A story for every victim

She shot her husband, served her time, then things got tough

Comments on the Homicide Report are often heartfelt and personal. But the story of Shannon and Chip Burns stands out.

A woman with blond hair sat at a computer, her blue eyes scanning the comments on the Homicide Report about the killing of Charles "Chip" Burns.

Some came from people who had never met him but had an opinion about the simple entry, posted in August 2010. It described how Chip, who turned 46 on that day, had gotten into an altercation with his wife, Shannon Burns. At some point, investigators said, the 41-year-old armed herself with a gun. Authorities believe that Chip was shot and killed while trying to take the weapon away.

The woman at the computer tensed as she read some of the comments.

Other comments came from people who knew the couple, who met in an Alcoholics Anonymous group in 2003. On Halloween of that year, they had their first date at Olive Garden. Later that night, their bodies close, they swayed to Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" at a support group dance.

The more the woman read, the more she wanted to speak out.

She wasn't just a reader. She was Chip's wife.

Charles and Shannon Burns married at Shannon's parents' home on New Year's Eve 2005.
After their honeymoon, the couple stopped at Shannon's parents' Palmdale home.

Shannon had an abusive past, and when she met Chip, she said, she felt like she had finally found someone who treated her with respect. Although some commenters sided with her, Shannon felt angry. I already have to live with this day by day, she thought. She wanted to defend Chip — and herself.

She began typing.

Over seven years, nearly 30,000 comments have been published from readers on the Homicide Report, which chronicles people who have been killed in Los Angeles County. The blog, which has documented more than 5,300 homicides, also provides a forum for victims to be remembered and for people to speak out about violence in their communities.

The comments are often far more personal than those normally seen on newspaper websites, more poignant, raw, angry. Sometimes, friends of the victims talk to the dead in a kind of an online eulogy, and other times, they provide perspective into the person's life.

The stories on the Homicide Report don't always have a sympathetic narrative. Some of the victims are gang members, others have been in and out of jail, or have a history of drug use. But their choices don't diminish the pain for the people who knew them.

That day — Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 — was the first time Shannon had had a drink in nearly eight years. She had lost her job, lost her mobile home and had moved to a small house in a rough Lancaster neighborhood. Chip had gotten out of prison about three weeks earlier, and this is what he had come home to. Now, they were being evicted.

Chip suggested that the two have a drink and ease their worries. At first, Shannon said, she protested, but was soon convinced. Shannon had butterflies on the way to the liquor store. The guilt crept up as the two bought beer.

"I thought I would be OK," Shannon recalled recently in an interview at her parents' Palmdale home, where she married Chip on New Year's Eve of 2005. "I thought I could handle it after 7 1/2 years."

The drinks went down quickly. The two bought more alcohol. They spent the afternoon at Lake Elizabeth, talking. Shannon told Chip she didn't want to live anymore. At some point during the afternoon, the two smoked crack cocaine.

The couple arrived back at the house around 3 p.m. Shannon's daughter, Bree, and her boyfriend were in a bedroom.

Bree immediately noticed something was wrong. She threatened to call her grandmother about her mother's relapse.

"How could you do this to me?" she asked her mother, according to witness statements.

By this time, Shannon was walking around the house with a gun in her waistband, according to witness statements. Then she walked into her bedroom and sat on the bed. The gun, a 9-millimeter Ruger, contained a full magazine.

Shannon Burns had been sober for nearly eight years before Aug. 12, 2010. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Bree and Chip were in the living room. Bree, then 20, was getting nervous. She told Chip she didn't want her mother to hurt herself.

Chip walked into the bedroom. Bree heard Chip tell Shannon to give him the gun.

A single gunshot rang out.

Shannon remembers seeing Chip fall to the ground, then performing CPR. Drops of blood stained the leg of her blue jean overalls.

"Chip, Chip, wake up," Shannon cried. She was arrested that day.

In jail, she remembers, she asked a guard if she could call Chip. Twelve hours later, she found out he was dead.

On Nov. 16, 2010, Shannon Burns pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 176 days in jail, but was released Dec. 7, 2010, with credit for time served.

At first, she drank to ease the pain, but soon found that alcohol only magnified her misery.

"It brings up too much," she said. She's been sober for nine months, she said, but she doesn't go to group meetings anymore.

She said she used to be a "happy-go-lucky" person who was highly involved in her recovery. She was on committees and sponsored other women. Now, she said, she has enough "noise in her head."

Shannon Burns can't bring herself to watch the home videos of her husband. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

There are triggers all around. The song "Don't Speak" by No Doubt sometimes brings tears to her eyes. She has nightmares and wakes up shaking. The home videos of him are off-limits; she can't bring herself to watch them. She's estranged from Chip's son, but wonders how he's doing.

Every month, she sees a psychiatrist. Support from her mother, father and her friends has been crucial to her well-being.

In 2012, she bumped into an old friend at a motorcycle show with her parents. They've been dating for two years. One day, she sat Tommy down and explained everything that had to do with Chip. It's hard for Tommy to understand, but he listens when she needs to talk.

She still keeps a photo of Chip in her wallet. She's afraid that if she stops thinking about him, it'll be like their love never happened.

Her daughter was married in October. Shannon wishes Chip could have seen it.

"It would have been a perfect life had there been no drugs or alcohol involved," she said.

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