COLUMBIA — A witness to the shooting death of Cameron Caruthers on May 22 in northeast Columbia said the incident was not the result of a home invasion but of a dispute.
“He shouldn’t have been shot,” said Kelsy Poore, 31, who had been in a relationship with Caruthers and lived with him and Rick Gurley, the man who has been questioned by Columbia Police in connection with Caruthers’ death.
The three shared a house at 1304 Dawn Ridge Road where, police say, Caruthers, 28, was shot on May 22. He died later that day at University Hospital. The incident was initially described in a police news release as a home invasion, but in a second statement on May 23 police described the episode as a “disturbance between two people known to each other.”
No one has been arrested in connection with Caruthers’ death.
Poore spoke firmly Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours after Caruthers’ funeral, as she gave her account of what happened the day he died.
“When it happened, there were just the three of us — me, Cameron and Rick,” Poore said. “It was not a home invasion. (Caruthers) had lived there with me for a couple of months.”
Poore said she had been in a relationship with Caruthers since February of this year. She moved into the house in March after being introduced to Gurley through an acquaintance when she was looking for a place for her and her three children to live. A few weeks later, Caruthers joined her.
She recalled Gurley and Caruthers getting along well.
“There’s been no conflict with Rick… He had no problem with him (Caruthers) moving in,” Poore said. “He and Rick had hung out several nights, sitting out on our front porch.”
The night before the shooting, she and Caruthers had a disagreement, and Caruthers left the house for the night.
Poore said it was a common occurrence. They fought sometimes. She said Caruthers, a veteran of the war in Iraq, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Poore said he sometimes had paranoid episodes.
The next morning, Caruthers came back to the house to gather some of his belongings. Poore had offered to give Caruthers’ things directly to him, but he wanted Gurley to mediate the exchange.
Caruthers’ friend, Dakota Kelsey, had given him a ride to the house. But when Kelsey noticed Caruthers growing irritated, he persuaded Caruthers to leave with him.
The whole disagreement lasted less than 10 minutes, Poore said. Kelsey corroborated that statement, saying he didn’t want any part of the situation.
“It wasn’t five minutes later I get a message from Dakota that Cameron had jumped out of the moving truck to come back,” Poore said. She received the text message at 11:31 a.m.
When Caruthers arrived at the residence the second time, he and Gurley spoke through the front door. Poore said she could not hear what was said.
At that point, Gurley already had his 12-gauge shotgun in his hands, Poore said. Both Poore and Kelsey said Caruthers was unarmed.
“Cameron had said several times: ‘Put the gun down, come outside, and talk to me like a man. I’m not armed,’” Poore said. He turned out his pockets and lifted his shirt to show Gurley he had no weapons hidden, she said.
But Gurley would not come out of the house, Poore said.
So Caruthers raised his hands above his head and, trying to de-escalate the situation, said in a resigned voice: “I’m coming in. You’re just going to have to shoot me, Rick.”
As Poore turned to look at Caruthers, the shot was fired, she said.
Stephen Wyse, Gurley’s attorney in connection to the case, confirmed in an interview with the Missourian on Wednesday that Gurley was there when the shooting took place. He would not say who used force at the scene, and he disputed whether Caruthers was actually living in the house.
Wyse said: “The use of force was justified.”
Poore said that immediately after the shooting Gurley picked up his phone and pushed one button to reach the 911 center.
According to the most recent Columbia Police news release, there were two men in the house when officers arrived after receiving the call at 12:12 p.m. on Monday, May 22. Poore had left.
She was afraid for her safety, she said. “I thought: ‘If I go against the grain right now, I will be laying here with Cameron,’” Poore said. “What looks bad in the situation is the fact that I fled the scene, but I panicked.”
Poore said she was stopped at the end of the street by police, but they told her she could leave. She went to police headquarters later that day to give her account of what transpired.
Gurley also was questioned but was released, Wyse said. “I think law enforcement made the right decision not to make an arrest,” he said.
Thursday, Columbia Police Public Information Officer Latisha Stroer said she couldn’t provide any updates on the case.
Caruthers’ funeral was held Wednesday morning at Parkade Baptist Church. More than 100 people attended, including some of the paratroopers Caruthers served with, family members and friends.
A procession led by five motorcycles traveled to Memorial Park Cemetery after the funeral, where Caruthers was buried.
Poore said she had been waiting until the funeral was over to speak up for Caruthers’ family’s sake.
Poore said she first intended not to speak to the news media but has since changed her mind. Because she said she is the only witness to what happened, she feels responsible for making sure the truth is known.
“It has been a whirlwind of rumors and people fabricating the crazy stories,” Poore said. “I feel like Cameron’s side needs to be told.”