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Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan leads an investigation that exposes the consequences of passing gun laws with no teeth. For the first time, Reveal tallies the number of intimate partners, children and bystanders whose lives are shattered by abusers who fail to give up their firearms. Our analysis of 21 states finds that from 2017 through 2020, at least 110 intimate partners, children and bystanders were killed by suspects using guns they weren’t allowed to have under federal law and, in some cases, state law as well. This is likely a massive undercount because the federal government does not track the number of people killed by intimate partners who are prohibited from possessing guns. 

We meet Chad Absher, who even as a young man could not control his rage. He was convicted of shooting at an ex-girlfriend’s house, which meant he could never have a gun again. Absher’s story with guns should have ended there, but it didn’t. 

Gollan picks up his story years later when Absher starts dating another young woman, Ashlee Rucker. It isn’t long before he becomes controlling and abusive, and Rucker wants out of the relationship. But Absher won’t let go and, once again, threatens violence. Despite the law, he has a firearm. 

In the final segment, Gollan tracks the law enforcement failures that make it possible for felons such as Absher to possess guns. From the local sheriff to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a member of Congress, Gollan discovers that laws that have been on the books for decades have very few enforcement mechanisms. She also speaks with a prosecutor in King County, Washington, which is trying to make the laws work as they were originally intended.

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Credits

Reporter: Jennifer Gollan | Lead producer: Katharine Mieskowski | Editor: Taki Telonidis | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Molly Mendoza | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Steven Rascón and Claire Mullen | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson 

Special thanks to Amina Waheed, Laila Al-Arian and Joel Van Haren from Fault Lines, and Reveal’s Nina Martin, Amanda Pike, Sumi Aggarwal and Grace Oldham. Thanks also to Narda Zacchino, Katherine Sypher, Esther Kaplan and Brett Simpson.

