They drove four hours south through Mississippi, back down the gravel road that led to a house that once belonged to a family.
Roger Stringer climbed out of his red Nissan pickup and watched as his son Zac eyed the front door. Inside the house, pencil marks still notched the pantry wall, reminders of the boys Zac and his younger brother, Justin, had been. The last time the boys had lived there, they’d been 15 and 11.
“Well,” Roger said. “Here we are, buddy.”
Zac pushed the door open. He was 20 now, tall enough at 6’2″ that he towered over his father. He walked through the kitchen with an ankle monitor strapped to his left leg. He stopped at the edge of the living room, and Roger wondered if his son imagined the space as it had been. Roger had done all he could to transform it after the night he called “the happening.” He’d hired a taxidermist to clean the blood and brain matter that had hung like black icicles from the deer heads he kept mounted above the sofa. A cleaning crew had bleached the walls and replaced the carpet. The couch was gone, and so was the blue recliner where Justin had last sat.
Roger watched his son, so thin that the prison-issued prescription glasses he wore slipped down his nose, and couldn’t help but feel responsible. Roger had bought the Remington Model 700 rifle that Zac swore fired on its own as he stood up from the couch one evening in the summer of 2011, hitting Justin in the forehead and killing him instantly. Zac said he hadn’t touched the trigger. Roger hadn’t believed him, and after the district attorney charged the teenager with murder, Roger testified against his son. Zac’s rifle couldn’t have accidentally fired, Roger told the jury. Guns didn’t do that.
He followed Zac to his bedroom and stood next to the wooden gun rack that used to hold the rifle. Roger had learned too late that he was wrong: Some Remingtons do fire without warning. Years after he’d lost one son to prison and the other forever, he’d discovered that Remington Arms had recalled nearly eight million Model 700s. Because of a massive class-action settlement approved in October, owners have 18 months to get them repaired at no cost.
Remington maintains that its Model 700s are safe, even as internal documents and outside tests have revealed problems. Relatively few gun owners have responded to the recall: Only 30,000 — less than 1 percent of the recalled rifles — have been fixed.
Roger had loved Remington since he was a little boy wielding his granddaddy’s shotgun to take down a buck. He considered himself a “typical, gun-loving redneck,” an unlikely foe for the country’s oldest firearms manufacturer. But watching Zac crawl into the king-sized bed Roger had bought to replace the twin the boy had left behind, Roger told himself he wouldn’t let another father live through what he had.
He’d failed Zac when the teenager needed him most, but Roger promised that he’d become the daddy his son needed. He would give up the one thing he’d loved almost as much as his boys. He’d clear Zac’s name and fight the gun company he now blamed for Justin’s death.
Read the story on The Trace.