Friends and community members mourn the death of shooting victim
In the parking lot of the Heritage Christian Center Church of God in southwest Medford, a makeshift memorial is sprouting around the bloodstains of 52-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Stephen Andrew McMilon, who was killed there by police after he allegedly fired at least one round at officers during a Sunday afternoon standoff.
Friends of McMilon's and residents of the neighborhood Wednesday gathered at the memorial and inside the church for a short sermon with respect to the incident.
The church's pastor, Dan Kinjorski, spoke before 15 people gathered inside the church.
"(Stephen) was a man who served 19 years in the Marines, he suffered in his life, so, in fact, blame cannot be placed on anyone outside of himself. ... Blame cannot be placed on anyone outside of Stephen, and that is a very hard truth," said Kinjorski, who is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain. "He was walking with weapons on his person and he was ranting. Obviously, he was in crisis. He posed a threat to our community that warranted a call to the police by our own neighbors, he shot at the police, and they responded through their protocol."
"Unfortunately, when we are unhealthy, we make wrong decisions," Kinjorski said.
Medford police reported McMilon had a shotgun, two handguns and a "substantial" amount of ammunition with him when he was killed in the church parking lot at the intersection of Cherry Street and Stewart Avenue.
Police had been called to the scene at 4:25 p.m. and were approaching Kinjorski on foot and in a patrol car when he began shooting, said Medford Police Chief Tim George, who confirmed Wednesday that McMilon, of Medford, was a veteran.
He was a helicopter gunner in the Gulf War and suffered heavily from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Linda Amble, who described McMillon as her best friend of nearly 15 years.
"(Stephen) had a strong faith in the lord and he had a strong belief in our government, the Bill of Rights and of the freedoms we are guaranteed as American citizens," said Amble, who declined to give her age. "They were feelings and beliefs of greatness about how this country was supposed to be, not what it's turning into. He believed in truth and peace. ... That's who he was."
Prior to the shooting on Sunday, at about 3 p.m., police responded to a report of a shot fired on Chestnut Street involving McMilon. He was not arrested in that incident because police found no evidence of a crime, George said.
McMilon had been fighting with his girlfriend leading up to that call and the shooting, said Natalie Cortez, who described herself as a close friend of McMilon's during the last four years.
During officers' response that led to the shooting, multiple callers told dispatch that McMilon was waving the shotgun and "talking and not making any sense while he was talking," George said Monday.
Four officers responded to Cherry Street at 4:32 p.m., George said, and two minutes later, after McMillon opened fired, police shot back and struck him.
A video of the incident's aftermath circulating online shows McMilon lying nearly motionless in the church parking lot with four Medford Police Department officers standing behind a police cruiser with guns drawn. None of the officers approach what appears to be McMilon bleeding and dying during the roughly 90-second video.
George said "aid was administered to (McMilon) as soon as it was safe to do so."
"They've got to make sure the situation is safe until they do that," he said.
George declined to say how many shots were fired or how many struck McMilon and said an investigation into the incident is continuing. The names of the officers involved in the shooting have not been released, but will become available after a Jackson County grand jury decides whether the shooting was justified, police said.
The officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.
The Major Assault Death Investigation Unit, made up of officials from Oregon State Police, Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Central Point, Ashland and Medford police and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, is investigating the shooting.
Court records show McMilon has no felony criminal history in Oregon. Charges of carrying and using a dangerous weapon and reckless endangerment in 2003 were dismissed, records show.
Amble, who sat through Kinjorski's sermon and gathered with community members outside the church Wednesday evening, said she doesn't think McMilon should have been killed.
"I believe it was overkill, way overkill," she said. "He was an excellent marksman. If he fired first, he did not fire to hit them, he fired to get a response. That's just my opinion
Though, she said, she views her friend's death as a tragic failure of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.