In February 2015, James Kelly went to a home improvement store in Cypress, Texas, to pick up some lumber to build planter boxes in his yard. He entered the store around noon and, while walking down an aisle, noticed a tall man in good physical condition walking parallel to him in the next aisle. At first, Kelly thought the man was watching him, but he soon ascertained that the man was actually looking past him and was focused instead on another individual who was displaying suspicious behavior.
Kelly continued shopping for the right pieces of lumber, presuming the tall, observant man was a recovery officer or an actual undercover policeman.
After checking out, Kelly pulled his truck up to the lumber pickup area and loaded the wood into the bed of his vehicle. He said he was strapping the lumber down when a store employee standing beside him looked out into the parking and mumbled aloud, “What’s going on?”
Kelly, who was still in the bed of his truck at the time, turned and saw the tall man he correctly presumed was a recovery officer was now in the parking lot having a confrontation with a Hispanic male. Kelly began climbing out of his truck — still watching the confrontation unfold — when the Hispanic male suddenly threw a punch at the tall man.
“It was at that point that I knew the recovery officer knew what he was doing,” Kelly said. “He dodged the punch then grabbed the shirt of the Hispanic male and pulled it up over his arms and face, trying to contain the suspect.”
But the suspect was able to step away, pull his shirt back down and throw more punches. Kelly said the suspect hit the recovery officer a number of times until the officer finally grabbed the man and took him to the ground.
Just as it looked like the recovery officer had the situation under control, an older model suburban pulled up, and a guy jumped out of the passenger side and kicked the officer in the head. Kelly had already begun walking toward the confrontation to help the officer, but now he began to run toward the officer to help prevent him from being beaten. As Kelly ran, he saw the second guy reach back into the suburban, retrieve a large wrench and start moving toward the recovery officer again.
At that point, the officer who had somehow remained conscious after being kicked was on the ground wrestling with the original suspect.
Kelly arrived, immediately pulled his concealed carry weapon — a Ruger LCP .380 — and ordered that the man with the wrench to “halt.” He said the man with the wrench stopped about two and a half feet away, but began “jumping and bouncing” around and sizing Kelly up to see if he would actually shoot.
Kelly said that as he assessed the surroundings, he noticed that the driver of the suburban was a female and there was another female in the backseat. He said he could hear the females in the suburban calling out to the suspect on the ground, yelling, “gun, gun, gun!” In that second, the suspect quit wrestling with the recovery officer and allowed himself to be handcuffed.
“The other guy who was bouncing around decided not pursue me because I was serious,” Kelly said.
Then, Kelly shifted directions ever so slightly and pointed his gun at the driver of the suburban. The man with the wrench had slipped back into the suburban while the original suspect was being handcuffed. So, Kelly walked toward the vehicle and pointed the gun at the man who had jumped out with the wrench.
He said the incident suddenly felt surreal. He could hear the recovery officer working to catch his breath and composure as he walked by with the original suspect. He could see the numerous employees in the parking lot, but none had assisted the recovery officer, and no one was helping him now. According to Kelly, “they all just stood in a circle, watching.”
Kelly said he could sense that the driver of the suburban was about to take off. He assumed police had been called, but he did not know if the police would arrive before the suburban left. So, he screamed out to the nearest store employee, “Do you want me to shoot out the tires?” The employee responded saying, “No, let them go.”
Kelly stepped back and lowered his gun and the suburban took off.
But Kelly noticed the suburban’s angle of departure and worried that the driver was simply looking for a place to turn around and come back at him. Eighty pound bags of concrete mix were for sale and stacked near Kelly’ location in the parking, so he positioned himself behind them and said to himself, “This is it. I’m going to have to take this alone.” But the driver of the suburban turned the other way and fled the parking lot instead of circling back.
Kelly said four police cars with sirens blaring and lights flashing entered the parking lot almost the same second that the suburban left. Officers soon found the suburban and apprehended the passenger who had kicked the recovery officer. It turned out that the passenger and the original suspect were brothers.
I asked Kelly about the process he went through with the officers after being involved in an incident wherein he had to pull a gun and almost pulled the trigger.
“They took my gun when they rolled up and asked me to tell them what happened,” Kelly said. The officers then asked the recovery officer what happened, and he verified Kelly’s story. The officers came back outside and handed the Ruger LCP back to Kelly. They told him he was right for intervening.
I asked Kelly one more question — what had he done to prepare for the moment? He said he has some land outside the city where he goes out once or twice a week to practice shooting targets in different scenarios, including drawing his gun quickly and shooting, as if under duress. Kelly said he believes that this constant practice prepared him when the moment came to act to save the recovery officer from terrible injuries or, even worse, death.