Officer who was face-to-face with killer in last week’s mass shooting shares details of gunfire exchange

After a vigil on Friday outside of Cleveland Historical Museum, Cleveland ISD Capt. John Shannon and Cleveland Mayor Otis Cohn talk about the May 29 shooting that left two dead and two critically injured.

By Vanesa Brashier,

A week after a mass shooting in Cleveland left two dead and two critically injured at two different businesses, Cleveland ISD Police Capt. John Shannon, whose experiences of that day have been largely unreported until now, says that Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Whitten, one of the two critically injured victims, would likely have been killed by the shooter, Pavol Vido, had Whitten been alone when gunfire was exchanged.

“I honestly believe the shooter would have gone over and shot Whitten again,” Shannon said. “Seeing what I saw at the scene and knowing what he had done before, during and after shooting the other three victims, I don’t think Mr. Vido would have just walked away and left Whitten to live.”

The first shooting was reported on the morning of May 29 after three people were shot by Vido inside the B Dependable Plumbing business on 26311 SH 321, in Cleveland. The motive for the shooting, according to authorities, was Vido being served eviction papers in the 1-2 days prior. Pct. 6 Constable John Joslin said that Vido had been squatting in a building behind B Dependable Plumbing and the owners wanted him to leave.

After the shooting, an alert went out to law enforcement to be on the watch for a vehicle that was seen leaving the shooting scene. Whitten, who was on his way to a class, according to Sheriff Bobby Rader, answered the call, along with Capt. Shannon, who was having breakfast at D&M Diner a couple of miles west of the shooting scene.

“I overheard the radio traffic of a person being shot at B Dependable Plumbing, which was just on the other side of the bypass from the school. They said the suspect was still on the scene. I went to my car and called Liberty County SO to ask if they had anyone on the way,” Shannon said.

Like Whitten, Shannon felt compelled to answer the call for help, so he left his breakfast and took off to search for the vehicle the murder suspect was seen driving.

“As I made it to the bypass, Deputy Whitten pulled in front of me off of the bypass. We fell in behind the suspect’s vehicle, which was not traveling at a high rate of speed, and chased him to Big Thicket Animal Hospital. He turned on the county road beside the vet clinic and pulled forward so his vehicle was facing Highway 321,” Shannon said.

“We got out of our vehicles and took a secure stance. There were no customers at the clinic, thankfully, but employees were starting to arrive. Whitten stopped behind him and I stopped just around the corner of the building. We were both behind his vehicle,” Shannon said.

With both officers calling for the suspect to show his hands, they carefully stepped out of their vehicles. At this point, Vido fired toward Whitten in a move that Shannon said might have been accidental as it hit the ground. The second shot, however, hit Whitten in the neck.

“He continued to come toward me. As he rounded the first corner, he fired at me and I fired back at him. Then he calmly got back in his car and drove off. At this time, I saw Whitten was down on the ground,” Shannon said. “The suspect wasn’t scared. He was calm. After he was done, as a matter of fact, the vet tech who was pulling in saw him and thought he was someone just getting a speeding ticket.”

With the threat moving away from his location, Shannon said he turned his attention to Whitten and called for a medic.

The incident happened so quickly that Shannon said he had no time to think about or second-guess his response.

As police officers working for the school district, Shannon said he sometimes hears criticism that district officers should not respond to emergencies off-campus.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why do you back the city or county on calls like this?’ My answer is, ‘It’s in my community and it’s part of my job. If I am not tied up at the district, then I go to where I am needed,” he said.

Vido died later that day when he committed suicide as law enforcement closed in on him. Whitten and Chris Grubbs, owner of the plumbing business, are still hospitalized in critical condition.

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