Right place, right time, right man for the job

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CHRISTIANSBURG — On April 12, New River Valley Mall chief of security and employee of Allied Barton Security James Gorman was taking his wife, Cathy, out to dinner to celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary.

The Gormans were on their way south to Abingdon to buy flowers for their big day.

They never made it.

Shortly after dropping a fuel card off at the mall and heading toward Interstate 81, Gorman received a call from a coworker, citing a report of shots being fired. He and his wife abandoned their intended itinerary, changed direction and swiftly returned to the mall.

A New River Community College student, identified by police as Neil Allan MacInnis, strode into its satellite campus inside the mall and discharged a 12-gauge shotgun nine times, maliciously wounding two female NRCC employees.

New River Valley Mall security chief James “Jim” Gorman stands next to a flag in the council chamber at Christiansburg’s Town Hall. Gorman, off-duty at the time, responded to a shots-fired call at the mall and apprehended shooting suspect Neil Allan MacInnis on April 12. Photo by Aaron Atkins.
New River Valley Mall security chief James “Jim” Gorman stands next to a flag in the council chamber at Christiansburg’s Town Hall. Gorman, off-duty at the time, responded to a shots-fired call at the mall and apprehended shooting suspect Neil Allan MacInnis on April 12. Photo by Aaron Atkins.

Gorman, a security guard at the mall since 2001 and head of security for the last six years, raced his vehicle to the college’s entrance and saw MacInnis carrying what Gorman described as a long gun standing a short distance away from where his car was stopped, and reacted.

Armed only with the sound of his voice, Gorman, 59, a Blacksburg resident, subdued the suspect.

“If you talk to my wife, she’ll tell you I started yelling at the shooter before I even set foot out of the car,” he said. “I don’t know about all that — the windows were down, it was a nice day — I didn’t think much about what I was doing, I just did it.”

Gorman said as he was closing on the shooter’s position, MacInnis, shotgun in hand, was looking right at him.

“He was facing me, but he never turned his weapon on me,” he said. “I saw the long gun he had — if I hadn’t seen that gun I never would have known he was the shooter. He was just a kid.”

Wearing a green T-shirt, a baseball cap and jeans, instead of the easily recognized uniform and badge he usually sports while on the job, Gorman shouted MacInnis down.

“He complied almost right away. I told him to drop the weapon and get on the ground,” he said, although, he added, he might have added a few “colorful metaphors” into the mix. “He got down, I put my knee in his back like we’re trained to do, brought his hands back, asked him if he was alone — he said yes. We stayed that way until an officer took over and got him into custody. The whole thing was quick, just a few seconds.”

Instead of taking a step back and shaking off the adrenaline of the situation, Gorman went into the building and made a beeline for one of the victims of MacInnis’ shotgun blasts. He located one of the women, brought her outside and began to administer first aid.

“I shouted to my wife to get the first aid kit out of the trunk, but the fire chief came right by me and tossed me one,” he said. “I stayed with her a while until rescue came and got her.”

After police took control, Gorman’s wife returned home. He, however, stayed and helped evacuate the mall and complete an evacuation search of the premises.

“I’ve been in some bad situations before, but nothing like this,” Gorman remarked. “I mean, two girls were shot, but they lived. The shooter was caught. Everything came out good, as good as it can be. It’s hard, but we’re getting through it.

“We mostly deal with teenager problems, teenagers doing stuff, that’s usually the worst of it — this was pretty unique. It’s 10-fold worse than anything I’ve seen there by a lot.”

Gorman learned many security techniques, some of which he used during the incident, during a Christiansburg Citizens Police Academy, which he described as attending “a while back.” Coincidentally, MacInnis also completed a citizens police academy session, although much more recently.

When he finally arrived home that night, Gorman found his wife asleep. “She woke up just long enough to growl at me a little, then went back to sleep,” he said. They never did get to celebrate that anniversary.

“I haven’t made it up to her yet,” he said. “Soon, I guess. If not, there’s always next year.”

By Aaron Atkins