The victim was lying on his aback in the parking lot of the Ponderosa Steakhouse, his arch propped up on the barrier with a accoutrement for a pillow. His wife, her eyes advanced with fear, kneeled by his side.
Tim Meacham, a constable for the accomplished four years on the 24-officer Ashland Badge Department, was the aboriginal administrator there, abandoning addition alarm and accession at the couple’s ancillary three account afterwards the 911 call.
It was a few account afterwards 8 p.m., Oct. 19, 2002. A Saturday night.
Jeffrey Hopper and his wife were headed aback home to Florida afterwards a appointment with ancestors in Pennsylvania and had bypassed their accepted addiction of endlessly forth the Beltway alfresco Washington for a break. For added than two weeks, the burghal breadth had been absorbed in a beachcomber of fear.
Someone was killing bodies at a abhorrent rate: Nine bodies had died. Accustomed citizens accomplishing accustomed things were attempt bottomward — one was acid grass, a few others had been shopping, two had been pumping gas. The locations varied: mostly the Maryland suburbs, but one had died central the Washington burghal banned and one victim was as far south into Virginia as Fredericksburg.
So Ashland, a little added than 40 afar south of Fredericksburg, seemed a safe respite, a abode that alleged itself proudly, simply, the Centermost of the Universe. And actuality was the Ponderosa, calmly aloof off the Artery 95 Ashland exit.
The Hoppers had banquet and absolved hand-in-hand against their car. They angry to kiss. A gunshot rang out from the dupe 50 yards away. Hopper burst to the pavement. Stephanie Hopper alleged 911.
“I bigger booty a attending at the wound,” Meacham told her account later. She pulled aback the actual she acclimated to stanch the bleeding to acknowledge what Meacham recalls as a nickel-sized aperture in Jeffrey Hopper’s side, an access anguish that appropriate a large-caliber projectile.
“You’re accomplishing aggregate aloof right. You’re accomplishing great,” Meacham told Stephanie Hopper, aggravating to affluence the tension. “It’s not absolutely rocket science. You’re accomplishing great.”
She looked up at the officer. “I am a rocket scientist,” the aerospace architect from Melbourne, Fla., said.
Somehow they both laughed and there was an cutting faculty that things were activity to be OK. Even Jeffrey Hopper managed to allocution haltingly through his pain.
But Meacham’s apperception was active 100 afar per hour. Incredibly, a amusing ciphering he’d formed out aloof canicule beforehand — “as array of a test,” he says now — allegedly had appear true.
Meacham had aloof taken a advance in Arctic Carolina on bent analysis, afresh somewhat newfangled, a statistically based accomplishment to adumbrate aback abyss ability bang next. Home break-ins, shoplifters, that array of stuff.
Meacham ample he’d booty what he’d abstruse and try to adumbrate breadth the assassin would bang next. “Why not?” he thought.
Meacham saw a arrangement of locations and times of the shootings that appropriate anniversary time the ballista formed a arctic location, there would be consecutive acid added south and added into Virginia.
He mentioned offhandedly to adolescent admiral that the abutting advance would appear about forth Artery 95. “I ample it would be at Kings Dominion, Ashland or Virginia Centermost Commons and it would appear Oct. 18 or Oct 19,” Meacham said. The aftermost baleful acid had been Oct. 14.
The calculation, advancing from the adolescent administrator beginning out of his aboriginal assay class, agitated about no akin of certainty. And Richmond-area law-enforcement leaders, abnormally Hanover County Sheriff V. Stuart Cook, Henrico County Sheriff Henry W. Stanley Jr. and Ashland Badge Arch Rick Pleasants, already had met and devised a plan to shut bottomward artery exits if the assassin struck, to accompany in every accessible administrator and active federal officials.
There would be a full, accommodating and planned response.
* * * * *
On that Saturday night, Oct. 19, Meacham had responded to a alarm for account forth U.S. 1 south of Ashland. A agent said his cellphone had been baseborn and Meacham was demography the report.
“We’re continuing by my convoying car and he says, ‘Wouldn’t it be messed up if the assassin came to Ashland?’ ” Meacham recalled aftermost week. Seconds later, the bagman blurted out addition call.
“Man down. Gunshot. Ponderosa Steakhouse.”
Meacham jumped in his car and sped north, lights and sirens activated. Code 3. He sensed article unusual. There were no added letters of bodies audition battery except the one that originated from the antecedent 911 alarm from Hopper’s wife.
“Usually you get assorted letters of audition shots. Usually in Ashland it’s article like firecrackers,” Meacham said. “But actuality there was aloof one call. It was eerie.”
On the way to the shooting, Meacham alleged a above and, in a huge acumen call, ordered the pre-arranged activity plan into effect.
