May 14th was like any other Monday morning for Chris Chappell of Bessemer, Alabama. He had visited his mother at Medical West hospital, dropped in at Wal-Mart and then made a quick stop at the local bank to get $40 in change to take to work. But another man, a man with a desperate purpose, closely followed Chappell into the bank that morning. The man was wearing a sky blue shirt, striped tie, khaki pants, baseball cap, sneakers and sunglasses. He had a cell phone pressed to his ear. He had tape on the bottoms of his shoes. He carried a Glock 9mm handgun, to aid him in his purpose. Chris Chappell handed a teller a few bills, and the teller collected coins for him. Suddenly, gunshots rang out.
Chappell exited the bank, drew his CCW handgun, and took cover behind his sport utility vehicle. It was 9:04 AM. Inside the bank, unseen ruthless and deadly violence was occuring.
The robber started to escape out the front door of the bank, but retreated back inside when he saw the armed Chappell. He again looked out the door only to find Chappell drawn down on him. "I just held him in there as long as I could and if he would have came out I would have had to shoot. There's nothing I could have done, he was a mad man going crazy," said Chappell. Cornered, the killer then took a bank manager hostage. In the interim, law enforcement had arrived. Sheriff's deputies Ray Sorenson and Randy Davis were passing by when they spotted a woman running from the bank. She fell, rolled, got back up and kept running. The deputies, who serve outstanding warrants, quickly turned around to investigate.
Chappell alerted the deputies of his presence and intent when they arrived on the scene. The deputies called for back-up from the Bessemer police department. It was 9:06 AM. "That's when he comes out the door with a hostage," Chappell said, referring to the armed robber. "I'm telling him to get down, the cop's hollering to get down, and he doesn't know what to do because he's jerking the hostage around from side to side."
The armed criminal, William Merriweather Jr., stumbled and was shot in the groin by Deputy Alan Rhea. Even after being shot, the robber tried to crawl away with the moneybag. He did not release this grip on the bag of money until he was handcuffed and taken into custody. Bessemer police arrived on the scene at 9:09 AM. According to witnesses and police investigators, inside the bank the gunman shot bank teller Eva Lovelady Hudson in the face, killing her. He then continued firing down the line of tellers. He murdered bank teller Sheila Prevo. The killer wounded two other tellers, all the while demanding money, and forcing bank manager Myron Gooding to open the vault. Grabbing a bag of money, he started out the door of the bank, only to find Chappell waiting.
Merriweather is charged with capital murder in the deaths of the two bank tellers, and faces the death penalty.
Merriweather is also accused of attempted murder in the wounding of Anita Gordon and LaToya Freeman, and kidnapping for taking the male bank manager hostage in his failed escape attempt.
Afterwards, Chris Chappell stated, "I was prepared to shoot, I don't think you had time to be scared....He never expected nobody else to have a gun, he thought he'd get away free. There wasn't really a chance to be scared at the time it was happening because it happened so fast." Chris Chappell and his ability to carry a concealed weapon was instrumental in the apprehension of this vicious murderer.
"It's certainly commendable," Jefferson County Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Christian said. "It's obvious he [Chappell] played a key role in keeping the guy there until we could get there. It's a great testament of someone willing to take action."
"He kept him from escaping, and he gave deputies time to get to the scene," Bill Veitch, chief assistant district attorney, told The Birmingham News in its moment-by-moment account of the robbery and arrest.
Bessemer Mayor Ed May, while calling Chappell a "good Samaritan and a brave individual," added that "I would not encourage anyone to do that."
Chappell, however, said he just followed his gut. "I know what's right and what's wrong. There wasn't nothing I could do differently. I'm always going to do what I think is right," Chappell said. The bank remains closed, with a bouquet of flowers at the door, and a contractor inside cleaning up.
Meanwhile, USA Today tries to minimize
Chris Chappell's heroism. Go figure.
Labels: CCW, Gun Advocacy, Self Defense