Shots Fired: Gaston County, N.C. 07/06/2009

Shaw tried to deflect the gun with the flashlight in his left hand. But hearing the shot, he jumped back, landing on his backside about seven feet away from Burris.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Well before it became a national news story, last summer's killings in nearby Gaffney, S.C., were on the radar of the Gaston County (N.C.) Police Department. So on July 5 when Officer Kathryn Williamson read the latest information on the outstanding suspect in the local newspaper, she and her fellow officers in the station office ruminated about what would happen if they came across the serial killer.

Their discussion would prove to be far more than idle speculation.

Hours had passed and it was well after midnight when the call went out: a breaking and entering on Dallas-Spencer Mountain Road. Officer Jim Shaw was familiar with the address, having been there before to deal with its residents for a variety of offenses, mostly narcotics-related. But he also knew that the residents had been in custody for the better part of a year as a result of some of those offenses. So any 3 a.m. call at that address was probably a good one.

Officer Graham Kuzia arrived at the location first and quickly determined that the suspects were residents of the location. With the busy Fourth of July weekend, he initially told responding units that the situation was code four. Knowing the kind of people who resided there, however, Officer Shaw and Officer Williamson continued to roll.

Shaw and Williamson arrived at the location to find that Kuzia had a trio of individuals detained in a carport outside the darkened house. Never maintained in the greatest state, the house had fallen into an even greater state of disrepair in the absence of its owners. Foliage had taken over the property.

This Guy's Huge

Two of the three detainees-a male and a female-were immediately recognizable to Shaw as Mark and Sharon Stamey, residents of the house. A second male remained seated in a Ford Explorer parked in the driveway. Williamson contacted the man and asked him to exit the Explorer. As he did, the man's head struck the top edge of the carport hard enough that the officers collectively winced at the sound of it.

"You OK?" Williamson asked the man.

The man nodded that he was fine.

Shaw thought, It's no surprise the subject bumped into the roof of the carport. The guy's huge.

Shaw put the man at about 6-feet 7-inches, the better part of 300 pounds, and judging by his behavior, drunk. For the moment, the three officers were more concerned with what the two known offenders were doing outside their residence at that hour in the morning.

The Stameys explained that they'd recently been released from custody and were just moving stuff into the house. A warrant check showed they were clear of any wants or warrants and, having patted them down without incident, the officers decided to let them go inside their residence.

Their seemingly intoxicated friend was still a bit of a cipher, staggering and nearly falling a few times as he headed for the house. The officers didn't have anything on him, and the idea of saddling themselves with a drunk when they could let the guy go inside and sleep it off wasn't high on their To Do list.

Still, Williamson wanted to take another look at the huge, drunk guy. She knew that people, even seriously inebriated people, normally didn't hesitate to acknowledge their name and birthdates. When pressed for his full name, the man vacillated and finally volunteered his middle name as "Terry."

Running the name he'd given her, Williamson got a list of near hits, among them a 41-year-old "Patrick Burris" with a felony probation violation. Burris' description: 6 feet 7 inches, 280 pounds.

Something didn't seem right.

Wake Up

As Williamson got on the radio to advise their sergeant of a possible felony suspect at the location, Shaw and Kuzia approached the front door. Shaw knocked. No answer.[PAGEBREAK]

Electricity had not yet been restored to the residence, and the darkness only added to the surreal atmosphere of the scene. Shaw knocked again, this time garnering the sound of someone stumbling around inside.

The door opened and Mark Stamey answered. Shaw asked, "Where's your big friend?"

"He's asleep out on the couch," Stamey replied, stepping aside to allow the officers in.

As the officers entered the house, their flashlights swept the living room. Shaw saw the larger male lying on a couch to the right of the front door.

They presumed Patrick Burris was lying on his right side, facing the back of the sofa away from them. Shaw said, "Sir, wake up. We need to talk to you."

No response. Again Shaw spoke.

"Sir, we need to speak with you," Shaw demanded. "You need to get up."

But the man just grunted in what sounded like a drunken stupor.

Shaw and Kuzia approached the couch. Drawing closer, they noticed that both of the man's hands were hidden beneath a pillow.

"Sir, let me see your hands," Shaw commanded. "Show me your hands."

Nothing to Lose

None of the officers knew just how dangerous Burris was. But in fact, the man they confronted was the serial killer they'd speculated about earlier in the day.

During the course of the preceding week, Burris had shot and killed five people in and around Gaffney, S.C., during an inexplicable killing spree. The killings were national news. They had paralyzed Gaffney and terrorized its citizens. The Gaffney serial killer was the most wanted man in the Southeast.

Now, he lay on the sofa with his back to the officers, one more violent plan in mind.

Burris pulled his balled up left hand out from under the pillow. Shaw angled to see the man's right hand, but still couldn't.

