Thanksgiving Tragedy: Alzheimer’s Victim Shot By ‘Responsible’ Gun Owner (VIDEO)

Elderly Alzheimer's victim shot by hasty gun owner

An elderly Alzheimer’s victim wandered off in the wee hours of the morning. A ‘responsible’ gun owner overreacted and killed him. It didn’t have to happen.
Photo by John Rawlston from the Chattanooga Times / Times Free Press.

A 72-year-old Alzheimer’s victim was shot by a gun owner in Chickamauga, Georgia early Wednesday morning. The elderly man, Ronald Westbrook, had wandered away from his home and got lost. He wandered for about 3 miles in the early morning hours, possibly believing he was returning to a home where he used to live. He was holding mail from that home’s mailbox when he died, police said.

A wandering Alzheimer’s victim lost in the middle of the night.

Westbrook had been wandering for about four hours, Sheriff Steve Wilson told reporters. At about 2:30 am a deputy on patrol had seen the Alzheimer’s victim at the mailbox of his former home. When he questioned the man, Westbrook told the deputy that he was just getting his mail and “lived up the hill” and the deputy drove on. If this had been 2:30 in the afternoon, I could see this. But at 2:30 in the morning, why didn’t the deputy look into it a little harder? It just seems odd, to me.

Westbrook wandered about for a couple more hours with his two dogs, wearing a thin windbreaker and straw hat. The wind chill Wednesday night was around 20 degrees. This poor man was probably cold, tired and, most definitely, confused. Then he spotted a beacon of, what could have been, hope:

“This one house at the end of the cul-de-sac had a porch light on,” Sheriff Wilson said. “I tend to think [the Alzheimer’s victim] was drawn to that light.”

Westbrook went up to the home, rang the doorbell and tried to turn the doorknob. Joe Hendrix and his fiancée were awakened and called 911. While his fiancée was on the phone with dispatchers, Hendrix went outside. He was carrying a .40-caliber handgun. When he saw the Alzheimer’s victim behind the house, Hendrix says he issued “verbal commands.” When Westbrook didn’t stop, Hendrix fired four shots, hitting the Alzheimer’s victim in the chest and killing him.

Shooter may invoke “stand your ground” law as defense for killing the Alzheimer’s victim.

No charges have been filed against Hendrix but the sheriff is investigating the shooting with the help of The Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Sheriff Wilson and the local District Attorney may yet file charges. Georgia passed a “stand your ground” law in 2006 and it may apply to this case, Wilson said.

The dispatcher who was on the phone with Hendrix’s fiancée says that neither of them were aware that Hendrix had gone outside with a gun. The Sheriff noted that, while Hendrix did not break any laws by doing so, he should have stayed inside the house. With two patrol cars having been dispatched to deal with the situation, there was no reason for it.

Sheriff knew the victim and his family.

Sheriff Wilson went to the same church as Westbrook. He says that the family didn’t realize the Alzheimer’s victim had wandered off until about the time of the shooting. Wilson said that Westbrook was “a fine man” and that he felt bad for his family. He also stated that Hendrix was “saddened and heartbroken” and that he “will have to live with his actions” for the rest of his life.

I can’t imagine how it must feel to shoot an innocent person. But I can’t help but think that if Mr. Hendrix had simply stayed inside and waited for the police, that innocent man might still be alive. What possesses a gun owner to think that he (and it’s usually a man) can or should handle any out-of-the-ordinary situation on his own? With his gun, of course. As responsible gun owners,  my husband and I have put in place a procedure for such a situation. We wouldn’t go creeping around in the dark with a loaded weapon, ready to fire at anything that moves. Surely we can’t be the only ones who are prepared like this? I don’t understand why every gun owner can’t be as conscientious. If this one had been, an elderly Alzheimer’s victim would be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with his family today.

Here is the report from WRCB TV: