PANOLA COUNTY, Miss. — A Mississippi officer saved a woman from a likely horrific death at the hands of an ex-boyfriend thanks to a chance encounter that brought them together.
Officer Sean Shelton is living his childhood dream of being a police officer. He says he always wanted to protect and serve, so he didn't hesitate when a woman at a local store needed help in 2010.
"The store clerk (Joyce Betts) was in there and she said, 'I'm glad you came in the store. We have a lot of kids running in shoplifting and causing disturbances. By the time we call the sheriff's department and they dispatch you guys here, the kids are gone," Shelton told WREG.
That chance meeting would play a profound part in both of their lives.
"I said I'm going to give you my cellphone [number] and the next time it happens call me," he said.
Just two hours later, Betts was calling officer Shelton, but this time, she was standing in front of her house, too afraid to go inside.
According to a Panola County offense report obtained by WREG, deputies say Betts' ex-boyfriend 50-year-old Lawrence Richardson had disabled the electricity and was waiting inside her house to kill her.
"I told him I was breaking up with him. He said, 'I'm going to cut your heart out like you cut my heart out," Betts said.
Officer Shelton walked Betts in her home and made sure everything was safe.
He had no idea that her ex-boyfriend was hiding in the dark with a torture table set up.
"I went flicked the light switch and it didn't come on," he said. "I walked in about eight feet."
The house was pitch dark, and Officer Shelton only had the light from his flashlight to see.
"As I was turning around to walk back out of the door, I saw a guy come out of the closet," he said. "He walked out and he had a small .22 gun out."
Shelton found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
"He fired one round, and the round went under my vest in my side," he said. "I started shooting back."
Betts says she ran out of the house to get help.
"He had everything set up not only to restrain me, but to restrain my daughter. He was going to kill us both," she said.
Shelton and Richardson continued firing shots at each other.
"He got off another round. He hit me right under my right here, and that shot knocked me on the ground," Shelton said.
When Officer Shelton hit the ground he dropped his police radio, leaving him trapped and unable to call for backup.
"I could feel blood filling up my mouth. I could see the blood shooting out of my face, and I'm thinking I'm going to die," he said. "Then I heard a voice said, 'Sean. You need to get up. You're not going to die."
Shelton believes it was the voice of God telling him not to give up.
"I started looking for a way out of the house, but I didn't want to go back by the guy," he said.
But that was the only way out. He ran to his patrol car to call for help.
Officer Shelton tried to drive to a nearby fire station, but before he could get there he was met by another officer who was monitoring his radio and understood his call for help.
By the time Officer Shelton arrived at the fire station, his blood covered the inside of his patrol car.
He was airlifted to Regional One Hospital and spent almost two weeks in the hospital fighting for his life.
Panola County deputies later learned that Richardson – who died of his wounds – had hitchhiked all the way to Panola County, Mississippi from Virginia with an elaborate plan to torture and kill Betts and her teenage daughter.
"Officer Shelton is a hero in my book," Betts said.