Transcript

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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. As a felony prosecutor, [Lynn Cook] saw all kinds of cases, drug sales, robberies, burglaries, but there was one case that stood out to her when she took the job back in 2006.
Speaker 4:It’s very rare that we have a young person who is being so scary.
Al Letson:This is a good time to tell you that this episode is not appropriate for young kids and other sensitive listeners. Anyway, Chad Absher, the defendant in this case was just 20 years old and he’d already had a distinctive tattoo inked on his chest.
Speaker 4:I’m all about tattoos, but getting a tattoo of a clown with a pistol at such a young age.
Al Letson:Chad had been dating a teenager who was still in high school in Jacksonville, Florida, where they both lived. They’d known each other since she was in the fourth grade. The couple had been seeing each other for about a year when she broke up with him. Chad wasn’t taking the rejection well.
Speaker 4:He had been consistently stocking her for the last couple of weeks since their separation, following her at her home, school, work.
Al Letson:If you know anything about dating violence, I don’t have to tell you that just after a breakup can be a really dangerous time. And Chad’s behavior was growing more dramatic. The young woman’s mother saw him cut off the head of a teddy bear and leave it in the driveway. Then he put the decapitated body of the stuffed animal next to the teens card school. Chad just wouldn’t leave his ex alone. He’d call her several times a day, at all hours saying things like if I can’t have you, no one else will.
Speaker 4:He threatened to kill her if she ever left him and even wrote her a letter confirming those threats.
Al Letson:So she reported Chad to the police for stalking, and then he did something a lot scarier than mutilating a Teddy bear.
Speaker 4:Everyone in the home was lucky to not have been hurt.
Al Letson:It was 2:30 AM, early in the morning of February 25th, 2006, and a neighbor heard loud music blasting from a Chevy Blazer in front of the teen’s house. The neighbor recognized Chad and chased him away. But Chad came back and fired seven shots into his ex-girlfriend’s house with a handgun.
Speaker 4:Three of the entered, the victim’s room. And the other four were scattered throughout the home. That is just terrifying.
Al Letson:The police collected five bullet casings from the house and that wasn’t the only evidence. Pieces of metal from Chad’s Chevy had fallen off in the street, but Chad had gotten away. In the terrifying days to come, the teen’s family moved her to another location for her safety. As she sought a protection order against Chad, still the threatening phone calls didn’t stop. “If you continue to get the police involved, I will continue to shoot up your house.” Said one. And just days after the shooting, when her mom went to pick her up from high school, they saw Chad and he started following them. They lost him and called the police again. With a warrant out for his arrest, finally, Chad turned himself in. When Chad’s case came Lynn’s way, she knew she had a strong one.
Speaker 4:There was a massive amount of incriminating evidence against him, which for me is a relief because I don’t have that fear that he could get away with this.
Al Letson:The teen, her family, the neighbor, they’d done everything right as far as Lynn was concerned, talking to the police multiple times, seeking a protection order.
Speaker 4:Ultimately I would say the system worked at that time.
Al Letson:Chad pleaded guilty to shooting or throwing deadly missiles and aggravated stalking. He was sentenced to four years in prison. The goal was to keep him from committing more crimes.
Speaker 4:Trying to keep him from turning into a hardened criminal, I think that’s something that was on all of our minds because of his youth.
Al Letson:With the case behind her, Lynn felt not just relief for the family whose lives Chad threatened, but maybe even a little hopeful for him.
Speaker 4:My last memory of the case is thinking this young person still has a chance to change their life around.
Al Letson:I grew up in Jacksonville and was living there back in 2006 when all this went down and I didn’t hear anything about Chad’s case at the time. Gun violence between intimate partners is just so common in the United States. Every 16 hours in this country, a woman is shot and killed by her intimate partner. Women are five times more likely to be murdered when their abusers are gun owners. So, should a young man, who is convicted of shooting up a house full of people when his girlfriend dumps him ever be armed again? Our gun laws say the answer is no.
Speaker 6:Today we begin to disarm the criminal and the careless and the insane. And all of our people who are deeply concerned in this country about law and order should hail this day.
Al Letson:That’s President Lyndon Johnson when he was about to sign the Gun Control Act of 1968. It was spurred by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That law bars convicted felons like Chad from possessing firearms forever. It’s been on the books for decades and since then federal law and some state laws have gone even further to try to keep abusers from owning guns. Even some people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are now prohibited from owning firearms, so are people who were under protective orders. Even with all the fighting about guns in this country, this is one thing our gun laws forbid. I wish I could tell you that the only gun Chad ever touched again was the pistol tattooed on his chest held by the clown. But that’s not what happened. Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan takes it from here.
Jennifer Gollan:I’m sitting on the covered front porch of Lisa Rucker’s home in Jacksonville. It’s June and the weather can’t decide what to do. It’s raining off and on.
Lisa Rucker:All my friends at work told me that I should do a podcast.
Jennifer Gollan:The pandemic’s still raging. So we’re sitting outside. Everything is green and lush with moss hanging off the trees. Lisa is telling me about the day that she met Chad.
Lisa Rucker:We were just kind of letting the kids run around and play in the yard, and across the street was this guy.
Jennifer Gollan:Lisa and her older sister, Ashlee we’re both single moms, bringing up young sons and they spend a lot of time together with their boys. In April 2014, they were at their grandmother’s house for her birthday.
Lisa Rucker:A couple of kids were out there with him, some little girls and he was on a lawnmower like taking the kids on a ride on the riding lawnmower.
Jennifer Gollan:That looked pretty fun to Ashlee’s son, Joseph.
Lisa Rucker:Joseph goes over and starts playing with the little girls and he’s asking if he could get on the lawnmower, he wants a ride he wants a ride.
Jennifer Gollan:Lisa and Ashlee walk across the street and strike up a conversation with a man driving the mower. Chad ran his own lawn care business after his release from prison.
Lisa Rucker:He’s a nice looking man, he’s got his own business. He seems to have his stuff together. She doesn’t know the real details of why he went to prison. And I don’t think specifically she cared at that point. She saw him at face value, basically.
Jennifer Gollan:A couple of weeks after they met, Ashlee went on her first date with Chad. I ask Lisa about Ashlee.
Lisa Rucker:Ashlee’s always been very headstrong. I’ve always been kind of a pushover. So it went hand in hand for a majority of our lives. If she ever did anything wrong, like when we were little, if I did it too, then I couldn’t tell on her. And I was always right there with her like, “Oh, are we going to run across the street and go to so-and-so’s house even though we’re not supposed to cross the street?” “Oh yeah, we’re going to go. And you’re going to go too.”
Jennifer Gollan:Ashlee worked” in healthcare. First in a call center, then as a medical assistant. She was hardworking and tough. The kind of person who protects other people, including her younger sister.
Lisa Rucker:If you were her friend, she had your back, 100%. That’s just who she was. When I was younger, she used to tell me that I would never have to fight anybody, because she would always do it. And to this day, I’m 32 and I’ve never been in a fight in my life.
Jennifer Gollan:By 2015, Chad and Ashlee were living together. But before long, Lisa saw trouble. What was your first clue that something was wrong?
Lisa Rucker:Okay. So, I got a phone call from Chad and he said,” Your sister’s going crazy.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” And he says, “We were arguing and going back and forth, and she stabbed herself in the stomach.” And I was like, “What do you mean she stabbed herself in the stomach? You got to call the ambulance. Why are you calling me? Call 911.”
