Late Wednesday afternoon, five people were killed and one person was injured in a mass shooting in South Carolina. Among the victims were two young children. The shooter, believed to be former NFL player Phillip Adams, was also later found dead from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
ESPN reports that Adams played in 78 NFL games over five seasons. In 2012, while playing for the Oakland, Raiders, the player reportedly suffered two concussions over the course of three games.
According to ABC News, on Wednesday afternoon, Adams went to the home of Dr. Robert Lesslie, where he shot a killed Dr. Lesslie (70), his wife Barbara (69), their grandchildren Adah Lesslie (9) and Noah Lesslie (5), and a 39-year-old Gaston man named James Lewis. Lewis had been working at the house.
According to Trent Faris, a spokesperson for the York County Sheriff’s Office, a sixth, unidentified person was transported to the hospital with “serious gunshot wounds.”
Deputies were called to the Lesslies’ home at around 4:45 pm, Faris said in a Thursday morning statement. It reportedly took police several hours to locate Adams, but they eventually found him in a nearby home.
“We have found the person we believe is responsible, and we are with him at this time, and that’s all I can say about the suspect. We are currently at his house, and we are serving a search warrant,” Faris said.
He added that authorities do not believe anyone else was involved in the shooting. At the time of this writing, police have not disclosed a potential motive behind the shooting, but the investigation is ongoing.
According to Dr. Lesslie’s website, the late doctor was the co-owner of “two busy urgent care/occupational clinics” in the Rock Hill, South Carolina area. He worked as an ER doctor for more than 25 years and even served as Rock Hill General Hospital’s emergency department medical director for almost 15 years.
Dr. Lesslie and his wife were married for 35 years. They have four children and had five grandchildren.
President Biden Issues 6 Executive Orders on Gun Control
In light of these recent events, on Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued six executive orders aimed at mitigating gun violence.
According to a statement released by the White House, Biden put forward an order requiring the Justice Department to “issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of ‘ghost guns'” or homemade guns within 30 days. He further gave the Justice Department 60 days to “publish model ‘red flag’ legislation for states’ and to tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces. Red flag laws will allow family members or law enforcement officers to petition the court for an order barring a person in crisis from accessing a firearm.
The President also pledged to invest $5 billion in “evidence-based community violence intervention” programs and called on the Justice Department to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking in the U.S.
The final order was the announcement of David Chipman as President Biden’s nominee for the Director of the ATF.
According to the Associated Press, in a news conference on Thursday, Biden asserted that he was “absolutely determined to make change.”
He added, “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Kayla Koslosky has been the Editor of ChristianHeadlines.com since 2018. She has B.A. degrees in English and History and previously wrote for and was the managing editor of the Yellow Jacket newspaper. She has written on her blog since 2012 and has also contributed to IBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.
As last month’s shootings at three Georgia massage parlors gained national media attention, an advocacy group says the tragedy presents an opportunity for churches to raise awareness and help the women being trafficked by illicit massage businesses nationwide.
Illicit businesses masquerading as massage parlors or spas are the second-largest reported form of human trafficking in the United States. With 9,000 establishments across the country, it’s a booming $2.8 billion industry for those who prey on vulnerable women, the advocacy group Street Grace has warned.
Street Grace, a faith-based organization that seeks to eradicate sexual exploitation, released a report last year detailing the breadth of the illegal massage businesses in Georgia. The report was published months before national attention turned toward the mass shooting at three Atlanta-area massage parlors by a man who told authorities that he sought to eliminate “temptations” as he battled sex addiction.
Street Grace President and CEO, Bob Rodgers, told The Christian Post that they “know for a fact” there is a nationwide trend among massage parlors and spas operating furtively to offer illegal sexual services under the guise of a legitimate business. Many of them exploit vulnerable women.
These businesses often have tinted windows, concealed parking places, late business hours and a bell to ring before entry.
Though massage parlors are often legitimate, these businesses are sometimes a front for brothels, sex trafficking and illegal sexual activity. Rodgers warned that they fly under the radar.
“They are really hidden in plain sight,” Rodgers stressed.
“They look like they are a legitimate business. They provide cover for the people that would visit them with less than pure intentions because it’s two doors down from the grocery store. It’s next to the drug store and in between the Hallmark card shop and the beauty salon or nail salon. And so, people just don’t pay attention. It gives cover to what in our research is overwhelmingly men who visit these spas, and some, if not a large extent, have less than pure intentions. And they are going there for inappropriate sexual activity.”
