Fatal shootout stuns Warner Robins neighborhood

Officers responded to domestic dispute, leading to incident

bpurser@macon.comMarch 11, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Neighbors expressed shock Monday at the shooting death of a well-liked and respected neighbor, while many unanswered questions remained.

Authorities have released little information about a domestic violence incident that erupted into a fatal shootout with police Sunday night in Warner Robins.

Family identified the man killed as Anthony “Tony” Rawls, 50, who worked for the Department of Corrections at Macon State Prison. A lieutenant, Rawls had been with the state agency since 1991, said Rachad Hollis, a state Department of Corrections spokesman.

At 7:46 p.m. Sunday, 911 received a call for help. As officers were on their way to 106 Huntwood Lane, they were told a man was armed with a gun and threatening his wife, according to a news release from the Warner Robins Police Department.

As police approached the house, shots were exchanged between officers and the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene, the release stated. One of the officers received minor injuries, the release stated.

Warner Robins police have asked the GBI to investigate. Neither Warner Robins police nor the GBI released additional details of the incident, including the names of the officers involved and other details such as the autopsy findings. Lee Dixon, Houston County deputy coroner, said the GBI was expected to have conducted the autopsy Monday afternoon.

Warner Robins police and the GBI each directed questions regarding the shooting to the other agency.

“The questions you ask are what the GBI is investigating,” John Bankhead, GBI spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to The Telegraph. “As the U.S. Supreme Court determined, the public’s right to know is superseded by the need for a thorough and independent investigation. The GBI does not make a determination. Agents collect facts and evidence, compile a report and turn that report over to the (district attorney) for a determination.”

Family, neighbors recount shooting

Rawls’ brother, Earl Rawls Jr., of Haynesville, said he was outside the house when one of the three children in the home came to him and said the child’s mother needed him. His brother and his brother’s wife, Michelle Rawls, were seated on a large bench on the front porch of their home.

He said Michelle Rawls was talking on the telephone. He thought everything was all right. But then Michelle Rawls told him his brother had a gun and threatened to kill her.

He told the kids to go back into the house.

Earl Rawls Jr. said he heard sirens and saw police arrive. He said he put his hands up and told the officers, “Don’t shoot in the home because kids are there.”

He said he watched the rest of the event unfold from a neighbor’s front yard. However, his view of the front porch was obscured by the garage.

Rawls said he saw three officers with weapons drawn positioned behind a pickup truck in the neighbor’s yard. A fourth officer with what appeared to be some sort of assault rifle positioned himself behind a large brick mailbox directly across the street, he said.

Rawls said officers yelled for his brother to put his hands up, and then he heard several shots fired. He also heard the glass storm door shatter.

“They didn’t negotiate or try to talk to him,” Rawls said.

He said it sounded to him that the officer behind the mailbox fired first and then the other officers started firing.

“I don’t know if (Tony Rawls) fired a shot or not,” Rawls said.

He said none of the officers rendered emergency aid to his brother, and some joked about what had happened.

“You don’t just walk off and leave him and joke about it,” Rawls said.

Linda Daniel, the mother of Michelle Rawls, said she talked to her son-in-law on the telephone shortly before the shooting. He was angry, and she told him she was on her way.

“They were arguing at the time,” said Daniel, nothing her son-in-law and daughter didn’t argue any more than most couples do. Michelle Rawls stayed in her mother’s car Monday morning while Daniel talked with other relatives and news media. One neighbor said Michelle Rawls was still wearing the clothes she had on Sunday night.

“She’s hanging in there,” Daniel said.

Mike Stuckey, who lives across the street, said he was in the kitchen when he heard, “Boom. Pop. Pop. Boom.” He said he thought some teenagers had ignited firecrackers and went outside to investigate. He said police were attempting to pull Michelle Rawls away from the front porch.

“They killed my baby,” Stuckey said he heard her screaming. “They killed my baby.”

That scared Stuckey, he said, because he thought one of the Rawls’ children had been hurt. He soon realized it was the husband who had been shot and killed.

Stuckey’s wife, Donna, arrived home just after the shooting. She said she went immediately to Michelle Rawls, who was covered in grass and leaning up against a car in the driveway across the street. Rawls was in shock, Stuckey said.

Mike Stuckey said he doesn’t know what happened on the front porch of the Rawls’ home before he reached their residence. But Stuckey said it appeared to him police followed correct protocol. He said he saw three officers moved aside from everyone else.

Stuckey said he overheard one of the officers, who he described as visibly shaking all over, say the incident was the closest he’d ever come to losing his own life.

A good neighbor

The Stuckeys and other neighbors expressed disbelief and shock over the series of events. Neighbors said Tony and Michelle Rawls always had relatives over for family barbecues, hosted Georgia Bulldog tailgate parties, and often had many of the neighborhood children over to their home. Tony Rawls was described as the kind of neighbor who was always there to help when needed.

When her military husband was deployed, Donna Stuckey said Tony Rawls would check on her. She said after someone broke into her car, he sat up for several nights to keep watch over the neighborhood from his garage. He was the first to put up Halloween and Christmas decorations, she said.

The Stuckeys’ 7-year-old daughter was often at the Rawls’ home playing with one of their children. The Stuckeys said they trusted Tony and Michelle Rawls completely with their child’s safety.

“This is totally out of character,” Donna Stuckey said of Tony Rawls. “This was just a fantastic family. I’m just in shock -- total shock.”

Karen Landers, a neighbor several houses down, said she took the Rawls’ children to her house while authorities were on the scene and until family members later came for them. She was unable to go to the Rawls’ home Sunday night because police had put up crime scene tape and blocked off the area.

“This is very difficult to lose your neighbor, especially someone as nice as him,” Landers said of Tony Rawls.

Next door neighbor Elizabeth Meharg arrived home Sunday to find most of the street taped off with about 20 law enforcement vehicles parked nearby. Police had to escort her to her home.

Earlier that afternoon, she had seen Michelle and Tony Rawls working together on a shed in their backyard, Meharg said.

“They were fine,” she said.

Staff writer Liz Fabian contributed to this article. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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