Jennifer Gollan:Police records show that an officer was dispatched just after 11:00 PM for a suicide attempt. But by the time the police arrived, Ashlee was gone. Chad told police she had run away and was wearing a camouflage shirt and blue jeans. The police put out a missing person report. Here’s how it described her, white female, 28 years old, five-foot-four, 120 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes. Within hours, police found her. Ashlee had made it fewer than seven miles away. She was lying on the floor in the back of her car, in the parking lot of a nearby comfort suites hotel. There was a deep cut in her lower abdomen. She needed to see a doctor right away.
Lisa Rucker:I got a phone call telling me that she was in the hospital and they said that she was placed under security measures because she was telling them that she did it to herself.
Jennifer Gollan:But as doctors examined Ashlee, this idea that she tried to kill herself, it fell apart.
Lisa Rucker:The doctor basically said to me that it’s almost physically impossible for you to stab yourself through your abdominal wall. That the knife had gone so far, that they weren’t sure if she had punctured any organs, so she was going into emergency surgery.
Jennifer Gollan:It became clear to Lisa that the doctors weren’t concerned about protecting Ashlee from herself. In fact, they even had her registered under a fake name. They were trying to shield her from the person who had stabbed her.
Lisa Rucker:I was the only person that was allowed to come in and see her. My father was not allowed in. Nobody was because they said that what she was saying happened could not have happened. So somebody had to have done it to her.
Jennifer Gollan:When Ashlee got out of the hospital, she went to stay with her dad for a while. But eventually she and Chad got back together.
Lisa Rucker:Anytime Ashlee was doing whatever Chad wanted her to do. Things were good. Everything was great.
Jennifer Gollan:Until it wasn’t. Then there would be a blow up sometimes involving the police. She’d go and stay with her dad again.
Lisa Rucker:It just seemed like a never ending cycle. I didn’t really know what to do. You could tell that she was really controlled. There were times where we’d all be in the car together and the air was heavy. It’s just like, you didn’t feel right even speaking, because you just felt like an argument was going to start.
Jennifer Gollan:And sometimes when Ashlee and Chad fought, he pulled out a gun.
Lisa Rucker:She told me that he hit her in the head with a gun.
Jennifer Gollan:Remember, it was illegal for Chad to possess a gun under federal and state law. And Ashlee didn’t just tell her sister about Chad’s gun, she told police.
Lisa Rucker:In early 2017, there were police reports that were made that he possessed a firearm and threatened my sister with it.
Jennifer Gollan:I got copies of these police reports through a public records request to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office. They show that Jacksonville officers responded to a domestic battery call. Ashlee had scratches across her face and she told officers that Chad had a rifle. And then he said, “I’m going to die for you.” The report notes that Chad is in possession of a firearm, weapon or ammunition by a convicted Florida felon. It’s right there in black and white. The officers knew that Chad was prohibited from owning a firearm. If convicted, that’s an offense that could have put them away for up to 15 years. All this doesn’t sit right with Lisa.
Lisa Rucker:Why was no one, no probation officer, no city official, no one from the judicial system or police officers, no one decided to say, “Hey, this is a convicted felon and it’s reported that he has a weapon, so why don’t we just go and search their house? Get a warrant, search their house. Let’s find it and take it. Let’s get it back.”
Jennifer Gollan:As we heard, the reason Chad couldn’t own a firearm is that he’d shot up his ex-girlfriend’s house after she broke up with him. That ex had escaped Chad, now Ashlee was trying to get away. Was she afraid of him?
Lisa Rucker:I believe she was, but she was a fighter. She was that way her whole life. She never backed down. Never. She was always going to fight back.
Al Letson:When we come back, Lisa tries to stand up for her sister.
Lisa Rucker:There’s an altercation. I’m asking someone to leave. They will not get out of my apartment.
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Speaker 2:In 2008, the residents of Valley View Apartments hosted a big Halloween party. Dozens of people came in costume, mingled, drank and danced. But before the night was over, one of them was murdered. Suspect is a new, true-crime mini series about the cutting edge, forensic science and mislaid justice, about race and policing, and ultimately the kinds of weighty decisions that cops and prosecutors make every day. Decisions that once made change lives forever and are almost impossible to reverse. Stick around to the end of this episode to hear a preview of suspect.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. This hour, we’re talking about domestic violence and guns. And I should mention, this episode is definitely not for young children and other sensitive listeners. When we left off, Ashlee Rucker was trying to get away from her boyfriend, Chad Absher. And in 2017, it seemed like she might be succeeding. Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan picks up Ashlee’s story.
Jennifer Gollan:It was summer in Jacksonville and Ashlee was trying to make a fresh start away from Chad.
Lisa Rucker:Got her tattoo that had Chad’s name covered up.
Jennifer Gollan:That’s her sister, Lisa Rucker. And this time, instead of going to stay with our father, Ashlee turned to Lisa.
Lisa Rucker:Because any time I was around, he would never put his hands on her.
Jennifer Gollan:Ashlee thought that being near Lisa would help protect her from Chad. So the two sisters moved into a condo with their young sons.
Lisa Rucker:When Ashlee and I moved in together, she had told me that she was going to try to break things off with him. But every time that she would say, like, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m done.” He would threaten her. I heard him tell her that he would kill her and all of her family.
Jennifer Gollan:People often wonder why don’t domestic violence victims just leave their partners. You’re hearing one of the major reasons why. Researchers have found that fleeing a violent relationship can be very risky. But to Lisa, it seemed like Chad was just trying to intimidate Ashlee.
Lisa Rucker:You think it’s just a threat, you think he’s just mad, angry, saying mean hateful, hurtful things. It seems kind of silly to compare it to this, but it’s like unicorns are nice and they’re pretty, but you don’t think you’ll have a really see one.
Jennifer Gollan:And what happened on October 30th, 2017 is something that Lisa never imagined she’d see. It’s Monday night at the condo, Lisa and Ashlee get pizza for their sons for dinner. Lisa’s new boyfriend is there a guy named Lyle Scheideman and Chad’s there too. But Chad and Ashlee are arguing. One of those arguments that sounds pretty mundane at first.
Lisa Rucker:I heard my sister say to Chad, “Where are my car keys?” And he said, “I gave them back to you.” And she said, “No, you didn’t.” So they went back and forth with the car keys for hours.
Jennifer Gollan:Ashlee really loves this car, a black Mercedes.
Lisa Rucker:Every time he stuck his hand in his pocket and said, “I don’t have your keys,” she could Hear it.
Jennifer Gollan:Jingling in his pocket.
Lisa Rucker:So she kept telling him that, “Give me my car keys. Get out of my house. I have to go to work tomorrow, please give me my car keys.”
Jennifer Gollan:This is all happening while Ashlee is trying to break up with Chad, but he’s having trouble letting go and keeps coming around to the apartment. Now he’s holding her car key hostage, trying to control her. Finally, Ashlee walks up behind Chad and plucks her car key right out of his jacket pocket. And Lisa thinks that the drama is basically over for the night.
Lisa Rucker:Ashlee has her car keys, we’ve already told him to leave multiple times. I figured he’s either A, going to leave or B, go lay down and go to sleep.
Jennifer Gollan:So Lisa goes into her own room to watch a DVD with Lyle an chill out.
Lisa Rucker:And I sit down at the end of my bed and I’m eating my pizza, my nephew comes, Joseph, comes running into my room and he says, “T is choking,” T is Chad’s nickname. He said, “T’s choking my mommy. He won’t let her go.”
Jennifer Gollan:Lisa and Lyle, rushing to Ashlee’s room. They see Chad lying on the bed with one arm around Ashlee’s neck.
Lisa Rucker:He’s got like this arm underneath her neck area. And he’s like this on the bed. So he could have easily went like this or this.
Jennifer Gollan:As she says, this Lisa pantomimes choking with her arm. Now Lyle starts to get into it with Chad.
Lisa Rucker:And Lyle says, “So you’re going to put your hands on a woman?” And as soon as he says that, my sister jumps up, out of the bed, runs out the room. Chad gets up, he takes off his necklace, takes off his shirt, and he was like, “I ain’t put my hands on nobody yet.”
Jennifer Gollan:Lisa can see where this is going, nowhere good.
Lisa Rucker:And so, “All right, so y’all are going to start fighting.” I looked at Chad and I told him that I was calling the police. Any other time I called the cops, he would just leave.
