Police Cruiser Hit by Gunfire

WHEELING — A shot fired early today in East Wheeling came within inches of striking the head of veteran police officer Rusty Jewell.

The shot rang out at 5:06 a.m. in the area of 125 14th St. just blocks from Wheeling Catholic Elementary School and Central Catholic High School. The bullet struck a panel between the passenger-side windows of the Wheeling police cruiser. Jewell and officer Kyle Mull, the driver of the vehicle, did not see the shooter. Neither officer was injured.

The two officers searched the area immediately after the shot was fired as additional units responded to the scene. They were unable to locate a suspect. Jewell said he did not know the vehicle was hit until they got out of the cruiser on 15th Street.

Jewell said he was OK. He did not appear too shaken. The long-time officer called the shooting “part of the job.” In his 13 years as a member of the Wheeling Police Department, it was the first time a shot had been fired at him.

“We heard the compression in our ears from the gunshot,” Jewell said. “…We were on routine patrol, heard the shot and we floored it. We came back around and called everybody.”

Wheeling police detectives Gregg McKenzie and Matt Taylor searched the area, apparently looking for a shell casing. They spent much time searching an alley beside 125 14th St. and a row of bushes in front of that residence.

The detectives interviewed at least three residents in the neighborhood. Other residents in the area did not come to the door when investigators knocked.

“Two out of three heard nothing,” McKenzie said. “One person heard a boom.”

Today, Wheeling Police Chief Kevin Gessler said the shooting appears to be random. He is asking the public for help in the investigation.

“We’re still involved in the situation, and we’re investigating it fully,” Gessler said. “It appears to be random. We will completely investigate the matter, and that’s where we stand right now… We encourage anyone with information to contact our tip line. Even anonymous tips can help us.”

Last June, a parked vehicle in front of 109 15th St. was shot at by someone in a passing vehicle. In that incident, one person sustained a gunshot wound to the foot.

Meanwhile, Judy Stechly, principal of Wheeling Catholic Elementary School, said the school is continually taking precautionary measures when it comes to safety. During the day, the school is locked and only one entrance allows students, parents and faculty to enter the school each day.

After shots were fired this morning, Stechly said police approached her making her aware of the situation. Officers were heavily patrolling the area of the school as students arrived for class this morning. The front entrance of the school – the only entrance anyone can enter – was closely monitored.

“We are always in what we call lock-down mode,” Stechly said. “Our building is always locked and we have elected to have recess inside today. Officer Bob Henry is absolutely wonderful to us. He is our DARE officer and he always comes by to check on us.”

As of this morning, Stechly had decided not to tell the students about the shooting.

“At this one point in time, I probably won’t use the word shooting,” she said. “I will probably say it’s a disturbance as police are monitoring the area. One thing I always try to do here is not incite panic or fear. I try to keep things calm.”

Aside from all of the commotion, Stechly said it’s a regular day at Wheeling Catholic. “Everything is always locked down here,” she said. “And at 8 a.m. the door is locked and we have a monitor in the office so we see everyone that comes in and if it’s someone we don’t know, we go down the steps and ask what the individual needs.”

Stechly said more than anything she wants the public to know that she and her staff do everything in their power to protect the children.

“We care about them and protect them and we will always be here for them,” Stechly said.

Ohio County school bus drivers were urged to use caution while picking up students in that area this morning.

Anyone with information regarding today’s shooting is asked to call the Wheeling Police Department at 304-234-3661. Tips also can be made on the department’s Web site at wheelingpd.com.

(Bethany Romanek contributed to this story.)