When Mike Becker received the frantic call on Tuesday that a gunman was threatening his family at the nearby Dollar General, he said he immediately took off with a handgun.
The Independence man ran to the store shortly before 6 p.m. and saw the gunman pounding on the glass door. Inside, his wife, 4-year-old adopted daughter and about 30 others huddled together, terrified, toward the back of the store. His wife hid the girl behind bags of dog food.
Becker said he put his body between those inside and the gunman.
“The only thing in my mind was my baby and wife,” he said. “There was no way the gunman was getting in that store.”
When police arrived minutes later, witnesses said, Becker dropped his handgun, raised his hands — and then an officer with a rifle shot him in the hip.
The gunman Becker confronted was initially concealed from police behind a cooler, said Raymond Watts, 28. The Kansas City man said he was in a vehicle with his two children on 23rd Street near the store.
“I was figuring, ‘How the hell do they shoot him?’ He never pointed a gun at the cops,” Watts said. “He complied with everything they said ... and then you heard a pop.”
Gunfire then broke out between police and the gunman, who was wounded, said Watts and his girlfriend, Whitney Thomas of Raytown.
No officers were injured.
Thomas, 30, said she watched the entire sequence from inside the Dollar General. She was astounded that an officer shot Becker.
“His gun was on the ground,” Thomas said. “He didn’t have it in his hands any longer.”
Becker, recovering at home and hardly able to walk, declined to comment about the exact nature of the shooting, on advice of a lawyer.
But he said he heard four shots and felt a bullet hit him.
Becker’s wife, Amber Becker, said she did not see the shooting, but after it happened she said two women were yelling that police had shot an innocent man.
“They were telling my daughter that her dad was dead,” she said.
John Syme, a spokesman with the Independence Police Department, declined to respond to questions Saturday, saying he had no access to detectives. He pointed out it was still an open investigation.
The night of the shooting, Syme said that officers responded to the scene after a call about “someone armed with a weapon.”
“What we know right now is the two subjects who were shot were both armed,” Syme said.
A report obtained by The Star says someone was suspected of three counts of first-degree assault or attempted assault on a police officer. The suspect is not named.
Becker has not been charged, and the particular charges suspected by the department did not appear in a search of court records.
Thomas said that Becker didn’t resemble the description that she heard another Dollar General patron give a police dispatcher.
Becker is 31, heavyset and was wearing a black jacket. The gunman was described by Thomas as in his 50s, slender and wearing a green jacket.
“How do you confuse green with black?” Thomas said.
Becker said that rumors spread through the community, where he has lived all his life, that he had tried to rob the Dollar General.
Police “have been extremely tight lipped about it,” Becker said. “...That’s what upsets me about how the Independence Police Department handled this situation. They could have cleared me pretty quickly — that I’m not a suspect at least.”
Thomas added, “I understand as police you have to put your life on the line ... but to take it into your own judgment to shoot an innocent man when he didn’t fit the description?
“It makes me angry.”
After Becker was shot, Thomas said police handcuffed him and did not immediately allow Amber to go to him.
Amber said throughout the ordeal, she feared the girl the family had just adopted, who is an orphan, would lose her parents for the second time in her life.
At various moments, Amber was sure the gunman “was in the store. I thought my daughter was losing a second mother ... I thought she could lose her father.”