Unfortunately, her law enforcement career was cut short 20 years ago when Wendell Williamson opened fire on Henderson Street, killing two and inflicting Stephenson-Cobb with a life-altering injury to her hand at age 25.
On January 26, 1995, Stephenson-Cobb, who had been working in law enforcement for less than two years, responded to a call about gunshots being fired in the area.
UNC student Kevin Reichardt had been riding his bike when he was shot by Williamson.
“When I got close to the scene, it seemed a little chaotic with people running,” Stephenson-Cobb said. “But at the same time it was kind of quiet. That’s when I saw the bike in the middle of the road.”
‘The hand of God’
Stephenson-Cobb said she knew something was wrong but it was too late — gunshots began to rain in from the driver’s side of her vehicle.
Williamson was apprehended, but not before 28 rounds had been fired at her, Stephenson-Cobb said. Miraculously, she had only been shot in the hand.
Stephenson-Cobb said she lost one of her fingers, can no longer fully close her hand and still sustains frequent headaches due to shrapnel behind her eye. But she had God’s protection with her that day.
“There was no skill that protected me,” Stephenson-Cobb said. “It was the hand of God on my life.”
After two surgeries and a lot of therapy, Stephenson-Cobb realized she would have to switch careers and, after getting her masters degree at N.C. Central University, she began working in school counseling.
“A school is just like a little city or a town,” Stephenson-Cobb said. “I’m able to help people and that was what my heart was for anyway.”
Stephenson-Cobb released her first book, “Repairer of the Breach: An Officer’s Survival Journey” earlier this year.
The book discusses the shooting and her faith, recovery and other struggles she’s faced including being the only African-American female training at the police academy.
Stephenson-Cobb now lives in Greenville, N.C., and is working on obtaining an advanced degree in counseling from UNC-Greensboro.
‘Sounded like cannons’
Sgt. Bryan Walker of the Chapel Hill Police Department said he was on duty when the shooting took place 20 years ago.
At the time, Walker said the only firearms officers carried were handguns. Williamson had a semi-automatic rifle.
“Wendell’s shots sounded like a cannon and ours sounded like pop guns,” Walker said.
Walker and Stephenson-Cobb served together in law enforcement before she sustained her injury.
“She’s probably one of the nicest people you could ever meet and has a great sense of humor,” Walker said.
Walker said Stephenson-Cobb’s short stature might have saved her life that day because she was small enough to duck into her vehicle.
“We had a really close-knit little group,” Walker said. “We were upset that one of our friends had been hurt.”
Walker said the incident effected the atmosphere of the police department.
“Police officers always try to prepare for the worst, but the worst had never really happened in Chapel Hill,” he said.
Rosemary Waldorf, who was elected as mayor in Nov. 1995, said police have always done a great job in crime prevention and she could not recall another incident like this one during her time in office.
“It’s one of those things that happens sometimes that is impossible to predict,” she said. “The town and community was so relieved that an officer didn’t get killed.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated what Demetrise Stephenson-Cobb saw when she arrived on the scene. She saw a bike in the middle of the road. The story also mischaracterized her original career aspirations. Stephenson-Cobb had hoped to work for the State Bureau of Investigation. The story has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.
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