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The Daily Tar Heel

An oral history of one of Chapel Hill’s darkest days

In 1995 a UNC law student shot and killed two people on Henderson Street. Orange County emergency medical professionals transport the body of one of the shooting victims.

In 1995 a UNC law student shot and killed two people on Henderson Street. Orange County emergency medical professionals transport the body of one of the shooting victims.

But beneath layers and layers of paint, still visible, are deep dents — bullet holes — in the concrete.

Those bullet holes are the only physical evidence left of events that occurred on this day, 20 years ago.

A day that left the UNC and the Chapel Hill communities reeling in shock and disbelief.

On Jan. 26, 1995, UNC law student Wendell Williamson walked down Henderson Street, past that same concrete wall, carrying a semi-automatic rifle and opened fire.

Williamson killed two people — Chapel Hill resident Ralph Walker Jr. and UNC student Kevin Reichardt.

UNC student and ex-Marine William Leone tackled Williamson as he was trying to reload the rifle. Leone was shot in the shoulder but survived.

Williamson also shot point-blank at the police car of Demetrise Stephenson, who survived but sustained bullet injuries to her hand.

Williamson, who had a history of mental illness, was later charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

In November 1995, an Orange County jury found Williamson not guilty by reason of insanity.

Williamson is now a patient at Central Regional Hospital in Butner.

Twenty years later, Wendell Williamson is no longer a student in Chapel Hill, his bullet holes have been painted over and the court documents have long since been filed away.

But the events that occurred that day will never fade.

Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, was the assistant dean of students at the UNC law school. Crisp explained his interactions with Williamson before the shooting.

CRISP: “As I got to know him, it became clear to me that he had some beliefs that I would classify — and did classify at the time — as delusional. (Those beliefs) led me to suspect that he had some mental health issues.

So we embarked on a series of conversations and a series of activities, that ultimately ended up with me getting him to agree to engage with the mental health folks at CAPS and some counseling.

That led to him seeing a psychiatrist regularly and (getting) on medication. And for the better part of a year, completely turning around and returning to school and becoming a very successful student...

It is suffice to say that they were unsuccessful in transitioning him from (the) psychiatrist who was retiring to a new psychiatrist. And that led to him not continuing to engage in therapy and eventually getting off of his medication, which is what ultimately led up to the events in January of 1995.

During the fall of 1994, I met with him pretty regularly to get reports on how therapy was going and how he was feeling ... He was very resolute in leading us at the law school to believe that he was continuing to be in therapy and continuing to be on his medication, and his behavior in the law school was exemplary during that fall semester. So there was no indication that anything was going wrong. We broke for the winter break and came back in early January, and I don’t think I saw him during the first week or so, but I wasn’t particularly looking for him...

The afternoon of the shooting, I had gone to lunch and was coming back from lunch and actually had a meeting scheduled with the associate dean for academic affairs — the number two administrator in the law school — to try to determine a course of action, what could we do, what should we be doing to try to find (Williamson). And that was when the news started to break that there had been a shooting on Rosemary Street.

I was in my office, and I got a phone call from Ken Brown, who was a law professor but also, at the time, the mayor of Chapel Hill. And he called me to let me know that the shooting had involved Wendell and that it appeared that two people were dead and another person injured, and that was how I found out about the shooting.”

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Ted Calhoun was driving on Rosemary Street on his way home from work when the shooting occurred.

CALHOUN: “I just remember being on Rosemary Street... and seeing people running by. I saw a couple people running, and I didn’t think anything of it. Then I saw a few more people running, and it looked like everyone was smiling and then later it just hit me that there’s a lot of people running and the closer I looked, it’s like they’re not smiling. People are scared...

Then I kind of glanced up and see this guy walking across the intersection... and then all of a sudden, I’m hearing the sounds, and I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ And someone is yelling, ‘He’s around the corner.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah I just saw,’ and I just jumped out of my car to get behind it...

We knew something, we knew something bad was happening, but I guess being out of the line of fire, we were just sitting there trying to process everything.”

Chaz Walker, son of one of the victims, was in middle school in Durham when he learned of the shooting. He was 11 years old.

WALKER: “I can remember the assistant principal coming into the class and asking if Chaz was in here, and the teacher pointed me out and said, ‘Come with me.’ When I got to the front office, my mother was there and I (said), ‘What’s going on?’ I thought I was in trouble for something, and they told me what happened. I never really had a relationship with my father. As an adult, in hindsight, he (Williamson) took something from me that can never be replaced. It didn’t hurt then as much as it does now.”

Erica Perel was a Daily Tar Heel reporter who covered the shooting. Perel is currently The Daily Tar Heel’s newsroom adviser.

PEREL: “I was right there, I could see everything that was going on, and there were students everywhere.

It was very confusing. People were freaking out, and we didn’t really understand what had happened...

I know I personally felt like my sense of security was different. I remember I would walk down the street on Franklin Street and see someone and think, ‘I wonder if that person has a gun.’”

Wendy Belk was a Daily Tar Heel reporter who covered Williamson’s trial.

BELK: “It was just a complete and total shock and disbelief... and maybe there was a kind of naivety there between all of us because you don’t think anything like that can happen where you are or to you. And, also, when you are 18 you think that you are going to live forever, that nothing can happen, that nothing is going to stop you...

It was so sad and it was so gut-wrenching to sit in that courtroom and to see the Reichardt family and to see Kevin’s friends and to see the Walker family and to sit in that courtroom day-in and day-out with them...

There were a lot of emotions. There were days where I would drive home from Hillsborough, that court house, and I would just cry because it was so painful to hear the suffering they went through. In the end, I think it was a bitter pill to accept because there was really no solution. There are no winners. The outcome was kind of hard for everybody who sat in that courtroom to accept. It definitely was a roller-coaster of emotions.”