UNITED STATES NEWS

Families using re-created voices of gun violence victims to call lawmakers

Feb 14, 2024, 7:01 AM

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Joaquin “Guac” Oliver died in the 2018 Parkland, Florida, high school massacre, but federal lawmakers who oppose tighter gun regulations began getting phone calls in his voice on Wednesday, lambasting them for their position.

The families of Oliver and five others killed with guns are using artificial intelligence to create messages in their loved ones’ voices and robocalling them to senators and House members who support the National Rifle Association and oppose tougher gun laws. The protest is being run through The Shotline website, where visitors select which offices receive calls.

The campaign launched on Valentine’s Day because it’s the sixth anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which left the 17-year-old Oliver, 13 other students and three staff members dead. Oliver was murdered as he lay wounded on the floor, the fatal bullet blasting through the hand he raised as the 19-year-old killer leveled his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.

Manuel and Patricia Oliver, Joaquin’s parents, say the campaign is based on the oft-cited idea that if someone wants laws changed, the first step is calling elected representatives. Immigrants from Venezuela who became U.S. citizens, they want the sale of guns like the AR-15 banned.

“We come from a place where gun violence is a problem, but you will never see a 19-year-old with an AR-15 getting into a school and shooting people,” Manuel Oliver said. “There’s a reason for the gun violence in a Third World country. There’s no reason for the gun violence and the amount of victims in the United States.”

After Joaquin’s murder, the Olivers founded protested inside a supermarket chain that donated to a pro-NRA politician.

“When you keep being traditional … listening over and over and over to the same people lecturing you with the same stats, nothing changes,” Patricia Oliver said.

To make the recordings, the Olivers and other families gave an AI company audio of their loved ones and it re-created their voices, changing tone and pattern based on relatives’ suggestions.

Joaquin’s AI voice identifies him and then says, “Many students and teachers were murdered on Valentine’s Day … by a person using an AR-15, but you don’t care. You never did. It’s been six years and you’ve done nothing.”

It continues, “I died that day in Parkland. My body was destroyed by a weapon of war. I’m back today because my parents used AI to re-create my voice to call you. Other victims like me will be calling too, again and again, to demand action. How many calls will it take for you to care? How many dead voices will you hear before you finally listen?”

The NRA did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

In 2020, the Olivers used AI to create a video of Joaquin urging young voters to choose candidates who support stricter gun laws. Critics accused them of politicizing his death to thwart their rights as law-abiding gun owners.

“They put words in a dead kid’s mouth. If my father did this to me I would haunt him for the rest of his life,” one wrote on YouTube.

The Olivers bristle at the suggestion they don’t know what Joaquin would say.

“I know exactly what my son thought,” Manual Oliver said. “Joaquin took enough time to write his thoughts, his principles, his ideas, his way of living, his dreams, his goals. Everything is out there on social media.”

Others involved in the new campaign include the families of 23-year-old Akilah Dasilva, one of four people slain during a 2018 shooting at a Waffle House restaurant in Tennessee, and 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, who died in the 2022 massacre at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. There are also the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Song, who died in an accidental shooting, and a 20-year-old murder victim and the family of a man who committed suicide.

Brett Cross, the uncle who was raising Uziyah, said the boy wanted to help people as a police officer. In the AI’s message, Uziyah’s voice says, “I’m a 4th grader at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Or at least I was when a man with an AR-15 came into my school and killed 18 of my classmates, two teachers and me.” His voice then tells lawmakers, “What is it going to take for you to help make sure violence like this stops?”

Cross said his family is participating “so that no other child will have to go through what Uzi did. No other parent should have to go through what we have.”

Song shot himself in 2018 at his best friend’s house in Connecticut while the two played with a handgun, one of several firearms the other boy’s father hadn’t locked away. Mike and Kristin Song created a message in their son’s voice pushing for a federal law making it a crime to not properly store guns in homes where children live.

“You would think the stacking up of our dead children’s coffins would be enough to create a cultural shift in this country, but sadly our message is really falling on deaf ears,” Kristin Song said.

Other families who lost loved ones to gun violence will be allowed to add their victim’s re-created voice to the project, which runs indefinitely.

The Olivers aren’t alone among Stoneman Douglas families in their public advocacy since the massacre, with positions taken on both sides of the gun debate.

But while many others stick primarily to addressing rallies, social media posts and lobbying — and have had some success — the Olivers, particularly Manuel, get in opponents’ faces and challenge allies to be brazen. They call themselves “the rebel side of the gun violence prevention movement.”

Manuel Oliver’s rally speeches are often laced with obscenities. He was arrested in 2022 after he climbed a construction crane near the White House, unfurling a banner that demanded President Joe Biden enact stricter gun laws. Months later, he was ejected from a White House event for yelling at the president.

An artist, he painted an anti-gun mural across the street from the NRA’s Virginia headquarters as gun-toting counter-protestors watched. He tours the country with a one-man play about his son and his murder, the performances punctuated by him hammering holes into a life-size portrait of Joaquin, each representing the bullets that struck him.

“We don’t have nothing to lose here — we already lost everything,” Manuel Oliver said. “For me, (protesting) is normal. The only thing that is not normal is that we are allowing our society to let people die.”

United States News

Associated Press

Stock market today: Asian shares fall after Wall St ends worst week; Biden withdraw from 2024 race

Asian stocks were mostly lower Monday after President Joe Biden exited the 2024 race. The downbeat start to the week followed losses Friday on Wall Street as businesses around the world scrambled to contain disruptions from a massive technology outage. U.S. futures were little changed and oil prices rose. Biden announced his withdrawal from the […]

58 minutes ago

FILE - San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris poses for a portrait in San Francisco, June 18...

Associated Press

Vice President Kamala Harris leads list of contenders for spots on the Democratic ticket

President Joe Biden’s decision to step down as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president opens the door for other contenders to become the Democratic nominee in November. The president has thrown his support behind Vice President Kamala Harris, and other prominent Democrats moved quickly to rally around her candidacy, but it’s unclear just how smooth […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Alaska police and US Coast Guard searching for missing plane with 3 people onboard

Alaska authorities are conducting a search for a missing airplane with three people onboard. Alaska State Troopers received a report from the U.S. Coast Guard of a missing plane shortly before 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the state Department of Public Safety said in a statement. The single-propeller, 1948 Beach Craft Bonanza was flying near Mount Crillon […]

1 hour ago

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, arrives to speak at a campaign event ...

Associated Press

JD Vance makes solo debut as GOP vice presidential candidate with Monday rallies in Virginia, Ohio

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) — To move overnight to set up Monday rally. Republican JD Vance will make his first solo appearances on the campaign trail Monday, a day after the 2024 presidential race was thrown into upheaval as President Joe Biden dropped out of the race, making the Democratic candidate an open question. Vance, an […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and President Joe Biden arrive for an event in the East ...

Associated Press

Takeaways from a day that fundamentally changed the presidential race

President Joe Biden’s abrupt decision to bow out of the presidential race and endorse Vice President Kamala Harris to be the Democratic candidate against former President Donald Trump caused a political earthquake on Sunday. It also changes the contours of a presidential race — which most voters said they did not want to see — […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is seen on Capitol Hill, Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington. She's al...

Associated Press

Harris looks to lock up Democratic nomination after Biden steps aside, reordering 2024 race

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris moved swiftly to lock up Democratic delegates behind her campaign for the White House after President Joe Biden stepped aside amid concerns from within their own party that he would be unable to defeat Donald Trump. Biden’s exit Sunday, prompted by Democratic worries over his fitness for office, […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Families using re-created voices of gun violence victims to call lawmakers