One Year Later, Officers Remember Shootout With Man Who Killed 4


UPDATED: Wednesday April 25, 2012 10:51 PM

Three police officers who were involved in an April 2011 shootout with an accused murderer spoke with 10TV's Maureen Kocot about how they confronted the gunman face-to-face.

On April 30, 2011, police responded to calls about drive-by shootings in the North Linden area.  At the same time, an eight-year-old girl made a gruesome discovery about 100 miles away in southern Ohio.  Her mother, sister, aunt and grandfather were all found shot to death in their home.

Columbus police Sgt. Ty Hollis was called to respond to the drive-by shootings along Hiawatha Avenue.

"About five minutes later, we got a second run that a different house had been shot up," Hollis said.

Columbus police Officer John Sullivan said that the second call likely involved the same person involved in the first drive-by shooting.  The description they received from police dispatchers was to look for a white man who was wearing a black shirt, black hat, a gold earring and had black facial hair.

Officers scoured the streets in hopes of finding the shooter.  Sgt. Robert Forsythe drove his cruiser north along Cleveland Avenue.  A pickup that was traveling in the opposite direction caught his attention.

"It was eerie," Forsythe said. "It was just like the hair on the back of my neck stood up.  (The driver) was focused when we looked at each other.  I mean it was just like a snapshot.  It was eerie."

Police and Franklin County sheriff's deputies pursued the driver, who then fired shots out of the pickup until he crashed into a fence along Genessee Avenue.  The driver then ran away.

A Mifflin Township police officer spotted the man who matched the driver's description.  The manhunt was on for Randle Roberts, Kocot reported.

"We thought (Roberts) had an AK-47," Sullivan said.  "We thought he's locking and loading (so) he's going to come out and shoot 10 people before anybody can stop him."

Officers teamed up to track Roberts, going door-to-door in hopes of finding him.  Forsythe and Sullivan stumbled upon the home of Robert's mother.

"She's kind of quiet -- not really saying too much -- and I remember John saying, 'Is Randle there?'  And she got this look on her face and she kind of nodded," Forsythe said.  "He's inside? And she says, 'Yes.'  And I said, 'Where is he?' and she kind of pointed over on the steps."

Forsythe stepped off the porch to warn the others.

"That's when Bob said, 'He's inside,'" Hollis said.

Sullivan stayed planted in the doorway and stood directly next to Roberts' mother.   Officers converged on the house but no one could move fast enough to stop what happened next, Kocot reported.

"All I remember is (Roberts) had camouflage shorts on," Sullivan said.  "At the last second, I saw the gun at his side.  (I was) screaming, but it was too late."

Hollis said he came from behind a neighbor's house and moved across the front lawn with his weapon drawn when the first shots rang out.

"I (got) my gun out and I'm running toward them," Hollis said.  "While I'm running, John's saying, 'Show me your hands!  Drop the gun!'  Right then, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop."

Sullivan was struck first and Forsythe was standing next to him, Kocot reported.

"I saw pretty much every shot (Roberts) took," Forsythe said.  "I (saw Sullivan) buckle down."

"The first shot hit me in the leg," Sullivan said.  "The second one hit me in the right shoulder and I couldn't raise my arm up.  The third shot hit me in the shoulder.  The last one went right through my ear."

The entire event lasted six seconds.

"I can't describe it, to see (Sullivan) hit and to see the blood going across his face," Forsythe said.

Sullivan, who was unable to return fire, tried to retreat but witnesses said Roberts kept shooting.

"How he missed me, I got a rear end the size of a Buick and he missed me," Sullivan said.

Hollis said that he tried to get a clear shot of Roberts when he was shot.

"I got in that fatal funnel of where the gunfire's coming out and I get hit in the leg," Hollis said.  "(I've) never been shot before and it felt like a hot knife going through butter."

Forsythe also tried to take out Roberts.

"I went to take a step back away from him," Forsythe said.  "When I did, I lost my balance and fell back."

Forsythe believes that ricochet bullets pierced his legs but he got back on his feet.

"I just remember lowering the shotgun and firing and I remember seeing the gun," Forsythe said.  "It was like something you see on TV.  It was almost like I could see it hit him and (I saw) his reaction.  I knew I had hit him."

Hollis said he saw Roberts' hands up go up before falling to the porch.

Even though Roberts was down, officers did not know whether he had an accomplice.  Despite being injured, Hollis stepped over Sullivan.

Police cleared the house as medics treated the wounded officers.

"My last sight of John (was that) he got up and he was walking through the front yard and there was a lawn chair," Forsythe said.  "My last visual sight of him was plopping down in the lawn chair and going, and I thought, oh my God."

Sullivan was shot four times.  The last bullet narrowly missed his brain, Kocot reported.

It wasn't until hours later at the hospital that the officers learned the truth about the man who shot them.

At the same time Columbus police were exchanging gunfire with Roberts, authorities in Adams County made a gruesome discovery.  The bodies of four people, including an 11-year-old girl, were found shot to death.  Investigators said Roberts killed them.

The officers credited luck for leading them to Roberts' mother's home.  They said that if anyone had actually seen Roberts running inside the house that the story might have ended differently and more violently.

"If we'd known that, that house would have been on lockdown and SWAT would have been called and the whole nine yards, but we didn't know that," Forsythe said.  "It would have become a barricade and he might have just started killing his family members."

The three officers said that they were ready to put the shooting behind them but it is easier said than done.

Forsythe said that it is hard not to think about what happened.

"I think about what if I hadn't fallen back and instead of taking those rounds on the skip they hit me in the stomach or the face?" Forsythe said.

He said that he is positive his police training saved his life.

The three officers have since returned to the street but are a little less daring and a little more appreciative.

"I'm just grateful to be here," Sullivan said. "I shouldn't be here, but thanks to these guys (and) the good Lord, I am here."

Sullivan said that his injuries prevent him from doing the job to the best of his ability, so he is in the process of stepping down from the police force.

Forsythe and Hollis said that they still feel intense when they go on a run where guns are involved, but both intend to finish out their careers in law enforcement.

Previous Stories:

May 2, 2011:  Police ID 3 Officers Shot During Pursuit
May 1, 2011:  Accused Killer Who Shot Officers Was Sought In 2 Central Ohio Counties
April 30, 2011:  Man Suspected In 4 Slayings Killed In Police Shootout




 

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