Billy was a kid who didn’t have a chance from the day he was born. His mother was mentally handicapped and a substance abuser, his aunt was a substance abuser, his grandmother had mental problems, and I don’t know where or who his dad was. One of his grandfathers was a bad man who was killed in a shootout. He was raised in a low-income neighborhood in a small town where jobs were not abundant, where drugs and alcohol for kids were all too easy to get, and he probably had some mental issues of his own. He had prior contacts with law enforcement and had been handled by juvenile services and mental health.
He made it to 20, but on a day in 2004, he was hanging out with some so-called friends, popping pills and drinking. Somebody got mad, got into a fight with him and then one of the “friends” shot him in the face with a BB gun. He left angry and feeling betrayed, went home and got an SKS rifle. His grandmother had bought the rifle and a couple boxes of Chinese ball ammunition for protection from drug dealers who were after him. She tried to stop him from leaving with it, but he pointed the rifle at her and told her he would kill her first if she didn’t get out of the way.
About a block away from the location of the fight he started shooting at his “used to be” friends, while they were on the porch. They ran in the house and Billy walked to the house and stood in the street, reloaded and started firing rounds into the house. Everyone inside was down on the deck trying not to get killed. All this was happening about three blocks from the police station, where a State Bureau Agent walking into his office from his car heard what he knew was a semi-automatic high-powered rifle, and close by.
We received the call from someone in the area that there was a man walking through the neighborhood with a rifle shooting at people. The first unit to respond was one of our sergeants and he drove right into Billy’s kill box and immediately came under fire from the SKS. A second unit also drove through the kill box and received fire. Both units drove through the kill zone and the sergeant got a chain link fence between him and the gunman. He got out and took cover behind the motor block and started looking for a clear field of fire. Even though Billy was shooting wildly, there were still people standing on their porches or in their yards and the sergeant could not return fire from his position. During the after-action investigation it was learned that Billy had been firing on the sergeant as he was positioning his unit for cover. It was probably the chain link fence between him and our sergeant that kept him from being hit. Bullet holes from Billy’s rifle were found in vehicles four to five blocks away.
I was in my office when I heard the radio call so I got up, put on my gun belt, and left the back of the police station heading toward the area the gunfire had been reported. As I pulled onto the cross street about two blocks from the gunman, I met one of our units trying to flank the shooter. I asked where the shooter was and he said he was in the middle of the street two blocks west of us. I pulled up about a block and a half and got out of my unit with my patrol rifle.
I did not leave my unit immediately but stood by the left front fender trying to locate where the shooter was and trying to get an elderly man who had come out of a mobile home to take cover. The elderly man was trying to tell me that he had heard gunfire and something had hit his house. I kept telling him to take cover because he was in a dangerous spot.
It didn’t take Billy long before he let me know where he was as he came into view. When he saw my patrol car he immediately engaged me. I moved to the left behind a wooden porch on a mobile home and took a rest on the porch railing. I did not recognize who the guy with the rifle was, I only knew he had me outgunned with those 7.62x39mm rounds. As he moved farther down the street he came into view again and saw me by the porch and engaged me again. I picked up the front post through the peep sight of my M4 rifle, focused on the front post and sent three quick 55-grain Hornady TAP rounds downrange. The suspect in the street went down hard and laid on his right side.
The State Agent and myself both closed on the downed man. As we closed on him, a female ran out of a yard, picked up the rifle he had dropped, turned and ran into her front yard. We were yelling at her to drop the weapon. After a couple of times she realized that we were going to shoot her if she didn’t, so she dropped the rifle in the yard. There was no wondering how bad Billy was hit; the agent and I are no stranger to dying people and it was apparent that even though an ambulance was on the scene within minutes of the shooting, they were not going to do much; the fixed eyes and the short labored breaths pretty much told the story.
Billy died there in that dirty street, angry over a stupid fight he had with people he thought were his friends. The woman who picked up the rifle and ran said she was trying to help us by getting the rifle away from him. A heroic act but not too smart after what had just happened.
Department policy says officers involved in shootings are required to talk to mental health professionals for possible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); policy says that officers will be on administrative leave until the investigation and psychological counseling is complete. This was the third fatal officer-involved shooting I have been involved in. Well, I was at the crime scene the next day reconstructing the shooting scene. The sergeant and patrol officer that had come under fire, they were back to work the next day also. So much for written policy, I guess meat on the street is more important than what kind of problems you might have with the outcome of a highly volatile and deadly incident. I don’t think I suffer from PTSD all the time, oh yeah, paranoia that there would be retaliation, disturbed sleep, that kind of stuff right after the shooting.
I don’t know about the other guys because there was no debriefing after the incident. I am very fortunate to have an extraordinary wife who has been my confidante for over 35 years and has suffered through very many tense and terrible nights with me. It is unfortunate that all career policemen and combat soldiers don’t have a friend like her. There have been a lot of changes since I went into law enforcement, mostly positive, but in this field I guess not much has changed.
I felt sorry mostly for Billy’s grandmother. She has had a very rough and turbulent life, and I know this hurt her very badly because I think she thought maybe she could keep Billy from going the way of far too many kids in his predicament, but the cruel life on the street didn’t see it that way. I guess by letting me write this, you have debriefed me more than the department I have worked for most of my life. Thank you for allowing me to vent. — JW, OK