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For Rookie Cop, Arrest Is 'Just in a Day's Work'

June 01, 2003|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

MURPHY, N.C. — When the net finally came down on Eric Robert Rudolph, his captor was not one of the scores of federal agents who've trailed him for five years, but a baby-faced, small-town cop who's worn a badge for barely 10 months.

On Saturday, the pride of this town of 1,650 people was 21-year-old Jeff Postell, who arrested Rudolph in the early morning while on routine patrol behind a Save-A-Lot supermarket.

"We're awfully proud of him," said Charles Kilby, the first police officer to show up after Postell detained the man who turned out to be one of America's most wanted fugitives.

The arrest placed Postell at a moment in history that most police officers only dream about. But Postell, who joined the force in July, played it down as being "just in a day's work."

But it marked an auspicious career start for a young man who had nurtured hopes of becoming a police officer even before graduating from Murphy High School a few years ago.

Postell was so eager to wear a badge that he put himself through the police academy and had to wait until his 21st birthday last summer to be old enough to be sworn in as a member of the Murphy police force.

Before joining, he worked as a security guard at Wal-Mart.

"He's always had public safety on his horizon," said Mark Thigpen, chief of the 10-officer force. Postell distinguished himself by having an exceptionally sharp eye, Kilby said.

The rookie officer also showed an interest in community policing, and Thigpen put him in charge of organizing Neighborhood Watch and efforts to look out for the elderly.

"He's a fine, Christian young man. He is so humble that he wouldn't even swat a fly. He's a super kid," said Lillie Roper, 78, who knows Postell from the Baptist church they attend.

Even as news crews descended on Murphy, Postell -- wearing his hair in a buzz cut -- tried to steer acclaim elsewhere.

"I don't really deserve any credit -- just doing the job which I was hired to do," he said.

Postell declined to comment on whether he should get the $1-million reward the FBI posted for Rudolph's capture.

Roper said she hopes he gets the money. Postell's father died two years ago; the officer lives with his mother, a laundry worker at a nursing home. "They could use it," Roper said.

Reward or not, Mayor Bill Hughes bubbled with pride, declaring Postell "America's most eligible bachelor."

"I think his career as an officer has a very, very bright future," Hughes said.

By the end of the day, Postell asked his chief to excuse him from interviews -- the officer was tired after being up all night.

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