Imagine, in the dead of night, a soldier slipping off the Army base in Tacoma, Wash., and walking into a local neighborhood. He leaves footprints along the way that indicate he may have tried to kick in other gates until he found one open.

He enters that home and shoots 11 people; confusion reins among locals about how many were shot in their sleep in the 2 a.m. home invasion and how many were gathered into the same room before being killed. Regardless, the victims are all of the same family.

He then walks some two miles away to another neighborhood on the other side of the military base. There, he enters two homes and kills five more.

With a death toll of 16, including nine children and three women, the shooter walks back to his base and turns himself in.

The mass murders would elicit shock and outrage across the country. The suspect would be remembered by old classmates as happy-go-lucky or as co-workers as generally pleasant, while darker bits of his past would abate some of the surprise over the allegations: a domestic violence incident with a past girlfriend in which he agreed to complete anger-management counseling to get the charges dropped, a hit-and-run incident. One official would bring up alcohol as a factor in the violence; the high-profile defense attorney would bring up a number of other mitigating factors to try to spare his client the death penalty.

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