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'Help your family,' chief says after Michigan police shooting

November 12, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins speaks to the media about the Veterans Day shooting.
Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins speaks to the media about the Veterans… (Mandi Wright / Detroit Free…)

The man, Michigan police said, simply walked in and pulled out a gun. Never asked for anything. Never said a word. Just pulled out a gun, and pointed it at the officer behind the front desk of the Southfield police station, and pulled the trigger.

Police in Southfield, a Detroit suburb, had few explanations for why Harold Joseph Collins, a 64-year-old veteran, drove his Dodge to the police station, walked through the door on Sunday afternoon with a .380 handgun and decided to open fire on Veterans Day.

He had no apparent motive and no criminal history. He had “internal issues,” police said. He had throat cancer and could no longer speak, his family said.

TIMELINE: U.S. mass shootings

And when the man who couldn’t speak aimed his gun at the officer behind the desk and pulled the trigger, the gun didn’t fire, Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins said Monday in a televised news conference.

The officer, who was behind protective glass, took cover and called for help.

Other officers in the station confronted Collins and told him to drop the gun, the chief said, but Collins wouldn’t.

That’s when Collins pulled the trigger again, police said, and this time the gun fired, hitting a 50-year-old officer in the left shoulder. Police fired back and hit Collins multiple times.

The officer, a 27-year police veteran, survived. Collins didn’t.

The questions behind his unusual death at the hands of police have brought the usual array of as-required-by-policy investigations, both from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and the Southfield Police Department’s internal affairs division. Chief Hawkins stressed that the event was an isolated incident and praised his employees: “This is an example of how having well-trained and well-equipped officers can prevent a situation from becoming a massive tragedy.”

It was still a tragedy, nonetheless.

A former stepdaughter, Seretha Nobles, told the Detroit News about Collins’ throat cancer, which he had had for many years, and she, too, couldn’t explain why he had gone to the police station with a gun. He had long been divorced from her mother, and another one of his relatives was seriously ill.

As Hawkins addressed the public Monday, he said the shooting was a reminder that sometimes people need to keep an eye on friends and family going through times of distress.

“To the public: I appeal to you, monitor your family members -- your close friends -- for any changes, any radical changes in behaviors,” Hawkins said. “Help your family and help your close friends to help themselves before an incident spirals out of control like the one we saw yesterday.”

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