Mattie Brown struggles to describe how it felt to see her only son in the hospital bed, his state trooper uniform cut away, his bandaged left arm shattered by a .45 slug. She can't speak. She puts her hand softly to her lips, shaking her head, blinking back tears.
"The first thing he said was, 'Momma, you all right?'" she almost whispers.
Highway Patrol Cpl. Mitch Brown is out of surgery and back home, recuperating. He's beginning what's expected to be seven or eight months of recovery before he can climb back in the patrol car. His arm has a rod in it now. His back has a huge welt from where the safety vest stopped one bullet. His hip is bruised from the patrol radio that stopped another.
The vest and radio might have saved his life.
On Sunday afternoon, the day after an Orangeburg County sheriff's deputy was shot to death responding to a domestic violence call, Brown made a traffic stop for speeding. He pulled over a car with three occupants at a gas station full of customers at the intersection of U.S. Highways 176 and 301.
The 32-year-old Ladson resident had just been promoted to corporal, taking over a patrol in Orangeburg County. He's an Army veteran who served in Korea, in Bosnia. This was routine.
Then a passenger in the back seat opened fire, spraying shots, and ran into the woods. His left arm useless, his radio dead, Brown handcuffed at least one of the others and staggered to the store. Customers pumping at the gas tanks helped Brown call 911.
The fleeing suspect was arrested after a three-hour search by a swarm of state and local officers, police dogs and a helicopter.
Anthony Donnell Glover, 21, and two of his uncles, all of Columbia, are charged with assault and battery with intent to kill. Glover, Anthony Troy Glover, 34, and Michael Glover, 37, were being held Wednesday without bond in the Orangeburg County Detention Center.
The trooper's father, Mitchell Brown, gets a little angry thinking about it all. He's seen the videos of troopers manhandling suspects; he knows what people are saying about the Highway Patrol.
"A criminal gets mistreated, they flash that on the news quick. But these two officers who got shot over the weekend ... there's no justice. I guess they weren't mistreated. And the guy who shot my son had the nerve to say he didn't mean to hurt him," he said.
Mattie Brown has never worried about her son, not in the Army, not in the Highway Patrol. Two photos of him are on the mantel in the living room; one in the Army uniform, one in the Highway Patrol uniform.
"He always knew what to do to protect himself, when to do it and where to do it. He's always been like that. If he says he can do it, he can do it," she said. But she prayed every mile of the frantic car ride to a Columbia hospital on Sunday. All she knew was that there had been an accident and that her son was talking.
The sight of him in that hospital bed stopped her short. Three days later, on the sofa by the photos, she leans her arms on her knees and clutches a handkerchief like a lifeline.
"I could have been sitting in here dressed all in black, grieving," she said.
"I'm not speaking only for my son. I'm speaking of everyone who goes out there and risks their lives. They say, 'They know the job is dangerous.' Sitting up in your house is dangerous. Somebody could kick your door in. Those people are watching over us as we sleep. Why can't we protect them?" she said.
"They only have one trooper to go out with no backup because they don't have the funding. How many more people must die before we get more people out there?" she said. "He was in it by himself until those people at the gas station got involved, and that makes me feel good. Get involved."
Her sad eyes lighten a little as her son walks in the room, cradling the arm in a sling. He sits in obvious pain, rubbing his hand across his head. "This is my joy, compared to what other people go through," she said.
Mitch Brown has been instructed not to speak about the incident until the Highway Patrol holds a press conference. Asked why those were his first words in the hospital room, he looks at his mother, a long look.
"I'm her only son. I'm her youngest. We've always had this closeness," he said. "I don't want her to be in pain. I'd rather be in pain before she is."
Reach Bo Petersen at 745-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.