Sometimes a quote speaks loudly about a person.
“How could you say I did a good job if I shot and killed somebody?” Jordan Hurst asked a chaplain. “How?”
That question has been one of Hurst’s many reactions to the morning of April 7, 2020, at the Pilot Travel Center on Strawberry Plains Pike. A North Carolina trucker had just murdered three female Pilot employees and was walking away from the scene, knife in hand, apparently headed for a Weigel’s just across the street when lives changed.
That’s when the hero in this tragedy – Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jordan Hurst – arrived at the Pilot. He was the first law enforcement officer at the scene of this knife-stabbing massacre. He was less than a mile away when the call came and was there in less than a minute, arriving at 6:57 a.m.
“When I pulled up I recognized him immediately – a black man, camo shirt, khaki pants, a knife in his right hand and he was walking towards me,” Hurst says in his first interview since that day. “I jumped out of the car and pulled my gun as I did. I yelled at him several times (eight times) to drop the knife and stop, drop the knife and stop. He had a blank, dazed look on his face and kept coming at me as I was backing up. What I was saying didn’t faze him. He got so close I could see the blood on his clothes. and that knife was getting bigger and bigger.”
When the killer, Idris Abdus-Salaam, was some 20 feet from Hurst, the deputy opened fire with his Glock 22, the first time in 10 years he fired the weapon. A video from his body camera shows he fired five times. “The last shot finally knocked him down,” Hurst says. “I’m convinced he was going to the Weigel’s across the street to kill again.”
The autopsy reports that three of the bullets hit the victim. It was over in about 12 seconds.
“I was shaking all over when it was over and he was on the ground. I was in shock. What just happened? You don’t ever want to shoot anyone, but I had to stop him from hurting others,” Hurst, 29, says. “It took me a good 15 minutes to calm down and stop shaking.”
“There’s no question Deputy Hurst is a hero. His actions saved lives,” Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said. “And on behalf of our entire KCSO family we send our heartfelt prayers to the families that tragically lost their loved ones.”
Hurst does remember the sheriff, amidst the chaos, stopping to speak with him. “He looked me in the eyes and asked if I was doing OK, and I really appreciated him for that,” Hurst said. “He was pretty busy.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) investigates all officer-involved shootings. The TBI turned its findings over to Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen. In her report, she said: “… I conclude that the above-referenced officer’s actions therein were subjectively and objectively justified. further conclude that the method, manner and amount of force utilized in this incident amounted to a necessary response to thwart the threat involved. I am therefore closing this investigation as a justifiable homicide.”
Hurst knew and had talked with the three Pilot victims when he would stop in for coffee or gasoline. “I really knew Nettie best (Nettie Renee Spencer),” he said. “I would get my breakfast from her at the Subway most mornings and we’d talk. She was so nice and sweet.”
KCSO quickly got Hurst away from the scene after the initial interviews. “I called my wife (Allison) about 7:30 and told her I had been involved in a shooting and would be home soon,” he recalls. “Someone drove me home, and I was home by 8:30 and had to tell Allison what happened. She was in shock. too. She stayed by my side all day to make sure I was OK.”
He returned to patrol just two weeks ago following two months of administrative leave and vacation time.
As he thinks about the shooting, he realized his reaction that morning was based on his training. “My training took over as I stopped the car and got out. Everything I had been trained to do was taking place. Try to talk him down first. I did that.Then move and shoot and move and shoot, backing away from him,” he explained.
“I’m doing better every day. But I do think about it every day and hope it never happens again,” he says. “I’ve not had nightmares. but I couldn’t sleep for the first two or three nights. There were days while I was off that I’d just get in my truck and drive around all day thinking about it and processing it. I told Allison and others just to give me some room and I’ll be OK.”
By the way, about that question he asked the chaplain, here’s how the chaplain answered Hurst: “Jordan, it’s what had to be done. God put you there in a time and place for a job that had to be done.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-659-3562.