Street Grace published a report in 2020 focused on illicit massage businesses in Georgia and calculated data from the user-generated reviews on RubMaps.ch and video surveillance.
The report estimated there to be between 1,025 and 1,320 customers each day who visit illicit massage businesses in Georgia. And the annual gross revenue from these businesses is estimated at over $42 million. Nearly 1,100 unique individuals are believed to be victimized annually in the state.
Rodgers said the tragic Atlanta shooting targeting massage parlors brought to light the reality of the illicit massage businesses.
On March 16, Robert Aaron Long, 21, killed eight people in a shooting rampage of three massage parlors. Six of the eight victims were Asian women, and the two others were white, a male and a female.
Long told police he saw women who worked at the spas as “temptations” he needed to “eliminate,” referring to his sexual addiction.
“He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires,” Long’s church said in a statement at the time. “The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires nor do they bear any blame in these murders. These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible.”
Police have not indicated whether the shooting victims were sex workers or human trafficking victims, USA Today reported.
The Washington Post reported that Gold Spa, one of the businesses attacked, had been the subject of prostitution stings by the Atlanta Police Department. The newspaper obtained police reports indicating that police conducted seven undercover stings at Gold Spa and made 10 arrests during a two-year period from 2011 to 2013.
Despite the tragedy, Rodgers believes good will come from the situation since more people are now aware of the reality of illicit massage businesses.
“It is a shame, but it is often true that tragedy breeds awareness,” Rodgers said. “And so, when the Robert Kraft situation came to light, there was a spike in awareness and people’s interest. … Our attention spans are relatively short. And then something like [the Atlanta shooting] that is obviously a horrific tragedy and lives were lost, it was just completely unnecessary. [And] it does draw attention to [this industry]. … Good will come from it. I hate that it takes a tragedy sometimes, and that was completely unnecessary. But good, I believe, will come from this.”
Rodgers explained how traffickers often lure young Asian women to the U.S. with the promise of a better life and the ability to support their families back home.
“They get here, and they immediately find out they are here on false pretenses. They were misled,” he said.
Traffickers then use a series of physical threats and deception to trap them, he said. The women are often in debt bondage after accumulating high debts during their passage to the U.S., which forces them to engage in illicit activity to earn money.
They are made to believe speaking to law enforcement will lead to deportation, and traffickers sometimes threaten to harm their family members if they come forward.
The exploited women are often placed in a situation where they have no choice but to respond and comply, he added.
“There are people [from all kinds of backgrounds] … [who] may not be held in handcuffs, but they are held in servitude and bondage and psychological bondage in these situations where they are forced to exploit themselves and perform acts that they would not have any interest to do and would not do in any other circumstances,” Rodgers shared.
An estimated 40 million people are subjected to some form of modern-day slavery as of 2016, according to the Global Slavery Index. And 71% of all enslaved victims are women.
“The most powerful form of bondage is not of ropes and chains,” Rodgers detailed. “That doesn’t really occur that much in the U.S. It’s the guilt and the shame that come along with all of this that is so powerful with keeping people from coming forward about this.”
To be considered sex trafficking, a situation must include either force, fraud or coercion.
A New York Times article published in March 2019 explained how tens of thousands of mainly foreign women or immigrants are trapped in an underground crime network and a “modern form of indentured servitude” where they are forced or coerced into performing illegal acts in the shadows at illicit massage parlors.
Many women are forced to work in this industry to pay for enormously high debts accumulated against them by traffickers.
Business regulation loopholes allow traffickers to manage criminal human trafficking networks under the guise of massage parlor businesses. Many of these businesses do not have an actual person listed on their business records at all to avoid blame, according to the Polaris Project.
When law enforcement agencies conduct raids and shut down illicit massage businesses, spa owners re-open elsewhere. The owners often have employees live at the business and spend only a few months at a spa before sending them off to another state to work, The New York Times reported.
The Polaris Project, the organization behind the National Trafficking Hotline, noted that victims of massage parlor trafficking are often immigrants from China or South Korea. They often carry debts or are under extreme financial pressure, speak little English, have no more than a high school education or are mothers.
