The details surrounding Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom’s shooting of his wife early on New Year’s day continue to be murky as Georgia Bureau of Investigation is offering very little information.
Up to this point, the GBI has only made comments based on the roughly six-minute 911 call made by McCollom that morning. They have released no information from the interview that was done with McCollom that day. As of Monday, the GBI released a few details from an interview with the shooting victim, Margaret McCollom, whose condition has improved enough to be interviewed.
According to the GBI, Mrs. McCollom said she was sleeping at the time she was shot, which fits with what Chief McCollom said in his 911 call. Since she was asleep, she “could provide no information about the shooting,” according to GBI. They noted, however, that “she believes the shooting was an accident.”
Chief McCollom still has not been charged with any crime related to the shooting, which he told the 911 dispatcher was accidental. District Attorney Scott Ballard has said his office would prefer to wait for GBI to complete its investigation before making a decision on whether to press charges.
Since GBI has been very limited in its release of information, the case has remained open to a lot of speculation. The initial report from GBI that McCollom shot twice was based on his 911 call, but GBI quickly said that based on evidence from the investigation Mrs. McCollom was only shot once. Even that detail was widely misreported as meaning two shots were fired but one missed. According to GBI, only one shot was ever fired from Chief McCollom’s gun.
That detail is one of a few inconsistencies that can be pinpointed in listening to Chief McCollom’s 911 call. At various points during the call, Chief McCollom gives different responses regarding what had occurred.
The first inconsistency comes early in the call regarding how many times his gun, a Glock 17 9mm, was fired. McCollom initially describes the situation to the dispatcher as “gun shot wound, accidental,” rather than gunshot wounds. Soon after, however, he says she was shot in the back and, though it’s difficult to hear, then adds “and the side,” or something similar to that. The 911 dispatcher repeats that, asking if she was shot in the back and the side. She then asks for confirmation that she was “shot twice, accidental?” McCollom answers yes to both questions. It’s unclear whether McCollom believed the weapon was fired twice or whether he observed two different wounds.
As to how the shooting occurred, McCollom is also inconsistent.
When first asked by the dispatcher how it happends, McCollom said “The gun was in the bed, I went to move it, put it to the side, and it went off.”
At two other points in the call, however, McCollom indicates both he and his wife were asleep when the gun went off. At one point the dispatcher asks if Mrs. McCollom is awake, and the chief responds “No, everybody was asleep, including me.”
Later the dispatcher asks if the shooting happened just before the 911 call.
“Yep, yep, went off in the middle of the night,” McCollom said.
Asked again later if he was asleep “when it happened,” McCollom said yes.
Chief McCollom was also somewhat inconsistent in his responses to the dispatcher about his wife’s bleeding. Asked if there is any “serious bleeding,” he replies “well, it’s internal, but yes there is. She’s starting to have trouble breathing now so it must be internal.”
The dispatcher then asks McCollom whether there is external bleeding and he says yes. She then instructs him to get a dry clean cloth and apply direct pressure to the wound.
Whether or not any of these inconsistencies were addressed in Chief McCollom’s interview with GBI is still a mystery. As to what happened, Mrs. McCollom’s interview shed no new light besides her statement that she was asleep and her belief that the shooting was accidental.
Fayette Newspapers spoke Tuesday with gun experts, who preferred not to be identified, about the safety mechanisms on a Glock-17, which they say are so fool-proof that this particular weapon cannot be fired until a finger is deliberately wrapped completely around the trigger and pulled back more than half an inch with considerable force.
They also said the gun cannot accidentally fire when dropped.
“I could throw it from here to the street and it won’t go off,” one expert said.
As to why the gun would be in the bed, there have not been any answers given. According to Peachtree City Police Department policy, officers are told to keep weapons stored safely when off duty. The passage reads:
“Many unintentional deaths have occurred because weapons are left unsecured
and available to citizens, especially juveniles. All weapons (lethal and less lethal)
that have been issued or authorized for use by the department will be stored in a
safe manner. It is the intention of the department to ensure that weapons are not
accessible to children or other members of the public. When stored at an
employee’s home, all weapons will be stored in a climate controlled area and will
be kept in such a way as to prevent access to it by any person other than the
employee. This may include a gun locker, a gun safe or any other means that
ensures protection of the weapon.”
Peachtree City Manager Jim Pennington said the city is waiting for GBI to complete its investigation and hasn’t considered doing its own review into the situation. He said the city has a process for situations where service weapons are fired by off-duty officers, and that process will be followed after the investigation, but not sooner.
“We haven’t gotten to that point, I don’t think we’re ready even to discuss that. We’re waiting to get through this investigation,” Pennington said. He said GBI is not directly updating the city on the developing investigation.
Asked earlier in the week whether Chief McCollom would likely already have been charged if he were a civilian, District Attorney Scott Ballard said “yes and no.”
“When you ask the GBI to come in and do an investigation, it’s not uncommon at all for you to wait to finish the investigation to make an arrest,” Ballard said. “When you don’t call the GBI in then, yeah, probably that decision to bring charges would have been made [already]. The very fact that you’re calling in the GBI will cause issues that slow the pace a little bit.”
GBI spokesperson Sherry Lang would not say how long she anticipated the investigation to take.
“There are a lot of different factors that go into how long it takes to conduct an investigation,” Lang said. “We can never say, ‘oh our cases are completed in two weeks or two months.”