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The Columbia State (SC)

July 10, 1997

Author: CLIF LeBLANC, Staff Writer

Retired Charlotte firefighter George Freeman had been slipping deeper into depression when he exploded in murderous rage against his own relatives, Kershaw County authorities said Wednesday.With blasts from a pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun, the 56-year-old hunting enthusiast killed his sister-in-law and blew away his brother’s right forearm Tuesday night, Sheriff Steve McCaskill said.

Freeman then “ambushed” deputies who rushed to his home near the Liberty Hill community about 10:30 p.m. after receiving a 911 call that had gunfire in the background, the sheriff said.

A veteran deputy was shot just below his protective vest and Freeman was gunned down by blasts from the downed officer and another deputy, McCaskill said Wednesday.

“It looks more like a murder and then suicide by cop – that’s what we call it,” McCaskill said.

The dead man’s brother, Mack Jennings Freeman, and his wife, Melinda Freeman, had just arrived at George Freeman’s small home perched on a hill off S.C. 97 about 18 miles northwest of Camden. They had driven from Charlotte to persuade Freeman to get professional help, McCaskill said.

In the past couple of years, deputies had been to the white, vinyl-sided home twice. Freeman’s wife, Pattie, had called for help because he was “acting crazy,” the sheriff said. She had gone home Monday to her mother in Charlotte because Freeman had beaten her pet beagle with a stick.

After the shooting Tuesday, Pattie Freeman told McCaskill that the man she had been married to for half her 38 years had become abusive and was on antidepressants.

When four deputies arrived about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, they drove up a narrow gravel driveway and walked into a darkened back yard. They didn’t hear any commotion in the lighted house and didn’t see Freeman standing beside his brother’s Pontiac Bonneville.

Lt. Glenn Martin, an 18-year veteran with a heart condition, went down after one blast from Freeman’s shotgun, McCaskill said. It struck the deputy in the intestines.

Freeman had fired across the hood of the Bonneville and was going to pull the trigger again, the sheriff said. Freeman had five more shells in his pants pocket.

From the ground, Martin fired his shotgun as Deputy Lee Boan, an officer who has been in two shootings in his young career, fired a .40-caliber handgun, McCaskill said. Freeman was hit in the chest. The sheriff doesn’t know how many shots his officers fired, but said Freeman didn’t get a chance to shoot again.

McCaskill credits another officer, Lt. Hamp Wright, for shouting a warning that kept more deputies from being hurt.

Martin underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon at Richland Memorial Hospital. His daughter reported Wednesday evening that he was doing well, said Kershaw County Coronor Johnny Fellers.

However, Mack Freeman, also at Richland Memorial, was in critical condition.

Boan was unhurt, but is on office duty until he’s cleared in the shooting. The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating.

Autopsy results on George Freeman and Melinda Freeman will be released today, the coronor’s office said.

McCaskill said his deputies acted properly. “I feel like he (Freeman) was in an ambush position. He meant to shoot those fellas. . . . But this is as clear-cut a case of self-defense as I’ve ever seen.”

The last time a Kershaw County deputy was shot in the line of duty was 1974.

Inside the house, deputies found Melinda Freeman dead in a bathroom just off the kitchen where she had called for help. A kitchen window had been blown out by gunfire.

Freeman shot her through a closed door to the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen, McCaskill said.

She made it to the bathroom and closed that door, too. But she died on the floor, McCaskill said.

Deputies found Freeman’s brother lying in the master bedroom. His forearm was mangled by a blast from a shotgun. “Mack just said he went berserk,” the sheriff said.

That’s a description that doesn’t fit George Freeman, a 28-year veteran of the Charlotte Fire Department who retired in December 1992.

“As long as he worked here, he was a respected employee and supervisor,” said Deputy Fire Chief David Taylor. “I didn’t know him to be a violent man or mean or anything like that. Yes, he was very popular.”

Taylor said the only medical problem Freeman suffered was “mild narcolepsy.” Freeman would occasionally doze off, but Taylor said it didn’t keep him from working or having a driver’s license.

Freeman, who rose to the rank of captain, had no disciplinary problems and had administrative duties at two fire stations.

Freeman was educated in Charlotte’s primary and secondary schools, graduating from East Mecklenburg High School in 1958, according to employment records at the Fire Department. Before becoming a firefighter, Freeman had been a plumber for four years and a Duke Power Co. electrician for a year.

He loved fishing, hunting and training dogs. During his years with the Fire Department, Freeman was a fishing guide at Santee Cooper lakes, the state’s best-known freshwater fishing area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Clif LeBlanc covers law enforcement and security issues. Call him at 771-8664 weekdays after 9 a.m., or by fax at 771-8430 before 3 p.m