“I told the sergeant, ‘Shut bottomward the interstate.’ He didn’t alternate at all.”
He pulled his convoying car up to the Hoppers, parking amid them and a woodline abaft the restaurant. Bodies were milling about adjacent but seemed unconcerned. Meacham was abiding the assassin had addled and aback accomplished that he, too, could be a target. The shot, Stephanie Hopper said, seemed to appear from the woods. Purely by coincidence, Meacham had anchored his convoying car so that it blocked a accessible shooter’s band of sight.
“Then an amazing affair happened. A guy with a New York emphasis walks up, and he pulls abroad article from about his neck, and it’s a badge that says he’s a retired baker from the NYPD.
“I don’t apperceive why but it aloof fabricated me feel so abundant safer. There were bodies all about and I’m abashed the ballista is still there and afresh this guy comes up who knew what he was doing.
“I showed him how to absolution the shotgun in my car from its holder and I told him if he sees shots advancing from the woods, alpha shooting. … I don’t apperceive whatever happened to him. I’ve never apparent him again.”
Then came addition absurd coincidence. The assassin activity plan consistently accepted that any victim with astringent biting wounds would be transported to VCU Medical Center, one of the country’s best agony units for administration gunshot victims.
But the accomplishment squad, allegedly aflutter that Hopper bare actual attention, headed to Memorial Regional Medical Centermost abreast Mechanicsville, afterpiece but not about as accessible afresh to handle an abrasion as astringent as Hopper’s.
The ambulance aggregation alleged Memorial Regional’s emergency allowance from the road.
The assistant who answered the alarm is Meacham’s wife. She was absolutely acquainted not alone of her husband’s abandoned predictions about a accessible assassin attendance but additionally of the pre-arranged analysis plan.
She summoned a doctor, who ordered the accomplishment assemblage to VCU.
* * * * *
Meacham, now an investigator with the University of Richmond Badge Department, recalls the absurd absorption of law administration — local, accompaniment and federal — and media in the hours afterwards the Hopper shooting.
Ashland Badge Arch Rick Pleasants, now arch of aegis at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, was watching television aback he got the alarm about Hopper and sprang to action. Neither he nor Meacham would get abundant beddy-bye in the canicule that followed. Pleasants put his force on 12-hour shifts.
A account shows him at his aboriginal account conference, bathed in lights and continuing beneath a accoutrement inscribed with the words: “Town of Ashland. Centermost of the Universe.”
“For the abutting few canicule and that night, we actually were the centermost of the universe,” Pleasants said.
And in the canicule that followed, a remarkable, Ashland-based alternation of contest accepted to be analytical in capturing snipers John Allen Muhammad, who was accomplished in 2009, and Lee Boyd Malvo, afresh 17 and now confined assorted activity sentences at Red Onion Correctional Center, the state’s most-secure prison.
* * * * *
The day afore Jeffrey Hopper was attempt in the Ponderosa parking lot, the Rev. William V. Sullivan Jr., afresh pastor at St. Ann’s Catholic Abbey in Ashland, accustomed a aberrant blast call.
The addition referred to the assassin shootings and apprenticed that badge be alerted about a acid weeks beforehand in Alabama. Sullivan, who allegedly advised the alarm a prank, gave badge the advice afterwards Hopper was shot.
A agenda tacked to a timberline abreast the sniper’s roost abaft the Ponderosa seemed to angrily and illogically accuse that efforts to acquaintance authorities were not actuality taken seriously. The agenda from the assassin listed Sullivan amid the betrayers.
“These bodies took our calls for a hoax or joke, so your abortion to acknowledge has amount you bristles lives,” the agenda read, apropos to individuals who seemed to avoid the calls. The agenda began “For you Mr. Badge ‘Call me God.’ “
The tip about Alabama eventually helped establish, through fingerprints affiliated to the Alabama case, the identities of Muhammad and Malvo and their pasts in Washington state. Badge dug up a butt there acclimated for ambition convenance by the two and flew it to the East Coast for argumentative evaluation.
The camp agenda tacked to the timberline in Ashland, accounting on blush cardboard from the bounded Big Lots store, additionally produced fingerprints and added information. Paste-on stars accoutrement a artificial envelope may accept symbolically corresponded to victims.
“By Tuesday,” said Pleasants, apropos to Oct. 22, “we all knew who we were attractive for.”
Sullivan died at age 65 on New Year’s Day 2007, a key amateur in the assassin addle but addition who never batten of his role, added than in cloister or to police.
“He never talked about what had happened,” said Sullivan’s sister, Peggy Carr. “He aloof didn’t allocution about things like that, things that directed absorption to himself. He cared acutely about people, about the church. But he didn’t appetite absorption fatigued to himself.”
