Local News

Police Chief Dies; Suspect Arrested

Posted July 18, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Sharpsburg Police Chief Wayne Hathaway died early Friday morning at Duke Medical Center, about 18 hours after being shot in the head as he answered a domestic disturbance call.

Gloria Nicholson, 25, also was shot and killed. Her husband, Abner Nicholson, 32, was arrested late Thursday night after an intense manhunt. He faces two counts of first-degree murder.

Hathaway, who had been with the Sharpsburg police for about 25 years, was shot while responding to a domestic dispute at the Nicholsons' trailer in Weaver's mobile home park. Sharpsburg is a largely rural town of about 2,000 people where the Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson county lines meet. The police department had six officers, including the chief.

Hathaway was airlifted from Nash General Hospital to Duke Medical Center shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday. More than 20 friends and family members gathered at the hospital and stood vigil. Hathaway was pronounced dead shortly after 6 a.m. Friday.

Abner Nicholson, a mechanic who had recently lost his job, was arrested late Thursday night. A team of more than 100 law enforcement officers from Edgecombe to Wake counties had launched an extensive manhunt just after the shootings.

Earlier in the day, officers surrounded the Starlight Mote when they thought Nicholson might have been hiding there. A search of the motel turned up empty.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol kept its helicopter up well into the night Thursday searching for Nicholson, who fled on foot into woods near the mobile home. Earlier in the day, a detective also flew with WRAL's Sky5, which helped with the search.

When night fell, the helicopters used heat-sensing equipment to help officers search in the dark for Nicholson. Highway patrol officers cordoned of an area with a radius of 5 miles around the crime scene and stopped all vehicles leaving the area to make sure Nicholson was not a stowaway.

Nicholson was found less than a mile from the mobile home he recently shared with his wife, Gloria. Acquaintances say the couple had been having domestic problems and had recently separated. Covered with dirt, he was cuffed and taken to Wilson County Jail. Police say he offered little resistance.

At a press conference Friday, authorities said Hathaway had gone to the couple's mobile home because Gloria Nicholson had reported a domesitc disturbance. After entering the home and talking with the couple, police say, Nicholson turned suddenly and shot Hathaway once in the head at point-blank range, then shot his wife at least once, killing her. He also fired shots at Gloria's stepfather, Michael Badger of Kenly, and her 14-year-old stepbrother. Neither was injured.

Investigators say Nicholson used a small, .22-caliber pistol in the shootings. They found the suspected weapon just before noon Friday near Nicholson's hiding spot. The gun, similar to the one pictured at left, is easy to hide in a pocket or hand. Authorities say the suspect had pawned the gun, along with some camera equipment and some other items, about two weeks ago. The day before the shooting, he returned to the Sharpsburg pawn shop to retrieve the gun.

A pawnshop clerk says all the paperwork was properly completed on the gun transfer, but it appears Nicholson may have falsified the form in order to get the gun back. The form included a question regarding prior domestic violence convictions. Nicholson reportedly answered no to the question.

Diana Nicholson, the suspect's sister says she finds the whole episode hard to believe.

Nicholson's former employer, Irene Johnson of D.J. Tire Service, let him go last Tuesday. She says he was quiet, but undependable.

Hathaway is the second area law enforcement officer in the last week to be shot while on duty. Hathaway, a 47-year-old divorced father of one son, has been Chief of Sharpsburg's 6-person police force for nearly 25 years.

Wilson County Sheriff Wayne Gay said at a press conference Thursday that Mrs. Nicholson had requested a warrant for the arrest of her husband on assault charges Wednesday night. Thursday, he said, the suspect returned to the mobile home to get some clothing. That's when the shooting started.

A memorial fund has been established for Hathaway's family. Contributions can be sent to theWayne Hathaway Memorial Fund, Triangle Bank, P.O. Box 123, Sharpsburg, NC, 27878.

A separate fund has been set up forGloria Nicholson at Triangle Bank, P.O. Box 123, Sharpsburg, NC, 27878. Donations will go to her 8- and 2-year-old children.

,Bret Baier, Brian Bowmanand Mark Roberts , MJ AinsleyandJohn Conway