LUMBERTON — Eileen Hagen had the next-best thing to a front-row seat to an altercation on Sunday morning that left a 22-year-old dead and a Lumberton police officer injured.
Restricted to the front part of her home by an officer’s orders, Hagen saw and heard parts of a five-hour incident that began when Victor Ronald Spearman took refuge in her trash bin after he allegedly shot Master Police Officer Marcus Norton — and ended with Spearman dead of a head wound police say was self-inflicted. But what she knows appears to match the account provided by Lumberton Police Chief Mike McNeill.
Four days later, reminders of what took place remain in her backyard. The bin was later righted by Hagen as she tried not to notice the blood still inside. As she points out a blood-red trail on the ground that leads out of her yard, Hagen tells of what happened when she looked outside at about 8:30 a.m. after hearing a commotion.
“I went to the kitchen window and peeped out and I guess one of the policemen saw me and he called me up on the telephone and told me what was going on — that there was a man in my trash can with a gun to his head,” she said. “He said, ‘We need you to stay in the front part of the house.’”
At about 10:47 a.m., Spearman shot himself in the head, according to McNeill.
“As soon as I got my toothbrush out to brush my teeth, that’s when I heard that gunshot,” Hagen said. “… I walked to the bedroom and looked out the window and I saw four policemen, one on each arm and one on each leg, running with him to the ambulance. They tried their best to get him to throw that gun away but he wouldn’t do it.”
Spearman was rushed to Southeastern Regional Medical Center and later transferred to another hospital, where he later died, according to McNeill.
“I’m so sorry that happened,” said Hagen, who has lived at her East Third Street home for 23 years. “I feel for the guy’s family and for the police, because it’s just sad.”
Norton and a second officer had seen a man believed to be Spearman trying to break into Haywood Auto Sales on East Second Street at about 4:30 a.m., according to McNeill.
Bobby Haywood, owner of the dealership, said Wednesday he received a call early that morning that his business had been broken into. Haywood said the window had been shot, but the bullet only cracked the glass before coming to rest in the window casing.
“I think he started beating on it, and that’s when the police saw him breaking in,” he said.
Haywood said that police told him that the would-be burglar refused to remove his hands from the pockets of his hooded jacket at the request of the officers and chose to flee, running toward the back of the business and jumping the fence that separates the back car lot from Third Street.
The chase ended at a fence that separates Hagen’s backyard from the parking lot of First Pentecostal Holiness Church, at the corner of Fifth and Seneca streets.
“I think what happened was he got here and got cornered, and there was nowhere else for him to go,” Hagen said. “At about 5:15 or sometime around there, I woke up to about four or five gunshots.”
The officers spotted Spearman behind some bushes in the yard, shots were fired, and Norton was struck in the leg at about 5 a.m., McNeill said. Spearman then hid inside the trash bin.
“About 5:30, I did hear the police tell him to come out, that he was surrounded and there was nowhere for him to go,” Hagen said.
McNeill has said his officers never returned fire.
“It went on and on and on,” Hagen said. “They told him that the SWAT team was getting antsy, that they wanted to end this thing and to please come on and do the right thing, throw the gun to the fence, but he wouldn’t do it.”
“The kid was 22 years old,” Haywood said, who used his daughter’s Facebook account to put Spearman’s face to a name. “It’s sad. He had his whole life ahead of him.”
A post on Spearman’s Facebook page says that he recently broke up with his girlfriend. There are several posts on his page expressing remorse at Spearman’s death, calling him a classmate and friend who “is gone too soon.”
According to the page, the Duplin County native attended Lumberton High School and later moved to Rose Hill, where he worked at House of Raeford. A recent post on the page says he moved back to Lumberton when things “went south” and he “started getting into trouble.”
Spearman had faced charges of a DWI and speeding to elude arrest in 2010, according to the North Carolina Department of Corrections. He had previously faced charges of forgery, vandalism, larceny and breaking and entering.
Although Haywood says it is the first time his business has been broken into, Hagen and her aging neighbors on Third Street, most of whom have lived there for the better part of their lives, say they now wonder how safe their neighborhood really is.
“I tell you, my door stays locked,” Hagen said. “Used to be a good neighborhood but there’s a lot of drugs going on around here.”
Elizabeth Bass, who has lived in a home on the opposite side of Third Street for 70 years, says she doesn’t feel as safe as she once did.
“I’ve been here so long that I’m trying to stay here for the rest of the years, which I guess won’t be too many,” she said.
Mickey Morgan, whose 94-year-old mother lives on the same street, said she is “scared to death” for her mother’s safety.
Morgan said the house has been broken into four times — as recently as this weekend, when a lawn mower was taken from a shed in the backyard and steaks were stolen from a freezer while the family was at the beach.
“Every time we go out, somebody breaks in,” Morgan said. “She says she’ll be feelin’ bad and I’ll try to take her home with me, but she’ll die before she’ll leave now.”
McNeill says safety is also on his mind, as well as the minds of other officers in the department.
“We’re always talking about safety with our officers, what we do and how to conduct ourselves on any calls,” he said. “Officers have the opportunity for officer survival classes at RCC if they so choose. We have that lined up for them.”
Norton is on the mend at his Laurel Hill home in Scotland County.
“My first reaction when I heard was anger,” Norton’s wife Heather said on Monday. “How could you not be upset when you find out that your husband has been shot? But now all I feel is sadness. The person involved is dead and even he is someone’s child. So it is a sad situation for everyone involved.”
Norton is the second Lumberton officer shot since July 17.
That day, Jeremiah Goodson was killed at a service station off Fayetteville Road while trying to arrest a person who was wanted on several charges. District Attorney Johnson Britt has said he would seek the death penalty for Marques Ramon Brown, 27, who has been charged with first-degree murder.
“In the back of your mind there is always that kind of fear, but when it happens so close to home, you really start to think,” Heather Norton said. “Officer Goodson and my husband are about the same age and it just forces you to realize that it can happen to anyone and at anytime.”