Gunshots pierced the silence of a chilly Auburn night. Police officers yelled to get back. The sirens from their vehicles echoed. And, for the remainder of the evening, sheets of smoke drifted around Wire Road like a thick fog after a storm.
A massive law enforcement manhunt for a man suspected of shooting an Auburn police officer closed in on Crossland Downs condo complex on Stonegate Drive. Police located the suspect and a woman with him in one of the units.
Police believe the suspect, Christopher James Wallace, 38, died in a fire at Crossland Downs after he and a woman who was with him refused to exit the condo when the heavily armed police force descended on them.
The cause of the fire is currently unknown, police said. The investigation is ongoing.
Tear gas and distraction devices were deployed, a fire broke out and the Lee County Coroner's Office said Saturday the two subjects died in the fire that engulfed the building before the Auburn Fire Division was about to put it out.
The officer — identified today as five-year police veteran Justin Sanders — is in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.
The condo building that ended up being a hub of police activity and the scene of a shootout was severely damaged by the fire. It's unclear if some of the residents will still have a home.
Matt and Galina Pate are veterinarian students at Auburn and were at their condo in Crossland Downs when the shooting occurred. They were watching Netflix before a loud bang forced them to get up.
“I heard one thing slam, and I thought it was the dumpster at first,” Galina said.
Then they heard yelling. Matt told Galina to get down.
“There was just a loud explosion of gunshots,” Matt said.
The blasts continued outside their home while Galina hid herself in a closet. An officer busted open their door, searched for the suspect, then told them to run.
They did so for their lives, they said — barefoot and with their terrier, Pumpkin, in Galina’s arms, and their two cats, Biscuits and Gravy, in Matt’s.
As she approached the Auburn vet school's parking lot, Galina’s eyes began to water. She looked back and saw a fire peaking above the trees that shaded her home.
As of the time of publication, Matt and Galina are not sure if their home was burned down completely or only partially. But they’re certain it was damaged, they said.
“I’m just – I can’t believe all this happened,” Matt said.
He shivered as he tip-toed the black pavement that pooled with rain and caught the tears of his wife, who had returned from the veterinarian building. Their pets remained inside, taken care of by staff helping evacuees.
“I’ve never seen them shiver like that,” Galina said while looking back at the fire. “This was the safest neighborhood. We never expected anything like this to happen.”
Smoke from the gunfire and flames couldn’t hide the faces of Ben Peterson and Megan Heisinger. They are planning their wedding next spring. On Friday, they trembled in the cold rain.
Peterson, junior in wildlife and ecology, said he was finishing a paper due at midnight before “all hell broke loose.” They had received the AU Alert warning of police activity along Wire Road and had even told Peterson’s parents on the phone that there was no way the suspect would run to their little neighborhood.
And then, hell, indeed, did seem to break lose from the confines of their home.
“I heard the shots, and I dropped everything … I was just trying to stay aware,” Peterson said.
His fiancée ran to the tub for protection from the bullets. An officer opened their door, scanned their dwelling and repeated the word countless residents of Crossland Downs heard that night — "run."
“It was like 12 rounds, stop for a second; 12 more rounds, stop for another second,” Heisinger said.
The blue and red lights cascaded around the soon-to-be bride and groom. They were also barefoot — also afraid.
“All I smell is gunpowder,” Heisinger said.
At the Auburn veterinary school, Lauren Gibbons was working as the receptionist when she first read the AU Alert.
“I just thought, Wire Road is so big, how could he be here?” Gibbons said.
And then the vet school was put on lock down. Gunshots and police sirens could be heard right up the street.
“I locked all the doors and took everyone to the back,” Gibbons said.
While all this was going on, a few dogs were going under cardiac arrest — unrelated to the fire — and the craziness of the moment never had a chance to settle with all the stress, Gibbons said.
“Just hearing those gunshots and seeing all those police officers,” Gibbons said. “It was so uneasy.”
She didn’t have much contact with the evacuees form Crossland Downs, but she did see them inside the vet school, covered in blankets.
“You wouldn’t think about this happening at a university,” Gibbons said, “especially one where everything is really safe.”
But it’s clear, she added, Friday night was different.