Jennifer Gollan:On the beginning of the 911 call. You can hear a voice yelling, “Get off the phone.” Then Lisa starts talking.
Speaker 9:Get off the phone [inaudible].
Speaker 10:Ma’am, what’s going on out there?
Lisa Rucker:No, there’s an altercation, I’m asking someone to leave, they will not get out of my apartment.
Speaker 10:Okay. Who was that? Your boyfriend, your brother?
Lisa Rucker:No, it’s my sister’s boyfriend. I’m with my sister. She’s asking him to leave, we’re both asking him to leave, he won’t leave.
Speaker 10:Okay ma’am. Thank you.
Lisa Rucker:The part where I feel like I really messed up is the dispatcher asked me.
Speaker 10:Does anyone have any weapons, any drinking [inaudible]?
Lisa Rucker:I just said no. No. Even though I knew he had been drinking. I didn’t know there was a gun there, but I said no, simply because any other time he would just leave just by the simple act of me dialing 911.
Speaker 10:All right. We’ll send the next available officer out there. Call us back if anything changes, okay?
Lisa Rucker:Okay. Thank you.
Speaker 10:Thank you. Bye-bye.
Lisa Rucker:I hung up the phone. I looked at Chad and I said, “The cops are on their way.” And as soon as I fed that, he pushed me.
Jennifer Gollan:That was the breaking point. Lyle and Chad start fighting and it’s getting pretty violent, punches thrown, shelves breaking. Ashlee and Lisa were standing back out of the way. Their sons are in Lisa’s bedroom. But then Ashlee tells Lisa, “This fight needs to end because Chad has a gun.”
Lisa Rucker:My sister says, “Stop him. He’s got a gun.” And I didn’t know if she meant on him or what. So I told Ashlee, I was like, “How am I supposed to break up two grown men fighting?” So she comes over and she grabs one shoulder of Lyle’s. I grabbed the other shoulder and we pull him back off of Chad.
Jennifer Gollan:Lyle goes outside and Lisa sees the Chad’s pretty beat up. His face has cut and there’s blood all over the place. Ashlee keeps telling him to leave while he paces the condo.
Lisa Rucker:I wanted the cops to be able to see the scene and see what happened, but I didn’t want the boys to come out and see the blood.
Jennifer Gollan:So Lisa starts cleaning up the mess from the fight, Ashlee’s helping too.
Lisa Rucker:I stopped at the linen closet. My sister and I were separating the stuff that had blood on it, that didn’t have blood on it. Chad walks past me and rubs his bloody face in my hair. And I scream at the top of my lungs, “Get out of my fucking house.” As loud as I can.
Jennifer Gollan:That doesn’t work. Lisa goes back to wiping blood off the floor. Then.
Lisa Rucker:He pulls out rifle from behind the chair cushion and he points it at me. As he’s pointing it right at me, he says, “So that’s how it is Lisa?” And as I’m looking at him, every part of me was like, “He’s not really going to shoot me. He’s upset. He’s just trying to scare me.” That was my exact thought as I turned my head away from him. And as I turned my head down, it was, everything went black.
Jennifer Gollan:It’s now early Halloween morning, and a neighbor calls 911.
Speaker 11:Jackson 911. Where is the location of the emergency?
Speaker 12:Hi. [inaudible], I believe somebody at [inaudible] apartments just got shot.
Speaker 11:Okay. What’s the apartment complex?
Speaker 12:Cedar Creek Landing.
Speaker 11:Okay. Was it a male or female?
Speaker 12:I’m not sure.
Speaker 11:Okay.
Lisa Rucker:My ears started ringing and it was like I was inside my own head. I could see my entire body, and it was pitch black. Everything was black. I can see my entire body, and out of like what would have been my peripheral vision, I saw this perfect circle of blueish white light. And I heard a loud noise.
Jennifer Gollan:To this day, lisa doesn’t know if that noise was a gunshot or Ashlee screaming.
Lisa Rucker:When I came to the first time, Ashlee was about six feet away from me. I couldn’t tell where she was shot, I just saw blood around her head.
Jennifer Gollan:To Lisa, it doesn’t look like Ashlee has lost that much blood compared to her. And since she’s still alive, she figures Ashlee must be okay.
Lisa Rucker:The first thing I thought was she’s fine. I thought she’s okay. She’s okay. She’s just out when I’m in, in when I’m out, that’s what I thought and that’s what I believed.
Jennifer Gollan:But the neighbor talking to the 911 dispatcher is panicking.
Speaker 12:Just shot them in the head.
Speaker 11:In the head, okay.
Speaker 12:Oh my gosh. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.
Jennifer Gollan:The neighbor is right, both Ashlee and Lisa have been shot in the head. Lisa’s still going in and out of consciousness. And she wakes up to see Lyle standing over her. And he’s on the phone. He’s talking to 911 too.
Speaker 13:Hello.
Lyle Scheideman:Oh my God. There’s been a murder. There’s been a murder. Oh my God.
Jennifer Gollan:The kids are crying. The dispatcher is trying to get the address. But Lyle doesn’t know it. He and Lisa haven’t known each other that long.
Speaker 13:What’s the address?
Lyle Scheideman:I don’t even know the address.
Speaker 13:Come on. Give me where you at. What’s the two intersecting streets? Give me the two intersecting streets?
Lyle Scheideman:Baby are you okay? Baby are you okay?
Speaker 13:Listen to me. Give me the-
Lyle Scheideman:The address is, what’s the address? I don’t know the address.
Speaker 13:Put someone one on the phone who can give me the address.
Lyle Scheideman:He shot them in the head. I’m over at the apartment. Oh my gosh.
Lisa Rucker:I thought that was it. I thought that he just killed me. I thought that I wasn’t going to see my son grow up.
Jennifer Gollan:And Lisa’s nephew, Joseph and her son Colton, are there witnessing all of this. They are just nine and four years old.
Lisa Rucker:The third time that I came to, I looked over and I saw Joseph standing over my sister, my nephew standing over my sister. And he was crying. And I guess Colton noticed that I was awake because he came over to me and he said, “Mommy, please don’t die.” And he probably couldn’t understand me, but I just said, “I’m okay, baby. I’m okay. I’m okay.” I knew I was far from okay. I was just trying to say whatever I thought I could to calm him down.
Jennifer Gollan:Police soon arrive. Chad has already fled. Ashlee is pronounced dead at the scene. Lisa is rushed to the hospital. At this point, it’s not clear that she’ll make it. In the ambulance.
Lisa Rucker:I remember them telling me that they were going to take my dying declaration because I had lost so much blood. And because of the extent of my injuries, they asked me if I knew who shot me. And I said, “Yes, T. Chad Absher.” They asked me again. I said the same thing and I went completely out.
Jennifer Gollan:Chad has since been indicted for murder and attempted murder. We reached out to him in jail and through his lawyer, but he didn’t respond. But there’s one more charge that Chad is facing. It’s the least serious, but the one that holds the key to how this whole tragedy could have been prevented. The third charge possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. That’s because Chad had been convicted for shooting up an ex-girlfriend’s house and stalking her. Under federal and Florida law, it was illegal for him to have a gun. And Ashlee had told police he had one, just six months before.
Lisa Rucker:In early 2017, there were police reports that were made that he possessed a firearm and threatened my sister with it.
Jennifer Gollan:But officer’s didn’t get a search warrant to see if Chad really did have a gun. So when prosecutors looked at the case, they had only Ashlee’s word to go on. And they said Ashlee wasn’t answering their calls or their voicemails. Domestic violence victims are often reluctant to cooperate with prosecutors. The state attorney’s office concluded that there was insufficient evidence. So they declined to prosecute. We want to know more about why officers didn’t get a search warrant and why Chad wasn’t prosecuted. But the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office refused to be interviewed for our story, as did the state attorney. Only now is Chad being prosecuted for having a gun, but it’s too late for Ashlee Rucker.
Lisa Rucker:Do more than just take the report. I feel like had that been done in early 2017, my sister would still be here. I wouldn’t have to live with the trauma, the scars, the heartache and everything that goes along with it. I wouldn’t have to live with it, and my nephew would still have his mother.
Jennifer Gollan:This problem goes far beyond one death in Florida. I spent eight months looking into cases like this one in more than 20 states, combing through court records and police reports. I took domestic violence, homicide data and ran criminal background checks on hundreds of perpetrators who gunned down their intimate partners. I found more than 110 intimate partners and others who have been killed by people using guns they were federally prohibited from having. That was just over a recent four-year period in 21 states. So that total is likely a vast undercount. They include factory workers, nurses, and waitresses. Among the dead were police officers, bystanders, and more than 10 children. More than half of the victims were people of color. Some of the offenders killed themselves after shooting their partners. Others have since been convicted for these homicides. And then there are those like Chad Absher, who are still facing charges.