"Show me your hands," Shaw demanded a third time, drawing his Heckler & Koch .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

The officers slowly moved up on Burris, within range for Kuzia to deploy the TASER that he held pointed at the man.

That was when Burris made his move.

He Shot Me

Burris reached over his body with his right hand and blindly fired a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun.

As Burris reached around, Shaw tried to deflect the gun with the flashlight in his left hand. But hearing the shot, he jumped back, landing on his backside about seven feet away from Burris.

With Burris' movement, Kuzia activated the TASER. Shaw saw the leads attach to the suspect's body.[PAGEBREAK]

But the TASER did not incapacitate Burris. He rolled off of the couch and landed in a seated position on the floor. The suspect raised his pistol toward Williamson and Kuzia.

Oh shit, Shaw thought. He raised his sidearm and fired a point shot. Simultaneously, Williamson opened fire with her sidearm.

Burris rolled onto his right side. His right hand rolled to the floor and opened up, exposing the gun in his palm. The only sounds that could be heard in the room were Burris' gasps for air.

Shaw knew he needed cover. He got up and positioned himself in the opening at the front door.

"If he grabs that gun again," Shaw told himself. "I'm going to shoot him again."

Williamson asked Shaw if he was OK.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, curious about why she'd asked. "I'm OK."

Then he felt a little burning in his leg.

Feeling like Forrest Gump, Shaw wondered if something had bitten him. He tried to look down at his leg to see what it was, but the only light in the house was from his and his fellow officers' flashlights, which were now trained on Burris. Still, Shaw's pain and curiosity got the better of him, and he periodically swept the flashlight beam away from Burris, onto his leg, and back again.

Finally, he looked down and saw a blood stain on his leg.

He shot me, Shaw realized.

Threat Neutralized

Shaw radioed communications to let them know that he'd been shot in the upper leg.

It appeared that Burris had taken his last breath, but Shaw wasn't taking any chances. He kept his gun trained on the downed suspect. Realizing that Shaw and Williamson still had their sights trained on Burris, Kuzia immediately turned his attention to the Stameys as prospective threats and detained them.

It seemed like an eternity before the first unit arrived. Once the first backup officer responded, Williamson covered the suspect and told Shaw to go outside.

Standing in the driveway next to Kuzia's car, Shaw told Officer Daniel Hawley that the suspect was down and lying in the living room. He saw the people who had reported the breaking and entering call were in the yard.

As Hawley went inside, Shaw took off his duty belt and laid it on the trunk of Officer Kuzia's car. He stripped down, dropping his boxers to see what was going on. He saw an entrance wound where he'd been shot in the leg. A few inches past the entrance wound, he felt a lump in his leg-the bullet had struck a pocket knife in his pants pocket, and the round's energy had dissipated so the bullet stayed in his leg.

Emergency personnel soon arrived on scene. As Shaw sat in an ambulance awaiting transport, an EMS worker exited the house and advised the officer that his assailant had died.

Shaw and Williamson had fired a total of five rounds. Three 180-grain Federal hollowpoint bullets from Shaw and two from Williamson were all on target-none more fortuitous than one of Williamson's that went down the barrel of Burris' pistol, disarming it. The remaining rounds struck Burris in the head, chest, neck, and leg.

Shaw was taken to Gaston Memorial Hospital where the attending physician determined that his injuries weren't life threatening and recommended that a plastic surgeon remove the bullet in a more sterile environment.

Burris' Bloody Spree

The shooting ended a killing spree in which Burris took five lives in Cherokee County, S.C.

Just two months after being released from a North Carolina prison where he served eight years for a series of break-ins, Burris murdered 63-year-old farmer Kline Cash in his own home in Cherokee County. Three days later, Gena Linder Parker and her mother Hazel Linder were found bound and shot to death at Mrs. Linder's home, a few miles away from the Cash farm.

The following day, Stephen Tyler and his 15-year-old daughter, Abbey, were shot as they closed their family business in Gaffney. All of the victims lived within a 10-mile radius. Investigators used ballistic evidence from Burris' gun to connect him to all five murders. No one will ever know why Burris went on this killing spree.

The Stameys told investigators that they had just met Burris and spent several days partying with him. They were unaware of his murderous acts. Subsequent toxicological tests revealed that Burris had been on a 48-hour cocaine binge. No charges were brought against the Stameys.

The trio of officers received commendations from the Gaston County Commissioner's Office and local congressional representative Sue Myrick.

Asked if he would do anything different, Shaw reflects, "Looking back, I would have already had the gun in my hand, and maybe not approached him so closely. But even then, I don't know that the outcome would have been any different given the layout of the house and the fact that he just got off a blind shot. When I talk about this, it takes minutes to lay out what transpired in a matter of seconds-between the thoughts and actions that took place in that environment."

About the Author
Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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