When Deputies Jim Trent and Wesley Atha stepped out of their patrol cars the afternoon of Aug. 3, neither man had any idea just how much their lives were about to change but quickly found out when the first shot rang out from the house on Parker Road.
In a press conference held on Thursday morning, the two men briefly embraced before sitting down to answer questions about the ordeal that began with the two being shot when they responded to a suicide threat that ended when the shooter took his own life. Since that time, both men have spent time in the hospital. Atha has endured several surgeries to his forearm, and Trent was shot in the chin — the bullet travelling through his neck, eventually coming to rest inside the neck of his shirt. '
"We got there about the same time," said 50-year-old Trent. "Wesley pulled in behind me and basically it went downhill from there." The deputies were cautious but had not drawn their weapons. "As soon as we exited the vehicles, we began taking fire from the window of the house," he said."I hit the ground to take cover," Trent continued, "and I tried to find
Wesley. I was just holding my throat. I knew I was hit, but I didn’t know how bad it was."
Trent found 25-year-old Atha who had hit the ground as well. Both men had taken cover behind their patrol cars. Neither can remember how many shots were fired, but both say that by the time they were on the ground, the shooter, identified as 20-year-old Thomas Powell, was done firing.
"I had just stepped out of my car and I remember seeing Jim go down. As I was turning around to get behind my car I felt the shot in my back. I remember sliding in the mud and I fell on my arm. When I went to push myself back up I couldn’t. When I looked closer, I saw the entry wound and realized I’d been shot."
Trent’s radio had been shot as well, and although Atha had taken a bullet to the back, his bullet-proof vest undoubtedly saved his life. Atha pushed an emergency button on his radio and held it down. Back-up arrived shortly.
"All I could see was him holding his neck and blood coming out," said Atha of Trent’s injury. "I didn’t know if his artery had been hit or not."
"There was a time when me and Wesley took cover together and were trying to figure out where he [Powell] could be," Trent said. "We got back to back and took cover behind a little pump house and tried to cover all sides. We didn’t know if maybe he had come out of the house — we had no idea where he was so we covered each other until backup arrived."
Jennifer Trent was at home when people began calling, asking her if she knew what was going on in the county, but when she turned on her television, the cable was out. She made a phone call to a family friend who works at the Newton County Detention Center — the friend was already on his way to her home.
"He told me there had been an accident, but that Jim was fine," she said. "I didn’t know anything else until he [the friend] got to the house. I just knew that he was supposed to be getting off duty at 6 p.m.," she said of her husband, who was shot at approximately 5:30 p.m.
Jennifer said their 17-year-old son was with her at the time they heard there had been an accident and that Trent had been injured. "He just said, ‘Momma, let’s just stop and pray about it right now,’ and we did," she said. "And when we did that, a sense of peace just came over me and I knew it was going to be O.K."
Both Atha and Trent were rushed to Atlanta Medical Center. Georgia State Patrol gave the ambulances an escort to the hospital, and when they arrived at Interstate 75, the Atlanta Police Department shut the interstate down to get the deputies to the hospital quickly.
"You couldn’t ask for a better response or for better camaraderie," said Trent. "Butts County was the first on the scene because we were right there on the county line, Rockdale County came and of course Newton County. We just couldn’t have asked for more than that."
Two weeks later and both men still bear the scars from the incident that nearly cost them their lives. Atha’s arm is in a sling, heavily bandaged, the damage extensive; there is still a bruise on his back from where the bullet hit him and his thumb is numb. Trent has a small scar on his chin, and a larger one on his neck and has yet to regain feeling in that area. But despite their ordeal, both are looking forward to returning to work at the Newton County Sheriff’s Office as soon as they get the go-ahead from their doctors. And both men say they feel extremely fortunate to be alive.
"I’m very, very thankful that God has his hands on both of us. Us being here — it is without a doubt a miracle."
Jennifer’s statements mirrored her husband’s, saying that she believed God had the people he wanted at Powell’s home at the time he wanted them there.
"This is just me — I don’t know what other people think," she said. "I do know that these boys love the Lord and I think he used them. We just send our condolences out to the other family. I know they’re going through a lot right now too."
Although Powell was the one who opened fire on the two deputies, neither holds ill will toward him or his family.
"What’s done is done," said Trent. "Apparently he [Powell] was fighting some demons he couldn’t handle and it wouldn’t behoove anybody to hold any hard feelings. I just hate when anybody has a loss, and they have lost a son. Our prayers are with them."
"One thing that just leaves me broken-hearted," said Jennifer, her eyes bright with unshed tears, "is that Jim is so good with talking people through their problems and when I knew that Jim was fine I was so broken-hearted over that little boy. I just kept thinking that if he had come outside and just talked to Jim for five minutes he could have loved him through it."
Atha and Trent have been heralded as heroes throughout the community, but when asked both said, nearly in unison, that they felt like anything but heroes.
"If we had been able to save that kid then yeah," said Atha. "Then we would have felt like heroes."
But Chief Deputy Jerry Carter feels differently.
"Do I feel like these deputies are heroes? Absolutely," he said. "Not just anybody can do this job. It’s a calling and these officers are exemplary."