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Updated with video at 9:41 a.m.

Ten years later, bank robbery, shootout still raw for those involved

First in a three-part series

By SUSAN LEATHERS

Brentwood Home Page

May 6, 2002 started off as just another beautiful day in the City of Brentwood. Just after 1 p.m., that all changed.

That’s when Gary Thomas Brown is presumed to have gotten off I-65 at the Brentwood Old Hickory exit and turned left onto Franklin Road looking for a bank to rob. He didn’t have to go far. A Bank of America branch was just a city block or so down the road.

Updated with video at 9:41 a.m. Updated with minor corrections at 11:30 a.m.

Ten years later, bank robbery, shootout still raw for those involved

First in a three-part series

Bank Robbery Incident on May 6, 2002 shooting at Bank of America of Officer Tommy Walsh.

This is the 9-1-1 audio from the May 6, 2002 Bank Robbery in Brentwood TN at the Bank of America. There are several calls and you must listen to at least the second caller. She was amazing!

By SUSAN LEATHERS

Brentwood Home Page

May 6, 2002 started off as just another beautiful day in the City of Brentwood. Just after 1 p.m., that all changed.

That’s when Gary Thomas Brown is presumed to have gotten off I-65 at the Brentwood Old Hickory exit and turned left onto Franklin Road looking for a bank to rob. He didn’t have to go far. A Bank of America branch was just a city block or so down the road.

He went in, brandished an assault rifle and demanded cash. Toy Fuson, a retired FBI agent and Brentwood realtor, was in the bank getting ready to make a deposit. While everyone else hit the floor at Brown’s demand, Fuson eased out of the branch and called 911. His was one of the first calls to Brentwood’s emergency dispatch center to report the robbery. Seconds later, 911 calls started coming from within the bank.

Ten years later, now retired Brentwood Police Chief Ricky Watson still remembers it all like it was yesterday.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be a good call,” Watson said last week.

Brown exited the bank, got in his car and tried to return to the interstate. But as anyone familiar with “downtown” Brentwood and Maryland Farms knows, no one travels fast on Franklin Road in the middle of the day.  

Brown abandoned his gray Mazda with California plates in the right turn lane at the Franklin Road and Old Hickory Boulevard intersection before shooting into the patrol car of a Brentwood police officer who was getting ready to enter the intersection just ahead of him.

It was the first of two gun battles that would take place in the next few minutes.

No one knows for sure Brown’s motive for robbing the bank that day; he didn’t live to tell anyone his story. But here’s the story as recalled by several of those thankfully still here to share it.

Brentwood Police Officer Stephanie Bellis was in a great mood and had just had lunch with fellow officer Jimmy Campbell at Joey’s, “a BPD favorite at the time.”

“After lunch is when the day turned into a living hell.”

Minutes after 1 p.m. while on patrol near Brentwood Place shopping center, the three-year veteran of the Brentwood Police Department was assigned a bank robbery alarm call, “which turned into a real bank robbery call within seconds.” She arrived in the area almost immediately. 

Bellis (now Warner) first pulled into the Amoco station across Harpeth Drive from the bank, where a gas station attendant described a Nissan as Brown’s getaway car. Hoping to apprehend the suspect, she drove north on Franklin toward Old Hickory Boulevard.

But as she approached the busy intersection, Bellis had to go into the southbound lane to get through.

As she leaned forward to look both ways and change her patrol car’s siren tone, her passenger window blew out, striking her in the face and blowing debris and smoke into the driver’s compartment.

“Instinct and God,” she said, made her jump from the moving vehicle. A sting on her right arm caused her to look down. It was not a pavement injury as she first thought; she had been shot with an assault rifle.

Officer Stephanie Bellis’ patrol car came to rest at the Shell station at Franklin Road and Old Hickory Boulevard.

“As I jumped back up and pulled my weapon from my holster, I saw the gunman coming at me around the rear of my vehicle.  He had a machine gun aimed at me.”

Bellis ran to the front of her car, which was slowly moving forward because she had not put it in park.  She credits years of playing soccer for allowing her to run backward and side to side in front of her car as Brown walked forward.