When criminal prosecution does occur, the victims of human trafficking or massage therapists are charged while the traffickers escape punishment.
“In reality, the laws governing business registration are almost tailor-made for massage parlor traffickers to hide behind,” the Polaris Project stated in a report.
The Church, Rodgers said, can play an essential role in fighting for this industry’s victims.
Ashleigh S. Chapman, a human rights lawyer and founder of Engage Together, an organization that helps churches fight human trafficking, told CP in a February interview that churches are “uniquely positioned” to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking.
Rodgers said local churches should be supportive of law enforcement and understand their role in the process of investigating and uncovering the illicit massage industry.
He said Christians should become more involved in the legislative process and join city councils to guide laws that can make it “improper” for such businesses to exist.
Ultimately, the Church must provide hope to those trapped in this industry since the women exploited are often hopeless and see no way to escape.
“From a Christian perspective … [those exploited by the illicit massage industry] are people who are in the most likely of circumstances to be without hope,” Rodgers explained. “We think of all the different things we can do as the Body of Christ. But what we have to bring more than anything else, we have to give hope.”
“People are often not motivated to change unless they see something that is hopeful, encouraging, something they feel like is better, safer and can lead them to a different place,” he added. “I think one of the things that is so dark about the illicit massage business … is that there’s just such a loss of hope and sense of discouragement and helplessness.”
The Street Grace report offered policy recommendations to address exploitation in the illicit massage industry and remove some of the loopholes that allow the industry to thrive.
Suggestions include the mandatory display of business licenses, a record of all activities conducted at massage businesses, mandatory business hours and a complete list of all the establishment’s services. Raising awareness about the issue is also essential.
A Canadian pastor who kicked police out of his church after they tried to shut down a worship service during Holy Week said the actions of law enforcement bring back memories of communism under the Soviet Union.
Pastor Artur Pawlowski, who was born in Poland and lived under Soviet rule during part of his childhood, received plaudits from people worldwide for his actions in forcefully ordering law enforcement officers — including a police officer and public health officer — off the church’s property after they interrupted a Passover mass at Street Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A video documenting his encounter with the local law enforcement went viral, receiving more than 3 million views.
Throughout the video, Pawlowski is seen telling law enforcement officials to “get out.” He also commanded that they “don’t come back without a warrant” and called them “Gestapo” and “Nazi psychopaths.” About a minute after the video started, they began to depart from the property.
Calgary Police Service released a statement suggesting that their presence at the church was justified because of a concern that “people in attendance were not adhering to the government’s COVID-19 public health orders, which are in place to ensure everyone’s safety.”
Pawlowski, who grew up in Poland when the country was under a communist dictatorship, appeared on “Fox News Primetime” Tuesday night to discuss the exchange. Host Mark Steyn noted that Pawlowski “grew up behind the Iron Curtain,” adding, “What happened to you over Easter is exactly, I take it, why you didn’t want to stay behind the Iron Curtain.”
“I grew up under communist dictatorship behind the Iron Curtain, under the brute of the Soviets, and I’m telling you that’s no fun at all. It was a disaster,” Pawlowski recalled. “Police officers could break into your house, five in the morning, they could beat you up, torture you, they could arrest you for no matter what reason.”
“It was like a … flashback when those police officers showed up at my church. Everything kind of came back to life from my childhood,” he said. “And the only thing I could do is to fend off the wolves as a shepherd, and I used my voice to get rid of them. They were illegally encroaching on our rights during the most holy days during the Passover celebration.”
“I was a little bit shaken. But I did what every shepherd, right now, on the planet Earth, should be doing: Fend off the wolves. We as lions should never bow before the hyenas, and that’s what they are right now,” Pawlowski added.
Steyn noted that “a lot of the things that have become accepted in the last year, for example, New York police kicking a woman to the ground because she’s not wearing a mask (and) governors of American states and Canadian provinces telling you whether you’re allowed to have your granny or your aunt over for Christmas or Thanksgiving” are examples of “the tight, 24/7 control that most communist countries lived under for half a century.”
He asked Pawlowski: “Is it all beginning to look worryingly familiar to you, the way people accept it?”
Pawlowski answered in the affirmative: “I have been warning Canadians for the past 16 years that that’s what’s coming. I could smell it; I could see it at every corner. The implementation of what we are seeing now, it … started … about 20 years ago.”
