Touched by tragedy

Touched by tragedy

April 4th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

One by one, slowly, people started to come forward Sunday.

Some laid flowers beside the tape barrier outside the U.S. Money Shops store on Brainerd Road.

They didn't personally know 51-year-old Chattanooga Police Department Sgt. Tim Chapin, but they mourned his loss.

Chattanooga Police Sgt. James Timothy Chapin died Saturday from a gunshot wound received while responding to an armed robbery at U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

"I'm just heartbroken," said 62-year-old JoAnn Cook, choked with emotion, as she clutched a small vase of daisies adorned with a small American flag. "I grew up in Chattanooga. I can't believe this happened. I just wanted to leave something."

Behind her, 11 large bullet holes showed in the glass doors of the U.S. Money Shops, a pawnshop that was the scene of a gunbattle after a robbery Saturday.

Chapin, a 27-year veteran, was shot to death while pursuing the robbery suspect. Officer Lorin Johnston was hit in the back by a bullet but protected by body armor.

The suspect, Jesse R. Mathews, was also shot and remained hospitalized Sunday with no information available on his condition.

On Sunday, red tape X's left by crime scene technicians showed where the battle unfolded on a road behind the pawnshop.

Chattanooga police said Chapin was one of three or four officers who answered the robbery alarm at 10:24 a.m. to the store at 5952 Brainerd Road. Police said the robber fired out the front door, then ran out a side door with police in pursuit. The robber shot at police during a 200-yard pursuit. Chapin hit the man with his car, but the man got back up and fired.

Chapin was shot in the head and died in just moments.

Several officers returned fire and took the suspect down. Colorado records show Mathews recently was paroled on a robbery conviction.

His Facebook page shows a picture of him with his chest and upper arms covered in tattoos of handguns, knives, bullets and brass knuckles.

HANDLING GRIEF

Chapin's death hung on the minds of people who knew him and some who didn't.

His usual table at Starbucks on Brainerd Road bore an empty coffee cup, a copy of the Times Free Press with the headline, "A city mourns," and a hand-lettered sign: "This seat is closed out of respect for Officer Tim where he sat every day for the past two years."

He had enjoyed his usual tall decaf coffee earlier Saturday morning.

"We were really, really busy that day. He managed to sit down for a few minutes, but then he darted out," said Michelle Wade, who works as a barista at the coffeehouse.

She said the shift manager came up with the idea of reserving the table. Patrons reflected on the image as they stood in line before giving their order.

"I wrote the sign and we put it up. People are just looking at it. Nobody has sat there. It's been quiet," she said.

At Chapin's church, Abba's House Central Baptist in Hixson, the sermon was dedicated to the slain officer. He had been a member for 22 years.

"The man who shot Tim Chapin - if he gets down on his knees and asks for forgiveness, he can get saved," senior pastor Ronnie Phillips said. "We may send him to the chair afterwards."

About eight other police officers attend the church, which has a congregation of about 5,000 people. At the end of the service, about 30 emergency personnel gathered at the front.

Church members took up donations for the Chapin family. Chapin's wife, Kelle, manages the Abba's House Academy, a day care center for children. The couple has 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.

Phillips said he spent two hours with Kelle Chapin after she learned the news.

"It seems like they have the steel in their soul," Phillips said of the strength required of law enforcement spouses.

"Kelle's broken, but this is what her husband did. And she told me every day when he went out, she knew that something could happen. She didn't expect this."

Chattanooga police officers continued to work the scene throughout the day Sunday with several people, including Cook, showing up to offer condolences.

"I just have a tremendous amount of respect for them. You never say thank you," Cook said, describing people's attitudes toward law enforcement officers. "You just expect them to be there."

Colorado records show Jesse R. Mathews, 25, was convicted of robbery in 2003 in El Paso County, Colo., and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He had a parole hearing scheduled in March, according to Colorado Department of Corrections records. He is listed in state records as a fugitive inmate and authorities say he is wanted on three robbery warrants.