 “Both of us were shooting at each other.  He was struck in the leg, fell, and quickly jumped back up returning fire,” she said.

But seconds later, Brown’s attention turned to a responding patrol car driven by Bellis’ supervisor, then-Sgt. Tommy Walsh. As her car came to a stop in the shrubbery of the Shell station at the intersection’s northwest corner, Bellis sought cover behind a SUV stopped in the southbound lane on Franklin Road.

When she heard more gunshots, she jumped over the shrubbery “and tried to ‘make myself skinny’ behind an electric pole, to avoid any rounds possibly aimed at me.”

After working her way back through the intersection and through several cars in the Walgreens’ parking lot, she discovered that Walsh had been shot, as well as the bank robber. 

“After Walsh had been loaded into the ambulance and everyone had somewhat calmed down, I told Capt. (Martin) Lyles that I thought I’d been shot,” Bellis shared. “He looked at me like I was crazy, and then said, ‘What?’”

So she showed him the hole in her right forearm. Later, at Vanderbilt Medical Center, doctors told her “it would cause more harm to remove (the bullet) than to simply leave it in,” she explained. It remains in her arm today.

Ten years later, Bellis Warner is a busy stay-at-home mom of three young children. She has full use of her arm.

Sgt. Tommy Walsh wasn’t supposed to be at work that Monday. The day-shift supervisor had been asked to do a special assignment that required him to work a weekend shift, so May 6 was going to be his day off.

“But at the last minute they changed their minds,” said Walsh, who in January of this year was named assistant police chief.

Walsh was on the phone with then-Lt. Jeff Hughes when the calls started coming in. They both heard radio communications between Cpl. Jimmy Campbell and Officer Bellis, and knew shots had been fired and that Bellis was involved.

Walsh ran out of the police headquarters at the Brentwood Municipal Center on Maryland Way and into his patrol car. Though his role in the subsequent events is the most chilling, no video recorded what happened in the moments ahead.

The in-car VHS camera used in 2002 kept running down the battery in Walsh’s patrol car, so he had it powered down. In his haste to get to the scene, he forgot to turn the camera on.

Walsh traveled east on Maryland Way and then north on Franklin Road to come to the aid his officer.

“The last thing I heard Stephanie say over the radio was ‘Walgreens’ … So I was going to Walgreens. Because, again, I’m painting a picture in my mind at the time of what’s going on.” He didn’t know all of the specifics, but he knew enough to respond.

“I knew we had a bank robbery; I knew we had a suspect who was armed, and I knew we had shots fired with Stephanie. And again, the last thing I’d heard her say was about the location.

“In my mind, I thought that Stephanie was down. I thought she had been shot and was down in the Walgreens parking lot.

“Now fortunately, that wasn’t the case,” Walsh added. But he didn’t know that then.

As he turned north on Franklin, Walsh recalled that “there were no cars at 1 o’clock on Franklin Road except Jimmy Campbell’s patrol car and he was backing up.”

He passed Campbell’s car and continued through the “ghost town.” Walsh stopped his patrol car in the southbound lane across from the Corky’s BBQ exit, just south of the pharmacy.

The suspect’s assault rifle and handgun in the back of Lt. Tommy Campsey’s unmarked car following the shooting.

“When I saw that a rifle was involved, I knew then that I had a problem because I’m out of my patrol car, I’m way too close to this guy, and he’s got a rifle and I’ve got a handgun.

THEN-SGT. TOMMY WALSH
Brentwood Police Department

“Almost as soon as I got out of the car, I saw the suspect and he saw me. … All I really saw, frankly, was the rifle sticking up in the air. … When I saw that a rifle was involved, I knew then that I had a problem because I’m out of my patrol car, I’m way too close to this guy, and he’s got a rifle and I’ve got a handgun. “

Brentwood police officers at the time were armed with Glock handguns and shotguns. Shots from the type of assault rifle Brown carried travel at 3,000 feet per second. A Glock’s bullets travel at speed of 800 to 900 feet per second.

