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Two People Dead in Downtown Chapel Hill Shooting

January 27, 1995

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ A law student opened fire near the University of North Carolina on Thursday, killing two people and wounding at least two others as he peppered the street with rifle shots, police said.

The gunman began shooting randomly as he walked along a downtown street around 2 p.m. The rampage lasted less than an hour until he was shot in the legs by police, then tackled by a bystander who also was shot in the struggle.

Wendell Williamson, 26, a third-year law student, was charged with two counts of murder.

During the shooting spree, a police officer was shot in the hand and a student who was shot at escaped unharmed when a bullet went through his pants and ricocheted off his keys.

All three of the wounded were taken to the hospital; none suffered life-threatening injuries, authorities said.

One man, a student on a bike, was gunned down in front of a sorority house. Another man was killed a half-block away on the steps of the rooming house where he lived.

``He was shooting at me, he was shooting at random, and he was shooting at anybody he saw,″ said attorney Bob Epting, 50. ``He looked like he was on his way to his own death.″

The gunman worked his way up to the post office building across the street from the 200-year-old University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Orange County District Attorney Carl Fox said the man fired 10 to 15 rounds from a semiautomatic M-1, including several into the back of the post office building, which also contains his offices and a courtroom.

Authorities offered no motive.

``What happened up there is not something that any reasonable person could understand,″ Police Chief Ralph Pendergraph said.

``This is not what you would expect in our community, but where would you expect it?″

One of the oldest parts of the college campus borders the main road, Franklin Street, a block away from the shooting. The school has about 24,400 students.

Jason Howard, a doctoral candidate in microbiology, said he encountered the gunman walking down the street. He was carrying what appeared to be a high-caliber rifle and a camouflage jacket, Howard said.

``He looked right at me,″ he said. ``I was scared.″

Howard said the gunman fired, but the bullet ricocheted off his keys. He was not hurt.

The gunman shot dead a bicyclist trying to get out of harm’s way, said witness Matt Mesmer. His body was sprawled on the steps of a rooming house, about a half-block from the post office.

The student’s body fell in front of a sorority house. A backpack stuck out from under a sheet police used to cover his body.

Two police cars were hit by bullets three or four times each, and a female officer in one car was shot in the left hand. Two civilian cars also were hit.

After the killings, the gunman hid in a doorway, then came out and started firing at police, said Chris Pierson, a university senior and a bartender at the nearby Tammany Hall bar. The gunman fell after being hit in the legs by police, but continued firing, Pierson said. The rampage lasted less than an hour.

The bar’s manager, William Leone, snuck up on the gunman, tackling him when he stopped shooting to change the clip, Pierson said.

In the process, Leone, a Gulf War veteran, was shot in the shoulder, said Brian Rathjen, owner of the Anchor Bar. ``He’s the hero,″ Rathjen said.

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