“Growing up under communist dictatorship, I mean, that’s a disaster, that’s hell on Earth, and I see it already in our western democracies,” he continued. “The only way I know how to fight them is 1981 — that I witnessed millions of Poles taking to the streets and saying to them ‘No more. Get out of our country. Get out, stop.’”
“Millions of Poles took it to the streets during Solidarity, Lech Walesa, and they won their freedom.” He suggested that a similar movement was needed in western democracies to ensure that politicians will give up the emergency powers they have enjoyed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Those people will never give up their new gained powers,” Pawlowski predicted. “You’ve got to demand those rights back; you have to fight for your rights. They’ll never give it back to you freely.”
Pawlowski urged the residents of Canada, the United States, and other western democracies to “get them out of your properties, out of your businesses, out of your churches.” He then urged viewers to “open up, open the churches.”
“Clergymen should unite and start pushing this darkness away. We should come and take to the streets and say, ‘No more lockdowns, no more restrictions. We will not put up with this anymore. We are fighting back.’”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to directly answer a question asking for President Joe Biden’s thoughts about the Equality Act’s implications for Catholic businesses and individuals who seek to operate in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs.
EWTN White House Correspondent Owen Jensen asked Psaki about the Equality Act’s implications for religious Americans, specifically Catholics, during a White House Press Briefing Tuesday.
“What does the president, who we know is Catholic, say to Catholic doctors, Catholic institutions who are fearful that if the Equality Act passes, it has the potential to trample on their conscience rights? What does the president say to those people who are concerned about that?” he asked.
Psaki responded by saying that the president “has a difference of opinion.”
“[B]ut he has been a supporter of the Equality Act, and he also is a practicing Catholic and attends church nearly every week,” she responded.
Tuesday was not the first time Jensen brought up the Catholic and religious communities’ concerns about the Equality Act, which would codify discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity into federal law without clear protections for religious organizations.
At the March 2 press briefing, Jensen told Psaki that pro-life groups were “very concerned about the phrase ‘pregnancy discrimination’ in the Equality Act — that it would force doctors to perform abortions even if it violates their concerns.”
“There are also concerns the bill would force doctors to perform gender transition surgeries and sterilizations, again, even if it violates their conscience. What does the president, President Biden, say about those concerns?” Jensen asked at the time.
Psaki refused to answer Jensen’s question directly, instead pointing out that “the President has been a long supporter of Roe v. Wade” and has a “consistent belief that [the ruling that made abortion a national right] should be law.”
“And he will fight to continue to protect that as being law,” she said.
Jensen pressed Psaki for Biden’s thoughts about “conscience concerns,” to which she replied, “I’m just going to state what the president’s policies are.”
The Equality Act is a wide-reaching piece of legislation billed as a necessary measure to codify nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community into federal law. Biden promised to sign the legislation into law during the first 100 days of his administration, which will come to a close on Apr. 30.
Conservatives and religious organizations have raised concerns about several provisions in the Equality Act in addition to those mentioned by Jensen at the White House press conferences.
Specifically, critics of the Equality Act fear that the bill would expand the definition of a “public accommodation” to include nonprofit entities such as shelters and food banks as well as religious schools.
Should this happen, opponents contend, Christian colleges could be forced to place men who identify as women in women’s dormitories.
Additionally, religious employers could be forced to “include in their health plans things they might object to, like cross-sex hormones, puberty blockers for children and sex reassignment surgery,” warned Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor.
Unlike most measures similar to the Equality Act passed at the state and local level, the federal legislation does not include religious exemptions.
The Equality Act has already passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on a largely party-line vote. The bill has stalled in the Senate, where most legislation requires 60 votes to pass. Democrats have a narrow 50-50 majority in the upper chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats.
Senate Republicans are expected to unanimously oppose the Equality Act and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Opposition to the legislation by all Republicans and Manchin would leave the legislation short of the votes needed for passage.
Biden has repeatedly touted his support for the Equality Act as a presidential candidate. As president, he has highlighted his Catholic faith extensively on the campaign trail.
His support for abortion and embrace of other positions that contradict the Catholic Church’s teachings have led to one church official requesting that he refrain from referring to himself as a “devout” Catholic and some denying him communion.
Despite his divergence from Catholic Church teachings on several important issues, two-thirds of American Catholics think Biden should still be able to receive communion, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center.