For a while there, it looked as if things could get nasty, but a standoff at Piney Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon between Dade County law enforcement and a depressed veteran intent on suicide wound down with a happy ending.
Major Tommy Bradford, chief deputy of the Dade County Sheriff's Department said it all began at around 2 p.m. "Basically we had a vet that PTSD, 49 years old, that was just passing through the county and had some personal issues that I guess finally started weighing on him hard as he got to our county," said Bradford.
Bradford said the veteran, whom he preferred not to name, had been driving from Texas to Knoxville and got off I-59 at the Trenton exit. How he ended up at Piney Baptist, across town and a good way down a side road, was pure serendipity as far as Bradford knew. "He said he was just driving around," said Bradford. "He didn't know anything about the area."
In any case, the veteran pulled into the Piney Baptist parking lot and that's where he stayed, inside his pickup truck, as the standoff developed over the next six or more hours. He had called his mother-- Maj. Bradford believes in Texas--and she called the Dade Sheriff's Department to report her son planned to commit suicide.
The sheriff's department responded. Eventually, with Trenton City Police also arriving, nine or 10 local law officers kept vigil in the parking lot. The veteran told them he was armed and wanted to kill himself, but he wanted help. "He wanted the officers to do it because he said he couldn't do it," said Bradford.
Bradford said the depressed veteran was indeed armed. He was traveling with four rifles and three or four pistols as well, he said, as 1000 rounds of ammunition.
But no shots were fired. Instead, Sheriff Ray Cross, a local pastor, a couple of area veterans and a negotiator from the Walker County Sheriff's Department all talked, talked, talked to the unhappy man on his cellphone.
"In a situation like that, time's on our side," said Bradford. "If it takes us two days, it takes us two days."
Bradford said toward the end of the episode a SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team from Walker County was called in. "Our manpower's limited and they're always willing to help," he said. "We'd been standing out there for a while and the officers were getting tired."
But the standoff ended just as the SWAT officers arrived on the scene, said Bradford. "They were pulling in right when he [the veteran] was exiting the vehicle," said Bradford "All this happened at the same time, which is a good thing."
Maj. Bradford said the situation resolved at about 8:30 p.m. when the veteran surrendered himself to the sheriff. "Him and the sheriff had a good relationship built," said Bradford. "The sheriff told him that he would take him to the hospital. He finally agreed and the sheriff and an officer took him to Cornerstone."
Cornerstone Medical Center is the new hospital on the site of the old Hutcheson, across Lookout Mountain in Fort Oglethorpe.
No arrest was made--"He didn't do anything criminal," said Bradford--and the Sheriff's Department hopes the veteran can get some help at Cornerstone for his PTSD.
PTSD is an acronym for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety condition that may result from intense horror, fear or helplessness. It is extremely common in war situations and afflicts many veterans.
Bradford is proud of the way local law enforcement responded, staying calm and eventually bringing about a peaceful outcome. "It was a sad situation that could have gotten uglier," he said. "Everybody involved did a good job."