomberg media the year before found nearly 60% of 749 mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were either domestic violence or committed by men with histories of domestic abuse.

Before the shooting at Azana, police had been called to Haughton’s Brown Deer residence two dozen times in 11 years, never making an arrest at the home. At least seven of the calls were for domestic violence. 

The restraining order, issued three days before the shooting, barred the gunman under federal law from owning a firearm. He sidestepped the law by buying the gun from a private seller, who was not required to run a background check.

No one was ever held accountable for what happened at Azana.

The gunman took his life the day of the shooting. The officers who responded to the prior domestic violence calls faced no discipline. The marketplace where the gunman found the firearm he bought remains online. 

“True accountability would look like changing those systems that allow for these kinds of tragedies to happen in the first place,” said Jenna Gormal, co-director of prevention and engagement at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin.

There have been signs of progress — more training for law enforcement and success in focusing on the highest-risk cases — but it remains incomplete.

“I think we still have some broken pieces of the system that would lead to something like that happening again,” Pitre said.

Archive:Coverage of the Azana Spa Shooting

How the Azana shooter got a gun despite a restraining order

The day before the shooting, the gunman, Radcliffe Haughton, met a man in a McDonald’s parking lot in Germantown.

The man had responded to Haughton’s ad on Armslist, a site for classified gun sales. Haughton had written he was “looking to buy asap.” 

Haughton, 45, paid the man $500 for a .40-caliber handgun and high-capacity magazines.

The next day, he took a cab to the spa and stormed inside. His wife, Zina, pleaded with him not hurt anyone. 

He opened fire, killing Zina, Maelyn Lind and Cary Robuck, and wounding four other women, including one who was pregnant.

Zina had two daughters, one of whom was working at the salon that day. At one point, Haughton aimed at her daughter, but Lind stepped in front. 

Lind, 38, was remembered as a hero for her actions in the shooting; She had four children and two grandchildren. Robuck, 35, who had a daughter, had a talent for making people feel at ease, her family said.

Zina, 42, was known for her warm personality. She kept photos of her daughters taped up at her work station. None of her clients interviewed afterward knew what she was facing at home or that she had gotten a restraining order against Haughton four days earlier.

In her petition for the restraining order, she described her fear in stark terms:

“His threats terrorize my every waking moment. He said he would kill me if I left him or ever contacted the police.”

Domestic violence laws passed while broader gun legislation stalled

In the months and years after the shooting, some of the victims’ families pushed for reform.

Zina’s brother, Elvin Daniel, a hunter and active member of the National Rifle Association at the time, was the most prominent.

“She was full of goodness and some good has to come out of her death,” he told the Journal Sentinel in 2013.

Daniel, who declined a recent interview request, advocated for expanded background checks for gun purchases. His niece, Zina’s daughter who survived the shooting, also filed a lawsuit against Armslist, known as the Craiglist for guns, on behalf of her mother’s estate. 

In 2019, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of the online site. The court found Armslist was the type of online platform protected under the Communications Decency Act from liability for the actions of its users.

Last December, Armlist again won in federal court in two other lawsuits involving different cases — one a domestic violence homicide near Appleton, the other the killing of a Chicago police commander.

Outside the courts, state lawmakers did enact several laws related to domestic violence in 2014. The most significant required the subjects of temporary restraining orders to be notified that they must surrender their firearms and to fill out a questionnaire listing the guns they own. In most places, however, there is no enforcement tool to make sure people actually are giving up their guns as required by court order.

Proposals to tighten gun laws stalled in the Republican-controlled legislature. In 2015, lawmakers got rid of the state’s 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, with supporters saying the law had restricted gun owners’ rights without lowering gun violence.

In the last legislative session, proposals for universal background checks and red flag laws never had a public hearing, a necessary step to moving forward. In polls, a majority of Wisconsin voters say they support those proposals. 

More:Nearly everyone supports universal background checks for gun buyers. Here’s why Wisconsin is unlikely to make it law

Another bill that would prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a gun, and make it a felony if they do, also did not have a hearing despite bipartisan support. Domestic violence advocates have said the measure is needed to bring Wisconsin in line with federal law.

Those who oppose the proposals have suggested such laws could infringe on gun owners’ due process and constitutional rights. They also say someone intent on breaking the law by shooting someone would not be stopped by another law.

To Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, Azana is an example in which such laws could have made a difference. The shooter seemed aware he could not buy a gun from a federally licensed seller and of the 48-hour waiting period with his listing for a gun “ASAP,” she said.

“We see in other states that when you have these laws it creates some obstacles which work as a prevention tool,” she said. “It does prevent some people from doing some bad things.”

More police training as domestic violence homicides continue to climb

Two years after Azana, every police agency in Milwaukee County, including Brown Deer, was trained on how to identify domestic abuse cases most at risk for deadly violence.

Officers ask victims a series of questions, known as the lethality assessment. Among the questions: whether a perpetrator had threatened to kill the victim or their children, had strangled them before or had access to guns.

Officers are trained to call the local domestic violence hotline to connect a victim with an advocate who can assist with services, such as finding shelter or helping file a restraining order. It is up to each victim to decide if they want to speak with an advocate.

Nearly 200 law enforcement agencies statewide use the protocol, said Sara Krall, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin’s homicide prevention program director.

“They (officers) can have conversations with victims to educate them and not necessarily scare them but to be realistic about the level of danger that they’re in,” Krall said.

Milwaukee, Brown and Octono Counties have high-risk teams to review and dedicate more resources to domestic violence cases with high scores on the lethality assessment. A recent evaluation showed the team’s success in saving lives in Milwaukee, but there are more cases than the team can handle.

Sixty-five people were killed in domestic violence homicides last year in Wisconsin, according to a recent End Abuse report. A gun was used in 67% of the homicides. More than one-third of the perpetrators who used a gun were legally prohibited from having one.

So far this year, more than one in six homicides in Milwaukee have stemmed from domestic or intimate partner violence.

In many of the recent homicides, the victims were not on the radar of police or advocates before their death.

A lesson of Azana: Domestic violence makes everyone unsafe 

The Azana Spa shooting was a tragedy. Its lessons are still relevant today, advocates say.

“People need to take domestic violence seriously,” said Karin Tyler, the injury and violence prevention coordinator for Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention.

“It is critical and urgent,” she said.

In the 10 years since the shooting, thousands of people in abusive relationships have sought and received help from local nonprofits. Some of those causing harm have faced justice.

Still, several of the advocates interviewed by the Journal Sentinel expressed weariness and frustration. Domestic violence worsened during the pandemic and the disruptions it brought. The level of lethal domestic violence has continued to rise. 

After a traumatic event like Azana, “there will be a lot awareness in a short amount of time about domestic violence, about red flags, about community agencies and then it fizzles out,” said Angela Mancuso, executive director of The Women’s Center in Waukesha. 

“It never stays in the forefront,” she said.

Those interviewed all agreed Azana showed how domestic violence puts everyone in danger.

“This is what happens domestic abusers are not held accountable,” Mancuso said. “This is what happens when the voices of victims are not heard.”

Where to find help

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233.

The Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee operates a 24-hour confidential hotline at (414) 933-2722.

We Are Here Milwaukee provides information on culturally specific organizations at weareheremke.org.

The Women’s Center in Waukesha has a 24-hour hotline at (262) 542-3828. 

End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin has a statewide directory of resources at endabusewi.org/get-help.

Contact Ashley Luthern at ashley.luthern@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @aluthern.

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