Appomattox One Year Later: pilot shares his story

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – It was one year ago today a mass shooting rocked Central Virginia. Many in Appomattox took a moment today to remember the 8 lives taken by a gunman.

40-year-old Christopher Speight is accused of killing his sister, her family and neighbors because of a dispute over the family's home. During an 18 hour manhunt, police found 17 firearms and homemade bombs. Police say Speight even shot at a state police helicopter. The pilot of that air craft spoke today about his scary experience.

Sgt. Don Childs had been called out to help in the search for Speight. He had only been flying his helicopter over these woods for a few moments when he had the closest call of his career.

"I thought I caught a glimpse of him out of the left side," he said.

Sgt Childs circled his helicopter back around to get a closer look when police say Speight opened fire.

"It happened so fast, but within about 5 seconds of course your mind is racing, then you immediately focus on the aircraft and keeping it up," Childs said.

15 rounds were fired from a high powered rifle. Childs' chopper was hit 7 times. He had to do an emergency landing in a field. When mechanics checked the aircraft, they told him, "It was just a miracle that one or all the bullets didn't have some effect on the aircraft or myself."

Childs says there's not a day that goes by that he doesn't think about the victims and their families. He knows their pain better than most.

"I know exactly what they are feeling - the tragedy of it all," Childs said.

Child's daughter, Heidi and her boyfriend David Metzler were shot death in the Jefferson National Forest just outside Blacksburg in 2009. They were sophomores at Virginia Tech; high school sweet hearts...their killer has never been caught.

"I've met the victim's families up in Appomattox, each one personally, and gave them a hug and talked to them and tell them I understand," he said.

Childs is actually thankful his aircraft was shot down that day, because, he says, it probably saved lives on the ground.

"If I hadn't gotten picked up those rounds or whatever, they might have sent people in on the ground and then he could have ambushed them and that would have been more tragic," Childs said.

Childs says he still has hope that his daughter's murder will be solved. As for Christopher Speight, after nearly a year at a state mental hospital, he has been deemed competent to stand trial. A trial date will be set April 5th.

Childs retired from the State Police last May. He currently teaches students from Liberty University in Lynchburg how to fly helicopters.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.