Chattanooga mourns slain officer

Chattanooga mourns slain officer

April 3rd, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Four women huddled together at the edge of yellow crime-scene tape.

They looked for their officer.

To them, he is a brother. A son. A grandson.

And on Saturday, he was one of the lucky ones.

"Obviously it wasn't his day to die today," said Pat Blumenberg, Chattanooga Police Officer Brian Blumenberg's mother, choking back tears outside the U.S. Money Shop on Brainerd Road.

The Blumenbergs said that had it not been for Sgt. Timothy Chapin, a 27-year department veteran nearing retirement, they would be mourning their officer.

Instead, Chapin's family was emotionally shattered early Saturday by a gunman's bullet during a robbery interrupted.

"I feel for that family," Pat Blumenberg said.

Chapin, 51, was shot and killed as he responded to a robbery at the pawn shop near Big Lots. A second officer, Lorin Johnston, 45, was wounded during the gunfight. He was treated at a local hospital and released.

Chattanooga police said this morning the suspected gunman is Jesse Mathews, a parolee and fugitive from Colorado who is wanted on robbery warrants there. Matthews was shot by pursuing officers.

Police spokeswoman Jerri Weary said in a release that Mathews remains in the hospital and no information was available on his condition.

As investigators gathered evidence after the shooting, Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said Chapin's fellow officers were shocked.

"It's probably the most tragic thing you could go through. It's losing a family member. He's a super nice guy. Has a family of his own," Dodd said. He did not officially identify Chapin on Saturday, but County Mayor Jim Coppinger used the officer's name in a condolence message.

"I think a lot of the folks out here are just numb at this point," Dodd said.

Chapin was the first Chattanooga officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty since Officer Julie Jacks in May 2002.

Chapin was among three or four officers who initially responded to a robbery in progress at about 10:20 a.m. at U.S. Money Shops, 5952 Brainerd Road.

The gunman opened fire on the officers as they rushed the pawn shop, Dodd said.

They retreated to their cars out front and called for backup while the gunman fled out the store's right side door, Dodd said.

Officers chased the gunman on foot and by car about 200 yards as shots rang out, he said.

Afterward, they scoured the crime scene and embraced.

Other agencies, including the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, came to assist as prosecutors watched.

TBI will investigate the shooting because police officers were involved. In the meantime, those six officers will be on administrative leave as part of department policy, Dodd said.

Before the shooting

In the minutes before the police response, Blumenberg and his supervisor, Chapin, were taking a break at Starbucks, just down Brainerd Road from the pawnshop.

A patron looked over at Blumenberg and stared at the paper's obituary section. He said Blumenberg looked like one of the dead, the officer's sister recounted.

"Brian was kind of floored by that," Beverly Blumenberg said at the scene after speaking with her brother.

As the Chattanooga officers left the coffee shop, Blumenberg peered up at the sky.

Two airplanes crossed paths, their contrails leaving the image of a cross.

He snapped a picture and texted Beverly Blumenberg the image with a Bible passage, Proverbs 3:16. It was 10:13 a.m.

"Commit your ways to the Lord and he will make a path for you," Beverly Blumenberg said. "Just trust God and he will look out for you. ... I think that's what protected him."

When the call came out for a robbery in progress, it should have been Blumenberg who rushed off to the pawnshop.

But while they were at Starbucks, Chapin had ordered him to follow up on an accident report from a week ago and said he would take the call, Beverly Blumenberg said.

Then came the "shots fired" call, and her brother raced to the pawnshop where Chapin had been mortally wounded.

"He's very upset - seeing his sergeant in a pool of blood. It just was hard," said Pat Blumenberg.

"He [Brian] felt like the sergeant took his place and what would have been his life," Beverly Blumenberg added.

When they heard about the shooting, the women came to the scene to show support, but more importantly to see Blumenberg.

"I had to be here. I had to see my son - physically see him," Pat Blumenberg said.

She said her son had a brush with death a few years ago when his patrol car was totaled in a crash and he required extensive rehabilitation to walk again.

And this isn't the first time Blumenberg has lost one of his colleagues.

He decided to carry a badge and wear a uniform 10 years ago after another law enforcement officer, Hamilton County Deputy Donald Bond, convinced him to join.

Bond was shot and killed in September 2001 when he stopped to check out a suspicious vehicle at an East Brainerd Road fruit and vegetable stand. His convicted murderer, Marlon Duane Kiser, is on Tennessee's death row.

"Every day when an officer leaves his home, you don't know whether it's his last day. It's probably the worst job in the world where people don't respect you," Pat said.

"You stop to think what their pay is. You stop and ask someone on the street, 'Would you be willing to give your life for this pay?' Most of them say no. It has to be a commitment on trying to help people."

Related article: Chapin a 'good man, fine officer'