It began, police say, as a dispute among neighbors in Abilene, Tex. Two families argued about where to dump trash in an adjacent alleyway. Insults escalated to threats, and a father and son, both armed, allegedly shot and killed a 37-year-old man who lived next door in an encounter captured on camera.
Police have arrested the alleged shooters, 67-year-old John Miller and 31-year-old Michael Miller, who have been charged with murder in the death of Aaron Howard.
The Sept. 1 standoff between the neighbors, which ended in the fatal shooting, was the final argument in a days-long feud over trash disposal, said Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge, speaking at a news conference about an hour after the incident.
“It’s been going on for a couple days, and it culminated in today’s violence,” Standridge said.
Howard was killed in front of his brother and his common-law wife, Kara Box, who recorded the encounter on her cellphone. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published the footage on Thursday, which gives a rare glimpse into a deadly dispute and sheds new light on a weeks-old killing.
Reached by phone, the Millers declined to discuss the incident.
The video, at a little over two and a half minutes unedited, begins with the Millers, guns drawn, staring Howard down, a flipped twin mattress between them. That mattress, Box told the Star-Telegram, was the conflict’s catalyst.
Box and Howard had thrown the mattress in the dumpster a couple days earlier, she said. But on Sept. 1, they saw the mattress back on their property. So Howard moved it back to the dumpster. Box said Howard’s nieces, nephews and brothers were with them, too. She told the paper that she and her husband then watched the elder Miller, John, walk to the dumpster, pull the mattress out and toss it back on Howard’s property.
That’s when, Box said, Howard and Miller started shouting at each other. John Miller pulled a handgun out of his basketball shorts, she said, and, at some point, his son arrived with a shotgun. Then Box started to record.
“Oh yeah, you’re going to jail,” Howard can be heard saying in the video.
“Nah I’m not,” John Miller replies. He’s holding his handgun at his side. Behind him, Michael Miller has a shotgun in his right hand and is resting it on his shoulder, behind his head. His left hand is in the front pocket of his jeans. The Millers are shirtless.
“Back off . . . If you come closer to me, I’m gonna kill you,” John Miller says calmly.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Box said Howard was very protective of his family, especially his nieces and nephews — who he refers to as “my kids” in the video.
“Hey, you hear him say he’s gonna kill me?” Howard, who appears unarmed, asks Box, before turning back to the Millers. “I’m at the dumpster. Put the gun up and go inside. You pulled a gun in front of my kids over . . . a mattress.”
The men begin trading insults, their voices get louder. Howard tells the Millers, “You’re dead. I promise you, you’re both dead . . . I’m gonna kill you.”
Michael Miller then interrupts and advises, “If you’re gonna show this video to the cops, you might as well stop yelling that you’re gonna kill us.”
Howard responds that he doesn’t care and repeats his threat.
“If you come within three foot of me, I’m gonna kill you,” John Miller says.
“You’re not going to shoot my husband,” Box responds.
A couple seconds later, pops can be heard and the camera moves wildly. Then Michael Miller is seen taking aim with his shotgun. More pops.
“Aaron? Aaron? No! No!” Box screams.
Howard had been shot at least twice, said Standridge, the police chief. But those who called 911 reported hearing as many as five shots fired, he said. At the news conference, Standridge didn’t disclose where on his body Howard had been shot, but said he died after being transported to the hospital.
The investigation is ongoing, the chief said then.
On Thursday, John and Michael Miller said they didn’t want to talk about that day or the charges against them.
“I really don’t have a comment one way or the other,” John Miller told The Washington Post. “This is something that I consider a private matter between me and the state of Texas.”
The Millers were booked into Taylor County Jail on murder charges, but were released ahead of their court dates after they posted a $25,000 bail, the Star-Telegram reported.
Box still lives in Abilene, she told the newspaper.
But not in the house next to the Millers.