An elderly Gastonia, North Carolina, man who was recovering from heart surgery was fatally shot by police Saturday night after firemen forcibly entered the man’s home to conduct a welfare check, local media reports.
The victim, identified as 74-year-old James Allen, was a Korean War veteran*. It appears that Allen had armed himself as police were coming through the door.
Here is the timeline of events Saturday night:
- Family of James Allen asked police to conduct a welfare check on Allen.
- Anson County officials contacted the Gastonia Police Department to conduct the check.
- An officer went to Allen’s home on Mary Avenue. There was no answer when he knocked on the door.
- Anson County started a check of local hospitals. They could not find Allen.
- Police called for County EMS and Gastonia Fire Department about a possible death inside Allen’s home.
- Officer Lefevers announced his presence and entered the home.
- Allen approached him with a gun and Lefevers shot and killed him.
While investigators are still examining the case, family members are outraged that law enforcement would use deadly force against a man who they said “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“I think that he probably thought somebody was breaking in his house or robbing him of something,” said Mary Battle, Allen’s sister.
“There should have been a better way to handle this. Something else could have been done,” she continued. “I’m so mad; I’m hurt. I’m hurt.”
Otis Thompson, one of Allen’s friends, echoed those thoughts, explaining that he would have grabbed a gun as well if he heard someone breaking into his home late at night.
“You kicked the man’s door in. He’s disoriented and he’s in his own house, privacy of his own home; my first reaction would be to grab a gun, too,” said Thompson.
Meanwhile, police officials are defending the officers’ response.
“Announcements were made that police were on scene, he was challenged to lay the gun down. The gun was pointed at direction of officers and a shot was fired that fatally wounded him,” said Gaston Police Chief Robert Helton.
Family members said that Allen had trouble hearing which may have added to the confusion.
This is a tragedy that raises a number of questions: Did Allen at any point recognize the intruders as officers of the law? Did the officers do their best to announce themselves and make it obvious that they were there to check on him? Should the family have waited until the next day, during the daylight hours, to place a call for the welfare check?
Perhaps most importantly, how does one avoid this situation in the future?
*The affiliate that reported the story said Allen “fought in the Korean War.” Media outlets also reported that Allen was 74 years old. As one GunsAmerica reader pointed out, the math doesn’t really add up. The Korean war was fought between 1950-53, which would have made Allen awfully young to be in combat. I don’t know if the news affiliate misreported his combat experience or his age, but something is amiss.