Officer Taylor Webb pulled on a rubber glove as he walked toward a Henry County home. He and a fellow officer thought they were there to help an injured woman.
But there was blood on the driveway. And through garage door windows, the officers could see a woman inside on the ground. She wasn’t moving. The officers forced their way into the home, Henry County police Chief Mark Amerman said Friday.
That’s when the bullets started flying. Gunshot after gunshot fired from inside the two-story home and aimed at the officers.
“They never saw it coming,” Amerman said.
» AJC ON THE SCENE: Photos from Henry County shooting
Footage from the officers’ body cameras showed the horrifying, early moments of what would become a 16-hour standoff with police. By the time it was over, two officers were shot and three people were dead: An expectant mother, her 16-year-old son and the alleged gunman, the woman’s boyfriend, who apparently shot himself.
It wasn’t the ending family members or the shocked community had wanted. But the officers won praise: Despite their injuries, they helped each other to safety and prevented others from being injured, Amerman said.
16 hours of terror
Sandra White’s sister went to the Eagle Court home Thursday morning. When she saw the pregnant woman on the ground in the garage, she called 911, unsure of how seriously she was injured. Investigators now believe Sandra White was dead before officers arrived.
As police entered the home, Webb was shot in the chest and hip. His fellow officer, Keegan Merritt, was hit in the hand. Both 7-year veterans of the Henry police department and SWAT team members, the officers immediately reported they’d been shot around 11 a.m. Thursday. But neither retreated.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” an officer is heard yelling in the video.
“I’m hit! I’m hit!” another officer says.
Webb continued into the home and went into the garage, where he saw the lifeless body of Sandra White. Meanwhile, Merritt began talking through the front door with the shooter,later identified as Anthony Bailey. It was an effort, Amerman told Channel 2 Action News, to give other officers time to break the garage door and get Webb to safety.
“Don’t come in here! Do not come in here,” Bailey yelled at officers. “I got a lot of shots. I got a hostage. I got a hostage.”
» HOW TO HELP: An online fundraising page for the White family
The hostage was White’s son, Arkeyvion, a high school sophomore. Though police never made contact with the teenager, he was able to send text messages to relatives, Amerman said.
The injured officers were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where both remained Friday recovering from their injuries. At the home, officers negotiated with Bailey, trying for hours to convince him to surrender. Numerous other law enforcement agencies assisted Henry police officers.
“We tried to do everything we possibly could to bring this to a peaceful resolution,” Amerman said. “All he had to do was come out with his hands up.”
Around 9 p.m. Thursday, officers deployed tear gas into the home. But that only angered Bailey, according to police. He then fired hundreds of rounds at officers, Amerman said. The officers retreated. This time, no one was injured.
But Bailey shouldn’t have had a gun at all. He’s a convicted felon and served nearly two years in prison for an aggravated assault conviction in the 90s, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.
“We had a very positive dialogue going with this guy, and if he’s talking then he’s not hurting anybody,” Amerman said. “Until it came to the point where negotiations were failing at that point, and still didn’t have a proof of life of the 16-year-old, something needed to be done.”
Around 3 a.m., Georgia State Patrol troopers entered the home and found the three bodies. White was still in the garage and Bailey and the teenager were found in upstairs bedrooms, police said. None of the officers fired a single shot.
A family shattered
Outside the home Friday morning, Sandra White’s parents called Bailey a coward.
On Saturday, the White family had planned to hold a surprise baby shower for Sandra White, who was due to deliver a baby boy April 29. Instead of a baby shower, the family now must plan a funeral.
The Whites had feared the worst for Sandra on Thursday, but held out hope Arkeyvion would be freed. The wait during the standoff was agonizing.
But law enforcement experts said Friday the officers handled the incident properly, taking precautions to prevent further violence.
Greg Shaffer, a retired FBI tactical instructor who now hosts “Bodycam: Behind the Badge” on the Investigation Discovery channel, said it appears the officers did what they should’ve once they arrived at the house: They knew a woman inside was hurt and tried to go in to help. Once the man started firing, they did the right thing again. They retreated, set up a perimeter, called in SWAT and brought negotiators to the scene.
“It’s a cop’s worst nightmare,” Shaffer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They’re running into a house. They don’t know what the floor plan is. The bravery of the police officers is commendable.”
Dan Montgomery, a retired lawman of 56 years who now works as a consultant, agreed.
“It’s pretty much text book,” he said of how the responding officers performed.
The officers should be commended, Amerman said, even though the ending was tragic for everyone involved.
“And it’s just a constant reminder,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the call is. Any kind of call, you’ve got to be on your A game every second, and be ready for anything.”
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— Staff writers Asia Burnes and Leon Stafford contributed to this report.