Brown was about 30 feet away from Walsh, walking toward the stone wall that separates Walgreens’ parking lot with Franklin Road.

“I drew my weapon, used the V of my patrol car door as a shield and I fired a shot at the suspect,” Walsh said, remembering all of the details as if it were yesterday.

“It has been portrayed that I was ambushed by this guy,” Walsh said, which he emphatically denied. “I knew that there was an armed suspect; I knew there had been a gunfight and I fired at the suspect before he fired at me.”

The sergeant’s first shot hit the hood of the vehicle beside Brown.

“I was in the process of firing my second shot, and he’s leveling the rifle at me.” Brown got his shot off first. It went through the driver’s door of Walsh’s Chevy Impala and into Walsh’s left leg. The impact knocked Walsh’s gun out of his hand and his body back onto the car seat.

“I recognized immediately I had a serious problem. I looked down and my left leg was turned in the wrong direction,” Walsh said. “I pulled myself across the console … while the suspect is firing rounds at the car.”

Small pieces of metal from the rounds Brown shot were imbedded in Walsh’s left side.

“I remember him, standing there on the sidewalk in front of Walgreens with the rifle up in the air, yelling ‘Come and get me, come and get me,’ like he wanted us to approach him. Of course I couldn’t do that,” Walsh said.

The next thing Walsh remembers is Brown standing at the driver’s side of his car telling him to get out of the vehicle.

“I told him I couldn’t get out of the car. Then he asked me where my gun was.”

At that moment, additional shots starting coming from different directions.

Walsh’s feet and leg were partially exposed under the open car door and caught some friendly fire from two of the four officers who were simultaneously shooting at Brown.

As soon as the shooting stopped, one of the police shooters, then-Lt. Tommy Campsey, called in EMS personnel who were waiting just outside the crime scene for an all-clear.

“I knew that I was going to survive at that point,” Walsh said. But he followed that with, “I didn’t know if my left leg was still attached or not.”

Lt. Tommy Campsey had been in charge of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division for only a short time in May 2002. He was in his office when then-Detective Richard Hickey came running by and said, “We have a bank robbery in progress at Bank of America.”

When responding to a call with fleeing suspects, “not everyone wants to go in the same direction,” Campsey explained. After leaving police headquarters, he turned left on West Park Drive from Maryland Way and then east on Old Hickory Boulevard.

As he crested the hill in front of O’Charley’s, “I saw Stephanie’s car in my vision and over the radio heard her saying ‘Walgreens, Walgreens.’”

He looked toward the pharmacy and saw the suspect on foot in the Walgreens parking lot. Because he was in an unmarked car, he didn’t draw Brown’s attention.

Campsey turned right onto Franklin Road and stopped just south of the Old Hickory intersection.

Then-Lt. Steve Walling, also in an unmarked car, almost immediately pulled up beside Campsey.

They both witnessed Brown shooting at Walsh. They positioned themselves, and then started firing at him.

“I don’t know how many times I shot. I know I shot three or four times. Steve Walling was firing too,” Campsey said.

From the south and at the same time, Campbell and Hickey had also witnessed the shooting between Brown and Walsh. Almost simultaneously with Campsey and Walling to the north of them, Campbell and Hickey drew their guns and fired at Brown.

“We didn’t know they were north of us…,” Campbell said. “It just seemed like there were shots everywhere.”

As soon as the shooting stopped and the suspect was down, Campbell began administering first aid to Walsh. He remembers Walsh asking, “How bad is it Jimmy?” and not knowing what to answer.

About that time, the officers learned that there might be another suspect still at large.

“Here we go again,” Campbell thought, though he stayed with Walsh until EMTs arrived.  

To this day, no one knows whose shot ultimately killed Brown.

Chief Ricky Watson was at police headquarters when the first 911 calls came in. He immediately began monitoring the situation transpiring over the police scanner on what he now describes as “a pretty tough day.”

First was news of the bank robbery, then officers in pursuit then just a short period later, that shots were being fired. “Shortly after that I got info that two of our officers were down.”

He headed to the scene.

“You start from there and just try to coordinate efforts,” said Watson, whose laidback style always belied his attention to detail and professionalism when it came to his job.

When he arrived — “20 or 30 seconds after the shooting takes place” — he took control of the scene and quickly began assessing what had happened.

The suspect’s shot through Walsh’s patrol car expanded the bullet, so “when it impacted the leg, it did a lot more damage” than it would have otherwise, Watson said. The shots by his officers “kept (Brown) from squeezing the round that ultimately would have killed Tommy Walsh.”

When he arrived at Walsh’s patrol car, Brown was down but still alive. When the EMTs arrived, “We had a little disagreement about how they needed to proceed,” said Watson, who let them know his sergeant was the priority. Brown died at the scene.

Because of the time of day and number of people involved and in the area, Watson knew he needed to establish command and gain control of the scene quickly. First, he had to determine if reports of a second suspect were true. Once that was dismissed, the investigation could begin.

Agents with the TBI and FBI were among the responding law enforcement agencies.

“My intention was to have the TBI handle the crime scene and the FBI to handle the shooting,” Watson said. Instead, the TBI  investigated the shooting and the FBI handled the bank robbery.

Watson still smarts when discussing the investigation of the shooting.

When a TBI investigator asked him how Brown got shot in the buttocks, Watson replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”  The investigator also questioned bruising on the 40-year-old suspect’s body and asked how that might have happened.

Ten years later, Watson said he still doesn’t know the answer. “I’m guessing when (my officers) pulled him off of Tommy Walsh, they weren’t doing it too gingerly.”

“Obviously, it was a justified shooting,” he said. The FBI fully backed up Watson’s conclusion during a later review of the case.

City Manager Mike Walker was in the Brentwood Municipal Center meeting with then-Mayor Joe Reagan when he learned of the robbery. “Everyone was rushing out of the building,” he said, so he and Reagan headed out as well.

“We’re lucky no officers were killed; we’re lucky no citizens were killed,” Walker said. But he added solemnly, “That’s when Brentwood’s innocence ended.”

“There were police officers coming just one after another after another. Even Nolensville showed up.”

CITY MANAGER MIKE WALKER

Those few minutes of terror froze the city for hours. Local schools were temporarily put on lockdown until the all clear that a second suspect was not at large. Traffic, already a zoo in the area at lunch time, “was complete havoc,” Walker said.

Within minutes of the shooting, the first of more than 100 law enforcement officers from throughout the region converged near the scene. Agents from the ATF and other federal agencies with offices in Maryland Farms came to help.

“There were police officers coming just one after another after another. Even Nolensville showed up,” Walker said.

With Bellis’ patrol car still near the Franklin Road/Old Hickory Boulevard intersection where it had rolled to a stop, the TBI closed the intersection, so “nobody could get off the interstate. It was nuts, absolutely nuts. It was a circus,” Walker recalled.

Still, he has high praise for every city employee who took part or was involved in any aspect of the event, especially the police chief.

“Watson did a super job; he was a leader in every way,” Walker shared.

As soon as he knew everything was in good hands that afternoon, Walker headed to Vanderbilt to be with Walsh and his family.

As for Gary Thomas Brown, very little remains known about the “tall white male, moustache, real slim,” as Bank of America employee Gwen Prince described him when she called 911 to report the robbery.

After the incident, Watson talked with Brown’s mother and learned he had been a prison guard in California. She alluded to Watson that for whatever reason, Brown had issues.

Apparently Brown started driving east across the country and ultimately ended up in Nashville where earlier on the morning of May 6, 2002, he robbed an AmSouth Bank on 8th Avenue near Jefferson Street in Nashville. When the dye pack that had been placed in the money bag during that robbery exploded, Brown dropped the cash and one of his guns in the bank parking lot and fled, Watson said.

Just hours later, in Brentwood, he lost the cash he stole in the Bank of America parking lot.

And minutes after that, he lost his life on Franklin Road.

Coming up:

Monday: How May 6, 2002 changed the City of Brentwood.

Tuesday: Where those most impacted are now

Photos, video and audio courtesy of the Brentwood Police Department

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