January 13, 2018 7:16:07 PM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
A Kosciusko man is charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a local optometrist Saturday morning in Walmart on Highway 12 in west Starkville.
Starkville police arrested William Thomas "Tommy" Chisholm, 41, after he allegedly killed 42-year-old Shauna Witt, who operated the eye clinic at Walmart.
Police Chief Frank Nichols said Chisholm entered the store, confronted Witt and fired "several shots" at her. He said Witt was the only person injured in the incident. Police did not confirm in the Saturday afternoon update where in the store the shooting occurred.
Officers responded to the scene at about 9:30 a.m. and arrested Chisholm in the Walmart parking lot.
Witt arrived at the OCH Regional Medical Center emergency room at about 9:58 with two gunshot wounds, a hospital employee told The Dispatch, and was pronounced dead at 10:05 a.m.
Originally, police believed the Chisholm was Witt's estranged husband. However, department officials later said interviews with close friends at the scene revealed Witt and Chisholm were in an "on again, off again" dating relationship.
Chisholm was originally arrested on suspicion of murder. That charge was upgraded to capital murder later Saturday afternoon. SPD confirmed burglary is the underlying charge that raised the shooting to a capital offense.
Chisholm is scheduled to appear in municipal court Sunday afternoon.
A press release SPD issued after Nichols' afternoon update said Chisholm was out on felony bond for an incident related to Witt when the shooting happened. Immediate details on that charge were not available Saturday, but SPD Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady said it originated from Kosciusko.
Walmart closed for the rest of Saturday following the shooting but will reopen at 7 Sunday.
In a statement emailed to The Dispatch, Walmart spokesperson Michelle Malashock said Witt was the only practicing optometrist at the eye center. Because of that, she said, patients will need to look elsewhere for optometrists in the immediate future.
"Walmart contracts with independent optometrists to provide eye care in our vision centers," Malashock said. "Because Dr. Witt did not practice with any other optometrists, her patients should seek care with other neighboring doctors for their immediate needs. Patients with questions can call the vision center when it reopens on Wednesday."
'Kill Me! Take me down!'
Ken Murrell of Eupora said he was just picking up a few gifts for his wife and cashing a check when gunshots rang out through the Walmart.
"While the ladies were processing my check, I heard gunshots, but they didn't register as gunshots because this is Walmart at 9-something in the morning," he said. "Just a second or two later a bunch of people start running toward me and I tell the ladies behind the desk to hide."
Murrell said he took cover behind the desk, until he saw a woman in a lab coat near the optical center crying and shouting, "She's dead! He shot her, he shot her!"
Murrelet said he then got up to check on her, when another man joined him and approached her. The other man told the woman to go hide, Murrell said, and as they passed the optical center, they passed Chisholm, though he didn't immediately realize it.
"He was standing there just kind of looking around like we were trying to figure out where the noise was coming from," he said. "I guess he was just blending in, really. But he had his right hand in his coat, like over his heart."
Murrell said he looked back after passing Chisholm to see him exiting the optical center with a pistol in hand.
Murrell later exited the store with the other man. Before they went outside, he pulled out his phone and started recording.
The video, which Murrell posted to Facebook, shows Starkville police confronting Chisholm in the parking lot and arresting him. In the video, he can be heard yelling "Kill me! Take me down, kill me, please. Please kill me." as officers handcuff him.
The video had 209,000 views as of Saturday afternoon.
Witt was a 'superb human being'
Karen Russell had been seeing Witt at the Walmart eye clinic, for herself and her three children, for seven or eight years. Russell said Witt was very friendly and called her a "superb person and a superb human being."
She said Witt was especially good at working with her children, who started seeing her when they were 6 to 8 years old.
"She was fantastic with kids," Russell said. "She explained to them everything she was doing and everything going on with their eyes. She talked to them like a friend would. She was just a wonderful person."
She said she was "shocked" to hear the news of Witt's shooting.
"I immediately started crying," she said. "I was devastated. That was before I found out she passed. I'm absolutely devastated that this has happened in our community and to such a wonderful person."
Mayor Lynn Spruill lamented the shooting.
"Obviously it is a tragedy," Spruill said. "It's the kind of thing you deeply regret no matter where it happens. For someone to put in jeopardy Starkville residents and the people in Walmart -- it's just incredibly sad and we hate for those types of things to happen."
Despite the tragedy of the day's events, Spruill lauded Starkville Police Department's efforts in responding to incident, which she said were "very effective and immediate."
"The police were their usual professional and excellent selves, and always with the thought of the citizens in mind," she said. "I'm proud to say I think they're the best police department in the state and certainly the Golden Triangle."