The Norman Transcript

August 4, 2007

‘He was a special boy’

By Tony Pennington

Transcript Staff Writer

NOBLE – The boat dock on the family pond was a favorite spot for Jack Tracy and his six grandchildren.

Tracy often would gather the children in his all-terrain vehicle and travel the more than 100 yards from his home to the watering hole. There the clan would feed the fish or drop a line in the water among the numerous trees, constant hum of insects, irregular splashes of fish breaking the surface and the cawing and chirping of various birds.

This once pristine setting has become tainted following a Friday evening shooting that left Tracy’s grandson Austin Haley, 5, dead and at least one Noble police officer on administrative leave.

“There was no reason to discharge a firearm,” proclaimed Tracy Saturday afternoon mere feet from the boat dock where Austin was struck by a stray bullet.

Fighting the tears visible in his eyes, Tracy continued, “He killed my grandbaby. I wish he killed me.”

Austin died Friday evening at Norman Regional Hospital following injuries he sustained when a rogue bullet struck him in the head. The 5-year-old, who would have attended kindergarten at Katherine I. Daily Elementary School in Noble in a few weeks, was at the pond with Tracy, his great-grandfather Jim Gillum and younger brother Dalton, 2.

According to Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation officials a Noble police officer fired his weapon twice at a residence in the 300 block of Crest Lane in Noble. The rooftops of the houses on Crest Lane can been seen from the boat dock.

The officer, whose name has not been released by the Noble police department, was responding to a call sometime around 8 p.m. about a snake trapped in a birdhouse. The animal is believed to have been a “cotton mouth” or “water moccasin” — a poisonous water snake. It was then the officer allegedly unholstered his firearm and expelled two rounds.

“The officer decided shooting the snake would be the best option,” said OSBI spokesperson Jessica Brown. “They heard a splash in the pond from the first shot. The second shot struck the 5-year-old in the head.”

Brown estimated the home on Crest Lane is about 200-250 yards away from Tracy’s pond in the 1200 block of East Etowah Road. Tracy’s home and the home of Austin’s parents, Jack and Renee Haley, also are on the same piece of land as the pond.

OSBI was called to the scene Friday night where they conducted interviews and collected evidence.

“It will be given to the district attorney to determine any criminal wrong doing,” Brown said.

The Noble police department declined to comment on the investigation but did state a release would be issued Monday. Noble City Manager Bob Wade confirmed at least one Noble officer was placed on administrative leave, but could not offer more information.

“There are still a lot of lose ends that need to be investigated,” Wade said.

While authorities continue to research the circumstances of the shooting, Austin’s family has pulled together and struggled to understand why the officer used his weapon in a residential area.

“This is not a rural area,” Tracy said. There are at least 30 houses in the immediate area. “This officer was criminally negligent.”

Jack and Renee also expressed their grief.

“He was a special boy,” said Renee while clutching the camouflaged Bible she purchased for Austin last week. The Curtis Inge Middle School teacher spoke about her son’s devotion to his faith. Austin would remember scriptures and often quoted them to friends and family. He told his mother he was in the Army of God.

“He wanted to know all about the Bible,” Renee said. “… maybe he wasn’t a boy, he may have been an angel.”

The absence of Austin has left the family with a “one step-at-a-time” mentality. They are trying to stay as strong like the faith that infused Austin.

“We believe in God,” Tracy said.

And with God is where Renee believes she will find her son.

“We will never forget this special 5-year-old boy,” she said being comforted by her husband. “I will hold him again someday.”

Tony Pennington