When an obsession goes too far

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The following story is based on an interview with Donna Coleman*

Names have been changed.

Photo: Angela Taylor

Photo: Angela Taylor

Donna married Mark in September of 1990. He was a police officer; she was an emergency room physician at the neighboring hospital. They seemed to be a perfect match: a dynamic duo of crime stopping and life saving. They were real- life superheroes.

It wasn’t until one year into their marriage that Donna noticed something was very, very wrong with Mark. Mark, a patrolman in law enforcement, often carried a gun. “Nothing too big,” Donna said. But he always had his weapon on his person. “When we would go out to dinner, on visits to see my parents. It was bizarre,” she said.

One day, on a trip into New York City with another couple, Donna and Mark were getting out of a cab. The cabby seemed to be trying to charge the couple more than their trip was worth. Mark promptly became irate. He tore the rate reader out of its console with his hands and threatened the cabby with the gun under his jacket while Donna and their friends watched in horror.

That, Donna said, was the first time she can remember Mark using his weapon to threaten someone. It wasn’t the last.

In 2000, Mark was forced to “retire” from the police department when he brought a grenade launcher to a police department party. “It was a party for the New Year, but everyone was tense because of those rumors that the computers would shut down. You could feel the anxiety in the room.” Donna and Mark went to the party separately. When Mark showed up, he had the grenade launcher in hand. Donna recalls a deathly silence falling in the room, for a brief second, before everyone erupted with laughter.

“They thought it was hilarious, all of them,” she said. All of them except for the chief. Mark was pulled into the Chief of Police’s office two days later during his shift, and was told to retire, or he would be fired.

The Police Department threw Mark a retirement party – 23 years of service – and gifted him with a caricature of himself holding the infamous grenade launcher.

Donna and Mark had their third child the same year as his forced retirement. “That,” Donna said, “is when things got really, really bad.” Without work-sanctioned “play time” with his guns, as Donna referred to it, Mark began to collect them. But now, it wasn’t just handguns.

Boxes upon boxes filled with rifles, ammunition, silencers, pistols, tactical gear, and magazines arrived to their home on at least a monthly basis. “We would have two boxes with rifles sitting in the kitchen at any given moment. Like it was normal.” Mark would stash his weapons all over the house – the kitchen, the basement, the playroom, the dining room and under his childrens’ beds. Loaded pistols would sit on the dinner table while Donna and her family ate.Mark would tell disturbing stories of his time on the police force, “bragging about the people he’d killed,”  Donna said.

Over the years, Mark’s gun collection grew while his marriage to Donna deteriorated. Mark became more and more distant, obsessing over his weapons. He picked up jobs working with weaponry, and the collection grew still.

There were weapons, some loaded, some not, all over the house. Donna and Mark had three young children. The children would come home from school to a loaded pistol on the kitchen counter. No matter how many times Donna begged Mark to store his weapons properly, they remained out in the open.

In 2009, Donna and Mark had a fight. Mark had been emotionally abusing the children, physically abusing their son, and using his weapons to add to the torment. He had taken a gun and physically threatened the boyfriend of their oldest daughter.

Donna had finally had enough. She kicked Mark out of the house. Mark took a gun and sat in his car in the driveway. He remained there all night.

“I felt helpless,” Donna said. “I couldn’t see anything but the glint of the gun through the window and him sitting there, looking crazy,” she continued.

Donna took out a restraining order and filed for divorce within two months of the argument. “It wasn’t safe. I hadn’t felt safe for a very long time, and this was the final straw,” Donna said. Local police came to remove the guns from the house and take them to an impartial third party for storage. According to court records, the police removed over 100 individual weapons, 300 boxes of ammunition, ten silencers, and various other gun accessories from the home. Of these guns, seven were unregistered, two were illegal to possess in the state of New York,* and three guns, registered to Mark, remain unrecovered.  

Donna’s divorce was finalized in January 2013. She hasn’t spoken to Mark since, but has learned that he is working in armed security.

* State name has been changed.