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Officers, woman identified in deadly shooting

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On Monday, more details were released about the woman killed by police in the county’s busiest shopping complex and the men who pulled the triggers.

On Sunday morning, Natella Ruth Blackwell, 64, left her home with a loaded handgun, said Tipton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Chief Donna Turner. Blackwell's husband called to report his wife was suicidal and when deputies couldn't find her, a bulletin was released to all local law enforcement agencies.

Videos from two eyewitnesses – one a WMC-TV assistant news director – show what appears to be negotiating between officers and Blackwell. As she turns, shots are fired and she is killed.

Turner wants the public to know officers were doing what they were trained to do.

"Any time that officers are faced with someone pointing a gun at them, they are having deadly force used against them,” she said. “There were some issues with this lady. It was a tragic end to a situation she created.”

On the scene were five Covington police officers and six deputies. Of them, five fired weapons:

• Covington Cpl. William Nelson, who has been with CPD for seven years

• Deputy Sheriff Wesley Ballard, with TCSO since May 2013

• Sgt. Sean Cullen, with TCSO since September 1999

• Deputy Sheriff Tyler Huelsing, with TCSO since September 2011

• Deputy Sheriff Eddie Walker, with TCSO since January 2013

All five have been placed on administrative leave, which is protocol for an officer-involved shooting.

“They're on administrative leave until a preliminary call comes back from the district attorney's office and the TBI about the investigation, which will take some time. Our concern right now is for the well-being of officers; it's not something that an officer wants to do in the line of duty. It's traumatic.”

Investigators are working to piece together the timeline of events that began with Blackwell leaving home and ending up at Walmart just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Witnesses told police she was dropped off by a man driving a blue Dodge Neon.

Overnight, the person driving the blue Dodge Neon came forward and is cooperating with police.

"They're working with authorities now to fill in the answers to some of those questions on how they brought her up there."

Initial reports also stated Blackwell fired at motorists or shoppers in the parking lot, however Turner said those reports are not true.

“She had fired shots while out on the parking lot area. She did point the gun at officers on more than one occasion during (the incident),” she said. “We try to negotiate with people but then when it is a higher level threat, when someone actually points a gun at you, then officers made that decision and their training supports that.”

Details are still under investigation so Turner could not comment on the number of shots fired by officers. Eyewitness video captures the sound of at least seven gunshots, however it is unclear where each originated. 

Sunday’s incident wasn’t Blackwell’s first run-in with police. She's tried to commit suicide for the last three years. Turner said in 2011, Blackwell's husband was accidentally shot while wrestling a gun away from her.

While Turner defends officers’ actions, some residents are questioning them.

“I can’t understand why she’d do something like that,” said Tammy Penny. “I think (officers) were keeping people safe, it was too many shots, though.”

Turner and Sheriff Pancho Chumley, whose brother was killed by an armed man during a 1997 standoff in Covington, said their officers are following their training. “Things can go very bad in a split second and officers have to make split-second decisions in life-threatening situations and that is why we reinforce and are so heavy on training,” she said. “These officers did what we encourage every officer to do and what we hope for them to do and that is being able to go home safely at the end of their shift.”

Tags: 
blackwell, officer-involved shooting, walmart
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