When police in Valdosta, Ga., received a report for a car break-in at a local apartment complex around 8 a.m. Friday, they thought it was a routine call.
But as soon as Officer Randall Hancock stepped out of his patrol car, police said, someone started shooting at him.
At least two bullets struck Hancock in his protective vest, but a third struck him underneath it, “in the abdomen area,” according to a statement from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“Officer Hancock returned fire, striking the individual and stopping him from firing at him,” the statement said. “The individual was unknown to Officer Hancock at the time of the encounter.”
Investigators would later determine that the man behind the trigger was the same man who called 911 to report the break-in.
Police identified the caller as Stephen Paul Beck, a 22-year-old man that the Associated Press described as a “recovering drug addict.”
Both men were transported to local hospitals and remain in stable condition, police said. Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress told the AP that his officer was wearing a body camera that is being reviewed by the state’s investigation bureau.
“I’m relieved that my officer is fine,” Childress said at a news conference, according to the AP. “I am also equally relieved that the offender is going to make it.”
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Investigators said the motive remains undetermined, but they have no reason to think the incident was related to a mass shooting in Dallas on Thursday, which claimed the lives of five officers and injured seven others.
The ambush in Dallas has put police officers all over the country on edge and placed even more strain on the already fraught relationship between law enforcement and many communities of color.
“Since Ferguson, it seems like the media, in general, it feels like we’ve been under siege,” said J. Thomas Manger, the chief of police in Montgomery County, Md., referring to the Missouri officer-involved shooting death of Michael Brown. “If a bad shooting happens, there is sweeping condemnation by pundits of all police. I think that cops are demoralized.
“I know there’s people who don’t like the police, said Manger, who is also president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “But the vast majority of people do appreciate what we do. I try to remind my cops, people do appreciate what you do. Few people have the heart and courage to do the job you do.”
Terry Cunningham, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the police chief in Wellesley, Mass., said street officers “really are going to have to have vigilance. Any traffic stop, at any time, can be deadly. I don’t know what this means. I don’t know if this means more violence perpetrated toward law enforcement as a result of this.”
As with the attack in Dallas, the shooting in Georgia took many by surprise.
People who know Beck told the AP that they thought he was a success story of sorts. Years earlier, he had moved to Valdosta to stay at a live-in treatment center for people with chemical dependencies and seemed to have overcome his addiction issues.
“He’s one of the kindest, most gentle people — just genuinely so,” Taki Zambaras, who ran the treatment center, told the AP.
Zambaras said Beck had gone from being “angry” and “insubordinate” to a hard worker who took his recovery seriously.
“He left us in pretty good shape emotionally, physically and spiritually,” he added. “He kept in touch with us after he left and even came back and volunteered his time with guys who were going through the program.”
Beck’s neighbors told the AP that the shooting seemed out of character.
“It doesn’t seem like him,” Darius Sheffield said. “The entire thing is kind of weird.”
Jason Sobczak, a former roommate of Beck’s at a different Valdosta apartment, told the AP that he last saw his friend several months ago and that he seemed to be going well.
“He was adopted, but he came from a good family,” Sobczak said. “At heart he’s a teddy bear. Stephen had really turned his life around. He was very active, proactive and he looked good.”