COLUMBIA – A Columbia family whose life was altered by a gun is retelling their story in an audio memoir, reflecting on losing one son to a faulty trigger and seeing the other go to prison for their sibling’s death.
“Something Ain’t Right” produced by Audible retells the story of the Stringer family and was recorded by father Roger and son Zac. Roger calls the 2011 gun death of his younger son, Justin, as “The Happening” that changed the course of the family’s life.
“Everything that needed to come out has come out,” Zac, who is now 27, said in an interview.
Roger said telling the story in his own voice was therapeutic.
He grew up hunting and handling guns and passed that down to his sons. That changed June 11, 2011, when Justin died from a gunshot at the age of 12. Fifteen-year-old Zac said the trigger of his Remington Model 700 rifle went off on its own, but prosecutors, community members and his father didn’t believe that was possible.
“I remember seeing the impact and as the rifle recoiled and it fell out of my hands, and I was just standing there numb,” Zac said in the audio memoir. “I knew immediately he’s dead. Like he’s dead, his head is gone … You can’t fix a catastrophic headwound like that.”
At 16, Zac was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to serve 10 years in prison with 10 years probation. Because of his age, he was incarcerated at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility’s Youth Offender Unit. As an adult, Zac went to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
He and his father had to rebuild their relationship, even as Roger didn’t believe Zac, who maintained that the shooting was accidental and the gun shot on its own.
In 2015, Roger was talking with a friend who mentioned he had a deer hunting rifle that fired on its own. It led Roger to turn to Google and search for information about Remington Model 700s firing spontaneously.
He found news coverage, YouTube videos and lawsuits alleging Remington manufactured faulty triggers that went off on their own. There was an April 2014 recall of the company’s Model 700 and Model Seven rifles with XMP triggers that “could, under certain circumstances, unintentionally discharge.”
“I feel like Remington and its string pullers have hidden behind that to avoid accountability for pushing a defective product onto the public,” Roger said in the audio memoir.
Recovering this information and connecting with other families who lost children to Remington firearms with faulty triggers helped Roger believe Zac and fight to prove that. They hired an attorney to appeal Zac’s case and tried to track down a firearms expert who would challenge the gun manufacturer and give an affidavit about defective triggers and spontaneous shooting.
“All I want is the truth,” Roger said in an interview. “That’s all we’ve ever wanted.”
Zac was released from prison in October 2016 after serving about half of his sentence due to good behavior.
In 2018, the Stringers filed a federal lawsuit against Remington that made it to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in November 2022 the suit was denied due to time limitations.
Remington filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and in 2020, which was the year the company closed. Roger said he is watching if its players come back and begin manufacturing firearms again.
With Zac out of prison and Remington gone, the family’s focus has been overturning Zac’s conviction.
In 2017, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted him permission to return to the Marion County Circuit Court to ask for a new trial.
This month, there was an examination of the gun that killed Justin at the State Crime Lab. From there, the next step is an evidentiary hearing, which could lead to a new trial where new evidence, such as the Remington recall, can be introduced, the Stringers said.
“It would be like a vindication,” Zac said about overturning his conviction.
That could also remove barriers in employment and the ability to own a firearm placed on Zac. He also sees the impact his conviction has in his relationships, like when he tells people for the first time that he has been in prison.
Even if that conviction stands, Zac said he is content and that life is going well. Regardless of outcome, that may not change the view of community and family members who still believe he murdered his brother.
Roger said getting to the truth of what happened to Justin and helping Zac overturn his conviction are connected. He sees it as a fight for both of his sons, and Roger thinks Justin would be proud.
“The pain we’ve endured has been the fuel that has driven us to do what we’ve done,” he said.
The men say their relationships with hunting and guns changed over the years. Roger said he was a different person when he hunted with a local club, with his boys and since Justin’s death. He has a gun at home to shoot the occasional armadillo in his yard, but he has to keep it locked when his son is around. Zac would like to legally own a gun to be able to hunt.
This isn’t the first time Roger and Zac have shared their family’s story. It doesn’t get easier to talk about Justin’s death and Zac’s incarceration, but the men said they do it to help others.
For Roger, he wants people to be aware that there are still Remington triggers out there in the world and to help keep other families safe.
Zac said through his story, he can share the goodness and love of the Lord. He was facing a life sentence at the age of 15, and by the grace of God, he was able to find redemption.
“I came to understand how much this event forged me,” he said.
Zac said working on the Audible memoir was a labor of love, which is why he’s seeking peace and a break from retelling the story again.
Roger said his son is now getting a chance to grow up because he didn’t get to while in prison. They talk about everything and are growing closer, even as Roger sees Zac becoming more independent and self-sufficient.
After having mental health struggles, Zac got on a better path that included a college education, spiritual support and psychological support.
He was the first convicted felon to be admitted to William Carey University in Hattiesburg, where he graduated last year with a major in history and minor in biology.
Zac is now working in the information technology field, which he found while attending his university. He wants to get certified in IT and maybe pursue a master’s degree.
In the future, Zac looks forward to owning his own home, having his own family and potentially moving out of state.
Roger’s plan is to work for a couple more years building power lines and then retire, but he plans to seek another job or find a way to stay busy.
At home, he enjoys gardening and has been able to grow sweet corn and tomatoes in the backyard and sunflowers in a field that leads up to his house.
The field of sunflowers attracts doves and has been the site of fall dove hunts by family and friends. Roger said the field was Justin’s idea and he first planted sunflowers the year his son died. He has continued to do it each year in Justin’s memory.
In the mornings, he enjoys going to the field with a cup of coffee and watching the birds.