As millions watched a Republican debate in which there was no talk about guns, 45-year-old Darren Williams held a candle in his one good hand at a vigil for a murdered cop in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Williams may never be able to use his other hand again as a result of a gunshot wound he sustained three weeks ago.
The minute Williams learned on Wednesday night that 29-year-old Police Officer Thomas LaValley had been gunned down a couple blocks from where Williams himself had been shot, he had been sure it was the same gunman.
“I just had a gut feeling it was him,” Williams says.
Williams headed for the Shreveport police station and walked into the squad room at 5 a.m. Thursday. He saw the detectives were printing out fliers bearing the photo of the man wanted for the cop killing a few hours before.
Williams had seen the same photo last month, when the detectives presented him with an array of six mugshots.
He had immediately picked out this picture as that of the gloved madman who had shot him three times for no apparent reason on July 15.
“He had eyes you could never forget,” Williams recalls. “He’s got these cold-looking eyes.”
When a relative called to tell him about the killing of LaValley on Wednesday night, William had told himself it had to be the same icy-eyed man.
“I just had a gut feeling it was him,” Williams says.
He now watched that face appear again and again and again from the printer. He was not thinking of himself and how easily he could have not lived to be standing there. He was thinking of the murdered cop.
“That broke my heart,” Williams says.
A detective recognized Williams from when he was shot.
“He said, ‘We was just about to come talk to you,’” Williams recalls.
Williams spoke aloud the name of the 27-year-old suspect.
“Grover Cannon,” Williams said.
“Grover Cannon,” the detective confirmed.
Williams works in auto recovery, hired by car lot owners to sit down with people who have fallen behind on their payments and work out an arrangement that will make repossession unnecessary. He figures that 95 percent of the people he deals with keep their cars.
“We make deals,” Williams says. “Everybody will tell you I am the most nicest person.”
He himself has a big Hummer with jumbo tires, and on July 15 he drove it to a tough part of town to speak to some people about a car. He clambered out and passed a youngster’s birthday party as he walked toward the house corresponding with the address. The kids were happily playing on a bouncy ball and riding a slide down into a pool.
“I’m looking at them laughing,” Williams recalls.
He was just returning his attention to where he was going when he suddenly beheld a stranger in a dark shirt.
“I had never said a word to him in my life,” Williams says.
The stranger began mumbling something about the Hummer. Williams met the cold eyes he would so clearly remember. He saw that the man was wearing gloves in the summer heat and he was filled with a sudden sense of danger.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God,’” Williams says. “That’s when he produced the gun and started shooting.”
A bullet struck Williams in the left arm, breaking a bone and shattering his elbow. He was in considerable pain as he turned to run for his life.
But he did not take the most direct path of flight because it would have sent him past the birthday party. This most nicest person kept the presence of mind to consider the youngsters who had been laughing just moments before.
“I was afraid one of the bullets would hit one of the kids,” he says.
The gunman came after him, still firing his large caliber semi-automatic. Williams was hit in the back and the leg, but adrenaline propelled him for eight blocks, until he came upon a group of men who were playing dominos.
“I asked, ‘Can y’all call an ambulance?’” he remembers.
Paramedics arrived and cut away his clothes, discovering that he had been hit more times than he imagined.
“They said, ‘We got another gunshot wound,’” he says.
At the hospital, Williams tried to reassure his worried 10-year-old twin sons by sending them a photo of himself giving a thumbs-up from a gurney.
He was discharged after three days. The doctors could offer no promises that he would recover from the nerve damage to his left arm or that he would be able to use that hand again.
There came the moment when the detectives showed Williams the photo array and he picked the one with those icy eyes.
“I told my wife, ‘That guy is really a cold-blooded killer,’” Williams says.
Williams had been shot before, 20 years ago, hit three times. But that had been a carjacking. He could fathom no motive for the July 15 shooting.
The gunman in this second shooting had approached before Williams had even reached the house he had come to visit, he says. And Williams had become even more mystified when he learned that after chasing him, the gunman had turned back and trashed the inside of the Hummer. Williams was told that the gunman had fired upon another Hummer earlier in the day.
Williams offered his twins the best explanation he could muster for why daddy was shot.
“There’s bad people in the world,” he told them.
Williams is certain that his sons would not end up like the gunman.
“He might not have had a loving childhood, but they do,” Williams says.
Williams got calls from neighborhood people saying they had seen the gunman in the vicinity of the shooting. He passed the information on to the detectives.
“They were notified two or three times,” he says.
Then, on Thursday, Williams’s brother telephoned to say that a cop had been murdered while responding to a report of a suspicious person just a few blocks from where he had been shot. Williams was suddenly sure he knew who had done it.
“I said, ‘Grover Cannon killed that cop,’” Williams recalls.
This certainty carried him into the detective squad room, where he saw that face on a flier being printed again and again and again.
Later in the day, tips led police to a garage within a couple of blocks of where Williams had been shot and the cop had been killed. Williams heard that Cannon had been drinking beer with five other men when he was captured.
“A guy who gunned down first of all me, then turned around and killed a cop, and you’re going to drink beer with him?” Williams asked.
On Thursday night, Williams went to a vigil for the slain officer. He held a candle in his good hand while many of us were watching the debate where there was much talk about abortion and immigration, but nothing about guns.
Williams said he has a question for the gunman.
“Why did you shoot me?”