Police Investigate Tenn. Shooting
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Memphis was a city in mourning Thursday _ flags were at half-staff, bouquets of flowers were placed on fire hall steps, and firefighters and law officers wore black bands across their badges.
All were in memory of two firefighters and a sheriff’s deputy who were slain Wednesday _ allegedly by one of their comrades, firefighter Fred Williams _ in a rampage that has angered and saddened this Mississippi River city.
``It’s just so shocking,″ said Pam McFarlin, who took food to firefighters at Fire Station No. 55 and brought a bouquet of flowers to the home where the men were shot. ``We all just feel so bad.″
Williams, 41, ambushed the firefighters as they arrived to fight a blaze at his home, authorities said. Williams’ wife, Stacey, was found shot to death in the garage.
Investigators said they were still looking for a motive. Fire Chief H.J. Pickett said the blaze was deliberately set, but investigators were trying to determine whether it was done so to lure firefighters to the home, or to cover up Mrs. Williams’ death. It was also unclear whether Williams made the 911 call to report the fire, Police Director Walter Crews said.
Williams, a six-year veteran of the Fire Department, was shot in the groin by a police officer when he refused to put down his weapon, authorities said. Williams was under police guard at a hospital in critical condition. Authorities plan to charge him Friday but did not give specifics.
Witnesses said that when firefighters arrived at the burning home, Williams ran out of the garage firing a shotgun and screaming, ``Get away! Get away!″
Killed were firefighter Lt. Javier Lerma, 41, the son of a Memphis firefighter who died battling a blaze in 1977, and Pvt. William Blakemore, 48, a firefighter who was working for a sick colleague, possibly Williams, Crews said.
Williams did not work at the same station as the men who were killed, but they probably knew each other. Firefighters often cover shifts of sick comrades at other stations, Pickett said.
Williams had returned to work Monday after taking a leave of absence for ``employee assistance,″ Crews said, not providing details. Williams left work early Monday, claiming he was sick, and had not returned for shifts Tuesday or Wednesday.
The fire chief wouldn’t discuss Williams’ work history or his leave of absence.
Crews said the couple had married on Valentine’s Day and Williams moved into the house this week. He faced a court hearing next week on a domestic violence charge from October involving Mrs. Williams, then his fiancee. Details were not available.
Herman Harrison, Mrs. Williams’ former husband, told The New York Times that he was trying to get custody of his 8-year-old son, who was living at the house. The boy was in school when the shooting occurred and was taken to Harrison’s sister.
Neighbors had reported seeing smoke coming from the house and alerted Williams, but he said everything was fine, authorities said.
``We stopped to see if we could help, and a guy came out and started shouting, `Everybody go away and leave me alone!‴ said Kia Bradley, a passer-by. Williams then allegedly ambushed firefighters and sheriff’s deputies as they arrived to help.
Sheriff’s Deputy Rupert Peete, 45, was shot in his patrol car. Deborah Gatewood, 46, who was walking in the neighborhood, was apparently trying to warn Peete that Williams had a gun when Williams shot at them, authorities said.
Gatewood was wounded in the face. She was in satisfactory condition Thursday.
Firefighters received counseling Thursday.
``We all went back to work this morning at 7 a.m. doing what we were doing yesterday morning _ fighting fires. It’s what we do,″ Pickett said.