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Vest saves Oak Hill police officer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second time in two years, an Oak Hill police officer has been shot in the line of duty, and police are searching for the shooter.

At about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Sgt. J.L. Kirk with the Oak Hill Police Department responded to an alarm at the Maple Court Apartments near the top of Whipple Hill, according to a news release from Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler and Oak Hill Police Chief Michael Whisman.

Kirk, 32, started to walk around the building to investigate when he noticed a man walking down the road toward Whipple, according to the release.

Kirk drove his marked police cruiser toward the man. When he got out of his car, the man allegedly turned toward Kirk and shot him once with a small-caliber handgun.

The bullet struck Kirk in the lower left portion of his abdomen, but was stopped from penetrating his skin by a bulletproof vest. Kirk drew his handgun and returned fire, but the man fled the area on foot, according to the release.

Kirk, a 12-year veteran of the Oak Hill Police Department, was taken to Plateau Medical Center in Oak Hill. He was examined and released, and joined other officers in trying to find the shooter.

The alleged shooter is a black male of medium height and medium to stocky build.

His hair was loosely braided in either cornrows or dreadlocks and extended near his collar, or possibly shorter, according to the release.

The man was last seen heading in the direction of Whipple wearing a short-sleeve green shirt and blue jeans.

He was believed to be right-handed and had a small weapon, possibly a .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to the release. He is considered armed and dangerous.

This is the second time in a little more than two years that an Oak Hill officer "has been saved by a bulletproof vest" in the line of duty, Whisman said.

On March 18, 2010, Cpl. C.A. Young had stopped a Cadillac with Ohio license plates on W.Va. 16 around 4:15 a.m. when the driver shot him.

Whisman told the Gazette at the time that the driver stopped in the middle of the road, got out of his car and opened fire on Young. Young took cover and returned fire, but was struck in the chest by a bullet. Another round struck his police cruiser.

Young -- just like Kirk -- was wearing a bulletproof vest, which saved his life, Whisman told the Gazette at the time.

The shooter got back in his car and fled. He has never been identified

Investigators previously told the Gazette they have learned "through credible sources" that the shooting was related to organized criminal activity involving the Bloods and Crips street gangs. They said the suspected shooter likely returned to Columbus, Ohio.

The Bloods and Crips, known for their signature red and blue clothing, respectively, gained notoriety during their rise in the 1980s and '90s in Los Angeles. The Sheriff's Department said the predominant criminal enterprise of these gangs is street level drug dealing, primarily cocaine.

Whisman said it was "too soon" to determine if Wednesday's shooting was also drug- or gang-related.

"Attacks on law enforcement officers in this area have greatly increased in the past several years," Kessler said.

Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith was killed in the line of duty in 2006 and Fayette County Sheriff's Cpl S.R. Morris was shot during a foot pursuit in Montgomery in June 2008.

"Earlier this year," Kessler said, "a member of the Fayette County Sheriff's Office was forced to shoot a suspect armed with a rifle who was endangering several deputy sheriffs."

A volunteer task force of local officers from the State Police, Oak Hill Police Department and Fayette County Sheriff's Department has been formed to investigate the shooting.

Anyone with information concerning the shooting is asked to call the Fayette County 911 Center at 304-574-3590, the Crime Stoppers at 304-255-7867, the Fayette County Sheriff's Department at 304-574-4216, the Oak Hill Police Department at 304-465-0597 or State Police at 304-469-2915.

An unspecified monetary award is being offered for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspected shooter.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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