Al Letson:All of those deaths could have been prevented if laws we already have were actually enforced.
Speaker 15:We shouldn’t have laws in the books that are just for show.
Al Letson:When we come back, Jennifer Gallon uncovers why so many convicted offenders still have guns. But first, I want to tell you about a series I’ve been working on. Next week, we’re launching a new seven part reveal investigation. It’s a story about a black teenager who died during a traffic stop with a white deputy in rural Mississippi. I’ve been carrying this story around with me for decade, because it reminds me of growing up as a black kid in the south. It’s about Mississippi, but also about how justice looks different for different people. Be sure to tune in next week for the launch of this series. You’re listening to Reveal.
Speaker 2:Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Are you thinking more about how to tighten up your budget these days, drivers who save by switching to Progressive save over $700 on average and customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. A little off your rate each month, goes a long way. Get a quote today at progressive.com. Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. National annual average insurance savings by new customer surveyed who saved with Progressive between June 2020 and May 2021. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Emily Harris:Hi, I’m Emily Harris, a reporter and producer here at Reveal. We’re a nonprofit newsroom and we rely on support from listeners like you. To become a member, text the word reveal to 474747. Standard data rates apply and you can text stop at any time. Again, text reveal to 474747. Thank you for supporting the show.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. This week, we’re investigating domestic violence and guns.
Speaker 17:He found my apartment and he put a gun to me.
Al Letson:After years of decline, the number of people gunned down by their intimate partners has jumped 58% over the last decade. And women make up the majority of victims. Reveal uncovered dozens of cases of convicted offenders, people who couldn’t legally have guns who went on to shoot and kill anyway. Their partners, children, sometimes even bystanders. We found cases in Alabama, Ohio, Arizona.
Speaker 18:Hi, I have a missing employee.
Speaker 19:When was the last time you saw the employee?
Speaker 18:The last time saw them was Tuesday.
Al Letson:Federal law in some states prohibit felons and many people convicted of domestic violence from having firearms. But they often don’t explain how those guns are supposed to get handed over. So those laws often simply aren’t being enforced, like this case.
Speaker 20:The gun that night, you said in your emails that it was on his hip.
Speaker 21:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Al Letson:The reality is our gun laws make it pretty easy in most places to keep firearms you shouldn’t have and even get new ones, but it’s clear law enforcement and lawmakers could be doing a lot more to prevent these deaths.
Speaker 22:We did not know that the police had given him that gun back and I didn’t know the laws anyway.
Al Letson:And then there’s the case in Jacksonville that Reveal’s Jennifer Gallon, has been digging into. She takes it from here.
Jennifer Gollan:To the people who knew Chad Asher, it wasn’t exactly a secret that he had a gun.
Tiffany Johnson:He always had a gun on him. Like anytime they came to the house, he would have his gun and put it on my refrigerator and like, let it be known that he had it.
Jennifer Gollan:That’s Tiffany Johnson, who also lives in Jacksonville. Her best friend was Ashlee Rucker, who Chad is charged with murdering.
Tiffany Johnson:I never really thought much of it, because he didn’t seem like he was going to use it or anything, he just always acted like a man and carried a gun.
Jennifer Gollan:The police also knew he had a gun, even though he wasn’t supposed to. Ashlee had told them six months before she died, but he wasn’t prosecuted for it. The state attorney’s office concluded there wasn’t enough evidence because Ashlee was the only witness and she wouldn’t talk with them. Of course, the irony is that the state attorney’s office is now prosecuting Chad for the very same offense, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Both federal and state law barred Chad from having a gun, yet he and so many others still have guns illegally. So I went to Washington, D.C. to see what the feds are doing about getting guns away from convicted offenders. I met with Thomas Chittum. So you’re fine West Virginia?
Thomas Chittum:I am. Can you just tell from listening to me talk?
Jennifer Gollan:No, I read your bio.
Thomas Chittum:Oh good.
Jennifer Gollan:Yeah. Yeah.
Thomas Chittum:Yeah. Born and raised.
Jennifer Gollan:He’s the acting deputy director of the chief federal agency that fights violent gun crime. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the ATF. Their job is to investigate firearms traffickers and people who illegally possess guns. I came to the ATF with our findings about abusers and guns, all those preventable deaths, but it turned out I didn’t have to convince Chittum that there’s a problem.
Thomas Chittum:How do we ensure that people who have become prohibited, don’t continue to retain firearms. The so-called honor system, where people who are now prohibited because of domestic violence convictions are subject to restraining orders, divesting themselves off firearms that they currently possess. That has been a challenge.
Jennifer Gollan:It’s an honor system because federal laws don’t spell out how offenders should surrender their firearms. Basically the system trusts that people will do the right thing. How many people are prohibited from having guns because of felony convictions and qualifying domestic violence misdemeanors?
Thomas Chittum:Oh, I don’t know that number. I’m not sure anyone knows that number with precision.
Jennifer Gollan:How many domestic violence homicides are being committed by people who are not allowed to have guns?
Thomas Chittum:I don’t have that number.
Jennifer Gollan:So you don’t know how many people have died at the hands of partners who were prohibited possessors and we don’t know how many prohibited possessors are out there?
Thomas Chittum:I think that there are probably reliable statistics on how many domestic violence homicides occur. And I’m sure the number is high and too high, but as to the specifics, I don’t know them.
Jennifer Gollan:You heard that right. The federal agency that enforces the nation’s gun laws has no idea how many offenders are barred by federal law from having firearms. They don’t even track how many intimate partners they’ve killed with these guns, and neither does any other federal agency. Getting guns out of the hands of known abusers, who aren’t supposed to have them, too often it happens too late.
Thomas Chittum:The challenge with domestic violence is it often occurs behind closed doors. The first time the firearm is used to commit violence, it is tragic and it makes it more difficult for us to detect.
Jennifer Gollan:Local jurisdictions like the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office could notify the ATF if they think a convicted felon like Chad Absher has a gun and is breaking federal law. We wanted to ask the Sheriff’s office if they did that back in April 2017, when Ashlee Rucker told police he had a gun. But the sheriff wouldn’t agree to an interview. When the ATF gets a tip like this, they can arrest offenders and pursue federal prosecution, but the agency has about the same number of staff as a medium sized police department, and none of its agents specialize in domestic violence. So it doesn’t sound like the ATF has any specific personnel dedicated to just domestic violence cases, is that right?
Thomas Chittum:No, that’s right. Our personnel are dedicated to investigating federal firearms violations writ large.
Jennifer Gollan:The reality is the ATF is caught up in America’s culture wars over guns. The National Rifle Association has aggressively lobbied Congress to limit the ATF’s ability to regulate firearms. Since 2006, the ATF has had only one permanent director, which makes it harder to get more funding and staff. The agency has about the same number of employees as it did a decade ago. And last month, the Biden administration’s nominee for director tanked after the NRA opposed his confirmation. The administration scrapped [David Chibbin’s] nomination after key senators withdrew their support.
Thomas Chittum:It’s always tough being the ATF. We serve as a convenience symbol for a divisive issue, but the reality is the men and women of ATF do a tremendous job.
Jennifer Gollan:But we’ve had these federal gun laws on the books for decades to try to curb domestic violence with guns. What more should the ATF be doing to go after abusers with guns?
