Tragedy at home

Tragedy struck our peaceful community in the wee hours of Sunday morning, reminding us that the issues we often feel immune to can somehow come home to roost.

It is a painful wake-up call to us all that even here in a wonderful community like Clinton and in a great county like Sampson, the perils we read about in national newspapers and see on the nightly news can invade our world. The biggest difference, however, is that we won’t be quick to pass judgment, thinking the worst without all the facts to back it up.

In brief, here’s what happened as we know it so far:

• In the wee hours of Sunday morning, a shotgun-wielding man was killed by Clinton police officers and a Highway Patrol trooper, all who returned fire when the man pointed the weapon at them;

• Officers responded to Burger King at the corner of College Street and U.S. 701, answering a call for help from employees there;

• Officers found an armed man in a truck in the fast food chain’s parking lot;

• Officers cordoned off the parking lot for the safety of the public and the man;

• Officers attempted to negotiate with the individual, trying to get him to surrender; and

• No shots were fired until the man raised his gun and pointed it at officers.

• All officers have been placed on administrative leave pending investigations by the SBI and the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit.

Both the Clinton Police and the Highway Patrol are doing exactly as they should — bringing in outside investigators to look into exactly what happened and putting officers on leave until the probes have been completed and the findings released.

At first glimpse, they’ve also been very transparent — offering as much information as they have and as quickly as they can given the circumstances. We expect no less from the city of Clinton, given its open door policy and bend toward getting out in front of issues rather than knee-jerk reacting to them as problems unfold. And we thank officials for staying the course even in the face of perhaps the worst issue they’ve been faced with in some time.

While police shootings have become high profile tragedies, with everyone rushing to judge an officer’s decisions and intent, we believe it is best to absorb the facts, wait for the findings and rely on the integrity of the men and women who, in and out of uniform, we know as outstanding individuals, neighbors and friends.

The facts as we know them now point to a scenario not all that unlike a simulated exercise Police Department officials opened up to the community several months back, allowing citizens to carry the gun (of the laser variety and aimed at a video screen) and walk through an unfolding event, seeing their reactions when faced with gun-pointing suspects. In most cases, those who participated fired when guns were pulled and pointed their way.

Much the same appeared to happen at Burger King. By all accounts, officers tried for nearly a half hour to talk the gun-toting man into laying down his weapon and surrendering. It was to no avail.

Did they do everything perfectly? Probably not. In extreme circumstances who would? But did they do their best to resolve an intense situation calmly and without incident? According to all those we’ve talked to, including neighbors who heard the incident unfold, the answer is a resounding yes.

We believe, based on what we know now, that officers tried to end this peacefully and only fired when the victim raised his gun and pointed it at them.

That we think officers acted correctly doesn’t make this any less a tragedy, though. We are sure the victim had family, people who loved him and will mourn his loss, just as we do.

It was an unfortunate, terribly sad incident with a horrific outcome, and our prayers are with all those involved, knowing that it cannot be easy on anyone touched by what happened.

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