Harold J. Collins, 64, had been battling health problems for years, including a tumor on his face, when he walked into the Southfield Police Department on Sunday and without a word, tried to fire his gun at an officer.
People who knew him at the Solaire Apartments for seniors described Collins as a kind man, whose illness cost him most of his ability to speak and appeared to make him self-conscious.
They said it seemed he wanted to interact and be more social, but his illness stopped him. He communicated through handwritten notes, soft speech and hand gestures.
Neither neighbors nor police could say whether the veteran purposely chose Veterans Day to walk into the station and brandish a gun nor can they say what motivated him to shoot at an officer after repeated requests to drop his weapon.
Collins was shot and killed by police officers, but not before a sergeant was shot in the left shoulder. Police are awaiting ballistics reports to officially attribute the shot to Collins.
But neighbors said the incident seemed unlike anything the man who had lived quietly among them for about a year and a half could do.
"You don't foresee this," said apartment manager Angelica Mercado of Sunday's shooting. "Not when somebody has a mild manner, not when somebody's quiet."
Collins was divorced and lived alone, but was frequently visited by a sister, Joyce Harris, and other friends and family, neighbors said. The Free Press contacted multiple members of Collins' family, who declined to comment. Others relatives could not be reached Monday. Federal court records indicate Collins filed for bankruptcy in 2004. No other information was available on the filing.
Divorce records from Wayne County Circuit Court show Collins filed for divorce in 1996 from Margaret Coe Collins. She could not be reached Monday. The case did not involve children, according to court documents.
Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins stopped short of calling the incident a police-assisted suicide and declined to assign significance to Collins' actions happening on Veterans Day.
But Solaire resident Alexander Jefferson, a Tuskegee airman and World War II veteran who met Collins, said anything was possible.
"There's no telling what this man went through," he said.
Whatever it was could have led Collins to the police station about 2:20 p.m. Sunday. According to police, he parked his white Dodge Caliber in the south-facing parking lot of the Police Department and walked into the lobby.
There, an officer behind protective glass spoke to Collins, who did not attempt to answer or make any gestures to communicate. Hawkins said Collins simply stared blankly before pointing a .38-caliber handgun at the officer and pulling the trigger.
But the gun didn't fire.
Five officers responded to the desk officer's call for help, emerging into the lobby and demanding that Collins drop the gun. He didn't comply, and the gunfire began, although it isn't clear from police statements who shot first.
A 50-year-old sergeant with 27 years of police experience, was hit once; Collins was hit multiple times.
Both were treated at the scene before being transported to Providence Hospital. The sergeant is expected to be released today. Hawkins did not release his name. Collins was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office said Monday that Collins died of multiple gunshot wounds, but would not release any other information.
The Oakland County Sheriff's Office is investigating the shooting. Southfield police are conducting an internal investigation.
"There was nothing to alert any of our staff that anything unusual was about to happen," Hawkins said Monday. "Based on the behavior of this individual, this person was struggling with some very serious internal issues."
Contact Megha Satyanarayana: 313-222-8767 or [email protected]. Staff writers Elisha Anderson and Gina Damron contributed to this report.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service