Thomas Chittum:I think we do a good job of focusing the limited resources that we have to bring to bear on a wide range of federal firearms violations.
Jennifer Gollan:Is there more do you think the agency should be doing?
Thomas Chittum:Well, we can always do a better job and we don’t ever miss an opportunity to improve.
Jennifer Gollan:But women like Ashlee and Lisa Rucker are still being shot and no federal agency is tracking how many abusers who aren’t supposed to have guns are killing their partners with them. That makes it hard to prove anything more needs to be done about the problem.
Shani Buggs:It’s quite mind boggling.
Jennifer Gollan:That’s Shani Buggs, an assistant professor at the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis Health. For researchers like her who studied gun violence as a public health issue, the lack of data goes with the territory.
Shani Buggs:The lack of tracking for the number of people who are prohibited is just one of many startling things that are not currently tracked. We don’t know how many people are shot but do not die from firearms in our country, we can only estimate. We do not know how many firearms are actually purchased.
Jennifer Gollan:There’s no national gun registry in the U.S. which makes it difficult to know exactly how many guns anyone has. And federal law and some states allow private gun transfers without background checks. That makes it easy for offenders to get a new gun, even if they’re barred from doing so. But Bugg says the lack of good data is no excuse for not taking action to protect victims from prohibited offenders.
Shani Buggs:We know enough today that we do not have to wait for more information to act. However, it is critical that we get more information so that we can truly understand the scope and the nature of the problem.
Jennifer Gollan:Of course, these federal gun laws that are only sporadically enforced, it’s Congress that created them. And if they’re not working, Congress can change them too. So I headed to Capitol Hill.
Eric Swalwell:How are you guys doing?
Speaker 30:How are you?
Eric Swalwell:I’m good. I’m good.
Speaker 30:Good. Good.
Jennifer Gollan:It’s so nice to meet you.
Eric Swalwell:Yeah, same here.
Jennifer Gollan:Yeah. Thank you very much for your time.
Eric Swalwell:Of course. Of course. Thanks for sharing about this issue.
Jennifer Gollan:Congressman Eric Swalwell is a Democrat from California. He’s also a former prosecutor who understands the challenges of getting convicted abusers to give up their guns.
Eric Swalwell:Right now it’s the wild west as far as guns in the hands of abusers.
Jennifer Gollan:He told me just hoping abusers will tell the truth about their guns is not enough.
Eric Swalwell:So the honor system is essentially you go to court, you’re arraigned, your advisor, if you have firearms in the home, you have to give them up and you have to disclose which firearms you have. But again, you are trusting somebody who is not worthy of being taken at their word to just be upfront and shoot straight with you about firearms they have in the home. And that has been to the peril of domestic violence victims.
Jennifer Gollan:Swalwell has proposed legislation he calls the No Guns for Abusers Act. It would require the federal government to develop procedures for abusers to relinquish their guns.
Eric Swalwell:If we do nothing, if we allow the current system to exist, we are sending a message to perpetrators that you can unlawfully keep guns, and that we’re not going to be willing to do anything to take them from you.
Jennifer Gollan:The legislation has already died in Congress, twice. He re-introduced it earlier this year, but it’s unlikely to pass.
Eric Swalwell:We shouldn’t have laws in the books that are just for show, if we don’t have a mechanism to actually get the firearms out of the home.
Jennifer Gollan:The nation’s landmark law to protect victims of domestic abuse is called the Violence Against Women Act. It’s now up for reauthorization, but the latest version is all carrot and no stick when it comes to relinquishment. It would help fund programs to take guns away from abusers, but communities aren’t required to create these programs. It’s all voluntary. That bill is still pending in the Senate. But what if we didn’t just rely on the honor system? To Lisa Rucker, it’s not that hard to imagine a better way. For starters, someone could actually try to get the guns out of the hands of abusers who aren’t supposed to have them.
Lisa Rucker:Someone who takes specifically those reports and goes and follows up, a whole department. You can make one in every major city, kind of like a probation officer, just check.
Jennifer Gollan:In some places around the country, relinquishment is starting to happen .in Dallas, Texas, in Denver, Colorado, and in Seattle King County, Washington. So I called David Martin, a prosecutor in Seattle who helped create the program there.
David Martin:I’ve had to sit with families who have lost loved ones to firearms, and it’s something that never leaves you.
Jennifer Gollan:And he knows what it’s like to live in an abusive home.
David Martin:As a kid who got to witness his mother be a victim of domestic violence, I remember the police coming to my home and then like nothing happening. Eventually my mom was able to get away and my sisters and I went with her, but I always thought and expected that something terrible would happened.
Jennifer Gollan:Before the new program, he says Seattle, like most places just trusted offenders to get rid of their prohibited firearms.
David Martin:It was an honor system. There was no mechanism that you would check to really make sure that people had done what they were supposed to do. There was no system of accountability.
Jennifer Gollan:Under the new law, police responding to a domestic violence incident temporarily remove weapons. Plus, domestic violence offenders who are subject to protection orders must surrender their guns. And in King County, a domestic violence firearms enforcement unit helps make sure that happens. All of this is a result of a decades-long effort by community advocates, prosecutors, and statewide gun safety groups to protect victims of intimate partner violence.
David Martin:It’s probably the most important thing that we’re doing right now, removing lethal means from people is the best way to keep everybody safe.
Jennifer Gollan:Firearms coordinators review cases and interview victims to learn more about prohibited firearms an abuser may have. And when law enforcement moves in to remove the weapons, it’s often less dramatic than you might expect.
David Martin:There was a belief from our law enforcement partners who are with us, it’s so high risk and it’s so dangerous. We’re going to have to send a SWAT team each and every time to take guns from these very dangerous people. But most of the time, it’s law enforcement connecting with people who are really low point in their life and saying like, “Hey, this is what’s happening legally. And I want you to understand that we need you to surrender your weapons.” Right, to do so in a way that doesn’t a little or demean people, doesn’t embarrass them, and instead recognizes that they’re going through a lot.
Jennifer Gollan:But in most of the country, we’re still operating on the honor system. And the cost of families is high. On Halloween 2017, when Lisa Rucker was shot in the head, the bullet nicked her carotid artery and shattered the bone on the left side of her face. She was in a coma for two days and underwent at least six surgeries. Lisa still bears the physical scars of that night, but it’s the emotional scars that are the hardest part for her and her son, Colton. The shooting killed Lisa’s sister, Ashlee, but it tore even the surviving members of her family apart.
Lisa Rucker:I miss my nephew so much. I just wonder like, how does he feel? Does he think that we just like abandoned him.
Jennifer Gollan:Since the shooting, Lisa says she’s only seen her nephew, Joseph, three times. Both Lisa’s nephew and her son were in the condo when their mothers were shot in the head. After that night, Joseph’s dad took them to live out of state. And Lisa’s son, Colton.
Lisa Rucker:He’s withdrawn. He used to be just open. Like if you knew him before and know him now, you could tell the difference. He always tells me how much he misses my sister and Joseph, my nephew. It’s hard. And I can only imagine as a child, seeing the things he saw, that he won’t be able to really process what he went through correctly. And I’m worried that it will stick with him forever. They say children are resilient, but they’re not supposed to see that, they’re not supposed to go through that.
Al Letson:No one is keeping track of the number of offenders who are prohibited from having firearms who’ve killed their partners. Reveal’s compiled data from more than 20 states, but we know there are more cases out there. We’re going to continue looking into intimate partner shootings by people barred from having guns. If you know someone who’s experienced this type of violence, we’d love to hear from you. Text guns to 474747. Standard data rates apply and you can text stop at any time. That’s guns to 474747.

