An Anniston police officer was on life support Wednesday night after being shot while chasing a suspect — and the suspect in that shooting was in police custody after an hours-long manhunt that turned west Anniston inside out.
Police Chief Layton McGrady said Officer Justin Sollohub, 27, was in critical condition in a Birmingham hospital Wednesday afternoon after Sollohub was shot in the head during a foot chase. Ashlee Jones, a childhood friend who visited Sollohub in his hospital room, said the police officer was on life support Wednesday night.
McGrady said he and other officers were at police headquarters Wednesday morning when they heard Sollohub make a radio call about chasing a suspect on foot.
Sollohub had been on routine patrol duty. He stopped his car at about 11 a.m. to get out and talk to a man, McGrady said.
The man fled, McGrady said, and Sollohub sent out a call that he was chasing the man on foot near the intersection of 19th Street and Moore Avenue.
Another officer, in a car, headed to the area, McGrady said.
Then came the call: “officer down.”
None of the police who talked to The Star witnessed the shooting.
But investigators believe Sollohub went around the side of a house and was shot in the head, McGrady said. Police believe Joshua Russell, 25, of Anniston was the man who shot Sollohub. Russell has been charged with attempted murder and will be charged with capital murder if Sollohub dies.
‘No words for it’
News of the shooting stunned Anniston residents. Even before the name of the wounded officer was released, hundreds of local residents posted messages on the Police Department’s Facebook page, saying they would pray for him. Mayor Gene Robinson called the shooting “a terrible situation.”
But for police, there was no time for shock.
“This is our brother in blue,” said Anniston Police Lt. Fred Forsythe. “There’s no words for it.
“Everybody from Anniston is working off pure adrenaline,” he continued. “We all know Sollohub. It’s crazy what’s happened. I haven’t had time to think about it.”
An alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies — including city police and Calhoun County sheriff’s deputies, Alabama State Troopers and U.S. Marshals — descended on the area within hours to search for the shooter.
Police shut down parts of 18th Street, Moore Avenue, 20th Street and other local roads. Law enforcement officers surrounded two overgrown areas — one near the shooting scene and another a few blocks west, at 18th Street and Dooley Avenue.
Police in helicopters circled overhead to look for signs of the suspect. Armored personnel carriers from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office idled in the field across from one of the search areas. U.S. Marshals armed with assault rifles scanned the area as they clung to the sides of an SUV that rolled slowly down 20th Street.
McGrady said the police were intensely searching three west Anniston areas, searching houses and interviewing residents.
Around 6:45 p.m., almost eight hours after the shooting, police found the suspect in a wooded field that was one of the first places they’d looked for him. Police had spent hours in that field earlier Wednesday.
“We just went back over it and found him in that real wooded area,” McGrady said.
The field is located about one block west and three blocks north of the intersection of West 19th Street and McCoy Avenue, the police chief said.
Investigators also recovered the gun they believe Russell used to shoot Sollohub.
Court records show that Russell has pleaded guilty to five felony charges over the past three years, including three guilty pleas to illegal drug distribution.
While the search went on, police did not release the name of a suspect, and for most of the afternoon they released no description.
In the information vacuum, rumors swirled among the local residents who crowded along the streets near the crime scene. Residents offered multiple accounts of the shooting, many of which didn’t match. But no one interviewed by The Star claimed to have seen the shooting firsthand.
“I didn’t hear any shots, but I sure saw a lot of police show up,” said Anniston resident Fred Fomby in a telephone interview. Fomby lives on Moore Avenue, less than a block from the scene of the shooting.
Fomby said he was staying in his house with the doors locked.
Kristen Klug, who works at nearby Yung Lam Jewelers, said Wednesday morning she and her co-workers locked the doors of the store and planned to wait out the manhunt.
Two schools — Randolph Park Elementary and Cobb Elementary — are within blocks of the shooting scene. Schools Superintendent Joan Frazier said she ordered all city schools put on lockdown after the shooting. County schools in Wellborn and Saks, areas close to the shooting scene, were also under “soft lockdown,” a less-stringent security status, school officials said. The YMCA restricted foot traffic to one front door during the time of the search.
Sollohub has not been with the Anniston Police Department long, having graduated from the Northeast Alabama Police Academy in 2009. In September he tried out for and made the department’s Special Response Team. He attended Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville State University.
The photos on his Facebook page depict a fun-loving young man, showing off a fish he caught, posing with a grin alongside other officers in body armor.
His last post before the shooting: “Man I hope today is better than yesterday.”
Reporting by Brian Anderson, Ben Cunningham, Laura Johnson, Tim Lockette, Trent Penny, Cameron Steele and Bill Wilson.