An armed man who killed four people over the weekend in Pennsylvania was reportedly driven by jealousy and anger at a former partner, his wife said. The incident is only the latest example of firearms fueling deadly domestic violence.
Officials stated on Monday that Timothy Smith, 28, was on life support after opening fire on a vehicle at a car wash in Saltlick Township early on Sunday morning, around 3 a.m. Eastern Time. The victims had assembled at the car wash when Smith arrived, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a .308-caliber rifle, and a 9 mm handgun, and shot at the car.
Four of the car’s occupants, William Porterfield, 27, Chelsie Cline, 25, Courtney Snyder, 23, and Seth Cline, 21, were all killed. A fifth woman survived with minor injuries. She was found along with Smith, who sustained a bullet wound to the head. Smith was reportedly wearing a body armor vest, but without ballistic panels inserted.
Porterfield’s wife, Jenna Porterfield, 24, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the tragedy was an incident of domestic violence.
“I was told my husband, [William Porterfield] was cheating on me with [one of the victims, Chelsie Cline], and that she had broken up with her previous boyfriend [Timothy Smith] two days ago, and [Smith] went crazy and shot them all,” Jenna Porterfield said, recounting the information she gave police. She told the Post-Gazette that Smith was Chelsie Cline’s jealous former boyfriend.
“We’re all from around here. We all know each other,” she said. Jenna Porterfield is currently expecting a child; two of Smith’s victims, Chelsie Cline and Courtney Snyder, also have children.
Domestic violence is a common theme in mass shootings. Some studies have shown that as high as 50 percent of all mass shootings stem from internal disputes between families and partners. Perpetrators are overwhelmingly likely to be men, while victims are disproportionately women. Many shooters already have a history of violence towards partners and others in their lives. They also have access to firearms — with deadly results.
Last November, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the largest mass shooting in the state’s history. The incident might have been prevented: Kelly was court-marshaled for assaulting his wife and child during his time in the Air Force, but that information was never entered into the database meant to track related issues. Those with domestic violence misdemeanor convictions are barred from possessing firearms by law. But Kelly was able to obtain guns anyway, which he later used to target the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs attended by his in-laws, killing more than two dozen people in the process.
Recent tragedies in Texas and Pennsylvania are far from the exception. Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old man who killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 others in Las Vegas, Nevada last October, was reportedly known for berating his girlfriend loudly in public. Other perpetrators, including Pulse shooter Omar Mateen and Virginia Tech shooter Seungh Hui Cho, also had histories of harassment and violence towards women.
That trend doesn’t seem to be resonating with lawmakers. In December, House Republicans passed a bill hampering efforts to curb access to firearms for domestic abusers. States like Massachusetts and Washington have tried to make it harder for abusers to obtain gun permits across state lines, but legislation like the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act circumvent those efforts, endangering victims in the process. Congress more broadly has proven unwilling to pass legislation curbing access to firearms and the National Rifle Association (NRA) remains a powerful lobby in Washington.
The tragedy in Pennsylvania is unlikely to change that reality, despite the latest information about Smith.
While facts in the case are still emerging, when speaking with the Post-Gazette, Jenna Porterfield pointed to one eerie moment that may have foreshadowed the tragedy: According to Porterfield, victim Chelsie Cline, Smith’s alleged ex, reportedly posted a meme on Facebook this past Wednesday — around the same time she had broken up with Smith — that read, “After this week, I [really] need to get taken out…on a date or by a sniper either one is fine [with] me at this point.”
“I could do both,” Smith responded in the comments below the post.
Police have reported that Smith is in critical condition and is not expected to survive.