Education

Former Robeson principal still seeks justice

Posted April 4, 2012 4:22 p.m. EDT
Updated April 4, 2012 7:03 p.m. EDT

— Three years after he was shot in the face while heading to school, a former Robeson County principal is still trying to put his life back together.

James Hunt was driving to Fairmont Middle School on April 9, 2009, when a pickup truck pulled alongside his Jeep Cherokee and someone fired a shotgun at him. The blast shattered his mouth and nose, but he was able to drive 15 miles to a Lumberton hospital for help.

"I should be dead today," Hunt, 39, said Wednesday as he sat in the living room of his Lumberton home.

No one has ever been charged in the shooting, and Lt. Dru Martin of the Robeson County Sheriff's Office said there are few leads, despite a $10,000 reward offered for information leading to an arrest.

“Over the last seven or eight months, it’s been sort of idle,” Martin said. “It’s frustrating for nothing to come up, very frustrating.”

Hunt said he remains convinced that his anti-gang activity at Fairmont Middle was the reason for the shooting, noting that he had previously received death threats.

"I know – I don't think, I don't wonder if – I know that what happened to me is directly related to my role as a school administrator, as a principal," he said.

Despite that, Robeson County Schools officials maintained that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay Hunt any compensation because the shooting happened while he was away from school property.

"I was left out there all alone to fend for myself," Hunt said. "One thing I don't understand (is) why it's been such a harassment."

The state Industrial Commission, which handles worker's compensation cases, ruled in Hunt's favor twice in 2010, but the school district appealed both times, sending the case to the state Court of Appeals.

The court ruled unanimously Tuesday that he was eligible for $781 a week for each week he has been out of work since the shooting.

The appellate judges noted, among other facts, that Hunt was driving to school and talking with a school employee on his school-issued cell phone when he was shot.

Assistant Superintendent DeRay Cole declined to comment on Hunt's case Wednesday, referring all questions to the state Attorney General's office, which also had no comment.

Hunt has received disability payments since he resigned, but he said his family has had to scrape by financially without any worker's compensation.

"I'm a strong family man. I'm a strong Christian man. So, I had these resources, these helps, in place, and yes, there were times someone had to lend a helping hand to make the ends meet," he said.

He has undergone several reconstructive surgeries since the shooting, and while the former Marine and father of two might be physically strong, he said he's not prepared mentally to return to work.

"I'm not in a state of mind to go back and do what I used to do," he said.

Just as he was determined to continue fighting for the worker's compensation award, Hunt said he's not giving up on an arrest in his shooting.

"My case is going to be solved," he said. "I will not rest until I have closure (and) whoever did this – one or two – is brought to justice."