On Saturday, July 3, my wife and I were driving with our 5-year old boy through King Street on our way to meet friends at Watauga Lake. The day had a sunny, carefree vibe just like any other long holiday weekend in Boone. Tourists and locals alike were milling about King Street as we drove, when we heard what sounded like a gunshot. We figured it had to be a firework and dismissed it. As we passed Mast General Store, another gunshot. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a white Toyota with a hand out the driver’s side window, waving a pistol in the air. Then two sets of blue lights came over the hill further behind us. Instinctively, I pulled over into the first parking spot I saw to let them pass.
The white truck stopped in the middle of King Street right behind us, and sirens grew louder. I grabbed our boy and told him to come up front with us, shoving him onto the floorboard between my knees. Kim and I looked behind us as officers took positions and started shouting orders at the driver of the truck, surrounding him from behind with guns drawn. As I looked directly past our kids’ car seat out the back window, I could see the driver of the truck slowly opening his door, and directly beyond that, an officer with this pistol trained on the driver.
Selfishly, this was a bad spot for us to be in. If the guy reached for his weapon or did anything stupid, there’s no doubt the officers would fire. If any of those bullets went past the driver, they’d absolutely hit our vehicle or even one of us inside. I’ve never been in a situation like that before, and it was intense. I’m a hunter and recreational shooter, so the firearms didn’t bother me. But the unknowns of the situation, the speed at which it happened and the intensity of it – I’ve never experienced anything like that.
Two emotions quickly filled my body: anger and appreciation.
First, I was angry that some idiot with a pistol would put all of us in that situation. The officers have to go directly into that event with no idea what that guy’s intentions are, what he’s armed with or what he’s capable of. Not to mention in the middle of King Street on the 4th of July, of all places. That not only means innocent civilians to watch out for, but in this day and age, it also means an audience, ready to analyze their every move and tell the world if they happen to make a mistake in the heat of the moment. And because that same idiot stopped his truck right behind us, I’ve got my five-year-old between my legs on the floorboard, my wife laying low in her passenger seat, and we’re directly downrange of the officers if the situation escalates into a shootout.
Within a minute (that seemed like thirty), that anger somewhat faded into appreciation. The officers, in a show of force, surrounded his vehicle, ordered him out of it step by step and in no uncertain terms told him that they’d shoot him if he reached again for his gun. They took control of the situation and took the guy into custody with no shots fired from their end. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be. I appreciated their training, their self-control in a tense situation, and their ability to handle the situation without making it worse.
I also appreciate the work they do behind the scenes. Eventually, we left the scene and made it to the lake. We enjoyed the rest of the day on the water, drank beer with our buddies, ate bbq and watched our kids play together as we celebrated America’s independence. Meanwhile, those officers, firemen, EMTs and other first responders shut down King Street, cleaned up the scene, took the shooter to jail and then processed hours of paperwork on the ordeal. I’m sure they wish they’d been able to put on flip flops and swim trunks like myself and check out for the day, but they didn’t. They chose their line of work and they do it, even on the days they’d rather not.
We live in a day and age where being in law enforcement is hard. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a camera in their back pocket, and everyone’s looking to be a victim or critic about something. I’ve got my own opinion as well, and it’s that all of our first responders and law enforcement need funding, training and a thank-you every now and then. They’re not in their line of work for the perks, I can assure you. They’re here to serve our community and make it a better place, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
So this is just a note of thanks to all of our first responders here in the High Country. Thank you for working to keeping our country and community great this weekend while people like us were able to relax and celebrate it.
Ryan, Kim, Rhett & Brooklyn Kirby