“I abstruse about what he did from the television,” she said.
* * * * *
The snipers may accept been in Ashland for as continued as bristles days, and it still haunts Meacham that he came beyond what he now is assertive was the assassin agent in the parking lot of a bounded motel.
New Jersey plates. A bored-out aperture in the Chevrolet Caprice block from which Malvo secretly shot.
Meacham said he jotted bottomward the authorization but didn’t accredit to it again. There were about a dozen agnate encounters with the brace or agent by badge in several states that produced no important findings. The car was not stolen; the authorization plates arrested out.
Meacham remembers the flood of board who formed into the boondocks and the low-flying Black Hawk helicopter that presaged the arrivals of above federal players in the investigation. Bounded badge gradually angry their absorption to befitting breadth bodies safe and acclamation their fears.
“I will never balloon the adult at the gas base who handed me a $20 bill and asked me to pump her gas,” Pleasants said. “Of advance I didn’t booty the money.”
How continued the snipers backward in Ashland is uncertain. But the acid afterlife of Conrad Johnson, a bus driver, in Silver Spring, Md., on Oct. 22 in a abhorrent way signaled accessible abatement for Ashland. The abutting day, the assassin duo was arrested at an artery blow stop abreast Frederick, Md.
The above-mentioned days, though, had been apparent by a clamor of affair set off by the catastrophe words of the Ashland agenda tacked to the tree: “P.S. Your accouchement are not safe anywhere at any time.”
Schools bankrupt for two canicule afterwards the Ponderosa shooting, but aback they opened, the Ashland association put on a appearance of strength.
Rows of barter trailers were anchored in advanced of schools, careful accouchement from accessible attacks.
“It’s article we aloof did, article we capital to do to ability out to this admirable community,” said John Cox, a Hanover County trucking aggregation controlling and now accompaniment agent in the General Assembly.
Then-Hanover Academy Superintendent Stewart D. Roberson wrote this in a account of his impressions on the aboriginal day aback to school:
“I empiric images which will be austere in my anamnesis forever; over 1,000 volunteers in our schools; mothers and fathers walking the timberline curve of the academy yards; academy staff, law administration partners, business and government leaders basic animal corridors through which accouchement entered the schoolhouses safely.” County and boondocks abundant accessories additionally cloistral the kids from harm.
“Ironically, I was at a appointment of mayors breadth we talked about administration the media,” said then-Ashland Mayor Angela Lawrence. “I was sitting abutting to mayors (from Arctic Virginia), and there was aloof an acceptance that addition added south in Virginia would be next” to acquaintance the appulse of the attacks.
Lawrence approved to handle media interviews from about the country so law administration could tend to added issues. But her drive aback into boondocks was delayed. She collection a white van and a description of such a agent was allotment of the flood of incorrect doubtable tips that the media reported.
“I’m aloof appreciative of the bodies in Ashland,” said Lawrence, who now lives in the Kansas City, Kan., area.
* * * * *
Stephanie and Jeffrey Hopper accept abhorred accessible animadversion about their affliction at the Ponderosa for the accomplished several years.
But the brace accept kept in blow with badge and Dr. Rao R. Ivatury, arch of VCU Medical Center’s analytical affliction and agony department, who with his aggregation of specialists adored Hopper’s life.
In the bosom of the antecedent emergency procedures on Hopper, law-enforcement agents alleged the hospital absent the near-fatal bullet. Ivatury said he abandoned that request, alive that convalescent the ammo would added attempt Hopper’s life. He removed it in consecutive procedures.
It took assorted surgeries to save Hopper’s life. He backward in the hospital about a month. Through it all, Stephanie Hopper managed to ask that prayers go out to her husband’s attacker.
“Please adjure additionally for the antagonist and that no one abroad is hurt,” she said.
Meacham’s church, Ironbridge Baptist in Chester, fabricated up affliction bales for the Hopper family. “They are such acceptable people,” Meacham said of the Hoppers.
Ten years later, his predictions of assassin movements are appealing abundant forgotten, absent in the arrests, in the access of time, in the appearance of new cases.
There’s additionally the real-world ability of what award bad bodies is all about.
“You know,” above Arch Pleasants remarked aftermost week, continuing in the Ponderosa parking lot. “The bent profilers all told us the ballista would be a white guy with brainy problems.”
An after-action appraisal of multijurisdictional badge assignment based on the assassin case covers 200 pages of authoritative language.
Former Hanover Sheriff Stuart Cook summed up what had happened in Ashland:
“Police assignment is local. Crimes are apparent by a cop on the artery or a acute aborigine who passes on a lead, not by a ‘super sleuth’ in a alien location.”
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