Survivor recounts shooting that killed 3 Birmingham police offic - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Survivor recounts shooting that killed 3 Birmingham police officers

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Birmingham Police Sgt. Michael Collins (Source: WBRC video) Birmingham Police Sgt. Michael Collins (Source: WBRC video)
The scene of the shooting. (Source: WBRC video) The scene of the shooting. (Source: WBRC video)

There has been one thought that has carried Birmingham police Sgt. Michael Collins through the last 10 years.

It's helped him deal with the question of why he survived that day in June 2004, the day three of his fellow officers were killed.

"When I was there and thought I'd be shot, I prayed to God and thought about my kids. God left me for my kids," said Collins.

In 2004, Collins was an officer. He had been out of the academy for 10 years and was working out of West Precinct.

"We were sort of the outcasts," he recalled. "Everyone who got in trouble got sent to West unless you just came out of the academy. It bonded us closer."

"We became tight knit and we took care of each other. We might fight with each other, but it was us. We took care of us. Nobody else could mess with us," Collins added.

That mindset was necessary, considering West was the toughest precinct in the department. But having worked as an MP in the Army, it was exactly where Collins wanted to be.

"West had all the excitement. If you want to go help, that's where you could do it," Collins said.

Part of his job meant dealing with drug activity. He was familiar with one particular crack house in Ensley, not far from the West Precinct.

"Basically, you'd have people driving in from all over the place. You'd go to the back. They'd exchange drugs and money and then you drive away," Collins described.

On the morning of June 17, 2004, when veteran officer Carlos "Curly" Owen radioed that he was running a tag on a car at that location, Collins went to back him up.

"When I pulled up, Carlos is out there. Nathaniel Woods is cussing him at the front door, telling him to get off his property," Collins said.

The officers found Woods had an outstanding warrant in Fairfield. They then called fellow officer Harley "Robo-Cop" Chisolm and asked him to verify the info and print off Woods' picture.

Collins, Owen and Chisolm arrived back at the house a few hours later to serve the warrant, along with tactical officer Charles "Rob" Bennett.

"Harley and Rob went to the front," Collins remembered. "Me and Carlos went to the back."

Collins says when they approached the door, Woods met them, standing inside the screen door. For awhile, the officers tried to talk him out and Collins says at that point, he started to get a strange feeling.

"Something was not right. Why'd he stand there and talk with us and not shut the door? It just didn't seem right," Collins said.

Woods eventually asked for proof of the warrant. That's when Chisolm came to the back with the paper.

When he showed it, Woods ran inside the apartment. Chisolm ran in, followed by Owen and Collins.

"They were arresting him and then Nathaniel was saying, 'Don't spray me with the mace,'" Collins recalled.

Just then, Officer Bennett, who was still outside, radioed that some other people were leaving out of a front window. Collins turned to go to the front and that's when he heard rapid gunfire.

"The first thing I remember is noise," Collins said.

The bullet ricocheted and entered his flesh, but Collins kept running, not knowing he'd been hit. Collins took cover behind his patrol car.

"I looked up, peeked over the car, and there was Kerry there," said Collins, describing Kerry Spencer, the man who had opened fire inside.

Spencer had killed Owen, Chisolm and Bennett and was now firing at Collins with an SKS assault rifle. Backup arrived before Spencer could get to Collins, but not before survivor's guilt set in.

"I still say I'm 0 - 1. Three officers got killed and I couldn't save them. So I lost in that moment," said Collins.

When asked if, 10 years later, he still feels he could have saved his fellow officers, he takes a minute to think.

"Logically, no. But in my heart, yeah," Collins answered.

A month after the shooting, Collins lost his father to pancreatic cancer. A few months later, his mother died. For years, he felt like he was just trying to make it from moment to moment.

He says that all changed when he met his wife Allison in June 2008. His kids, the ones he believed his life was spared for, are both in the military now. One graduates from the Air Force academy this week. Collins says life today is enjoyable.

"I still have my moments and June is usually a bad month for me. It's my dad's birthday, Father's Day. But this year it will have good meaning. So, life is enjoyable now," Collins said.

Copyright 2014 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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