Reveal also partnered with Al Jazeera English’s documentary program, Fault Lines, to produce a film on this investigation. Unrelinquished will premiere at the Double Exposure Film Festival starting October 13th. It will be available on YouTube and Al Jazeera’s website on October 20th. Our lead producer for this week’s show is Katherine Mackowski. Taki Telonidis edited the show. Special thanks to Amina Wahid, Laila Al-Arian and Joel Van Haren from Fault Lines, and Reveal’s Nina Martin and Amanda Pike. Also, thanks to [Noto Zucchino], Catherine Cipher, Grace Oldham and Esther Kaplan. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production managers, Amy the great Mostafa. Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man yo, Arruda. They had helped this week from Steven Rascon and Claire “C-Note” Mullen and Brett Simpson.

Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel. Sumi Aggarwal’s our interim editor in chief, and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado, Lightning. Support for reveal is provided by the Reva And David Logan Foundation, the John D And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 1:You’re about to hear a preview of the new true-crime podcast, Suspect. While you’re listening, make sure to follow Suspect on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or you can Binge all nine episodes at free by subscribing to Wondery+ in Apple Podcasts or the Wondery app.
Speaker 32:… up and I was just so excited. I mean, it was her first Halloween.
Speaker 33:There’s people smoking weed, people getting drunk.
Speaker 35:Typical younger twenties.
Speaker 33:Normal party for the North West.
Speaker 34:This is a very fun-looking Halloween party that just happened to end in tragedy.
Speaker 35:She grabbed her keys and she left and I never saw her again.
Speaker 36:911 what’s your-
Speaker 37:Hello.
Speaker 36:Can I help-
Speaker 37:Hello. Please come [inaudible].
Speaker 38:When Arpana Jinaga was killed after a Halloween party at her apartment complex, the murderer could have been anyone.
Speaker 39:It was a classic, who’d done it with people dressed in Halloween costumes. Was it the gangster? Was it Jesus’ secretary.
Speaker 40:[crosstalk] had quite a long beard.
Speaker 39:As a construction worker.
Speaker 41:Little red riding hood.
Speaker 39:All those people.
Speaker 38:But eventually, DNA evidence would lead police to one suspect.
Speaker 42:You’ve been charged with murder for 45 years for life or whatever.
Speaker 38:DNA is a science that lots of people have become accustomed to treating like a guilt meter, a truth meter. But what if it doesn’t always work that way?
Speaker 43:I mean, is one piece of DNA on a piece of duct tape in a party, is that beyond a reasonable doubt?
Speaker 38:What if this time it led investigators to the wrong guy? Follow Suspect on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or you can Binge all nine episodes ad free by subscribing to Wondery+ in Apple Podcasts or the Wondery app.


Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is a reporter for Reveal, covering labor and corporate accountability.

An Emmy Award winner, Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to lax manufacturing practices that contributed to deadly tire blowouts.

Gollan uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, detailed how operators enriched themselves while paying workers about $2 an hour to work around the clock. The stories prompted a congressional hearing, plans for prosecutions and new state legislation. 

Gollan exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured. In response to her reporting, Congress passed a new federal law, the Government Accountability Office produced a report and the Pentagon began scrutinizing the safety records of more defense contractors.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian U.S., Politico Magazine and PBS NewsHour.

Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing Awards. She has been a finalist for an ONA Online Journalism Award, an IRE Award and two Gerald Loeb Awards. Gollan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is the senior supervising editor for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Nina Martin (she/her) is the features editor for Reveal. She develops high-impact investigative reporting projects for Reveal’s digital and audio platforms and television and print partners. Previously, she was a reporter at ProPublica, covering sex and gender issues, and worked as an editor and/or reporter at San Francisco magazine, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Health magazine and BabyCenter magazine. Her Lost Mothers project for ProPublica and NPR examining maternal mortality in the U.S. led to sweeping change to maternal health policy at the state and federal levels and won numerous awards. Martin is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Amanda Pike (she/her) is the director of the TV and documentary department and executive producer of films and series at Reveal. Under her leadership, The Center for Investigative Reporting garnered its first Academy Award nomination and four national Emmys, among other accolades. She was the executive producer of the inaugural year of the Glassbreaker Films initiative, supporting women in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism. She has spent the past two decades reporting and producing documentaries for PBS, CBS, ABC, National Geographic, A&E, Lifetime and The Learning Channel, among others. Subjects have ranged from militia members in Utah to young entrepreneurs in Egypt and genocide perpetrators in Cambodia. Pike also has dabbled in fiction filmmaking, producing the short film “On the Assassination of the President,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Grace Oldham (she/her) is a 2021-22 Roy W. Howard Fellow for Reveal. She earned both her master’s and bachelor's degrees from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. During her time at ASU, she contributed to a documentary on youth suicide in Arizona, reported on local humanitarian aid efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border and worked on a team of reporters to produce an award-winning story on a botched sex-trafficking investigation by federal homeland security agents. She has also held multiple internships at The Arizona Republic, where she reported on state politics and higher education.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.