November 4, 2005
It was September 15, 1997 at about 3:00 in the afternoon as shifts changed at R.E. Phelon when Hastings Wise stormed in. This former employee was fired about a month before for his temper. Wise shot a security guard to get inside. Once there, he started firing dozens of shots at others.
“In my 14 years of law enforcement, it was my most intense few hours of my career,” said Captain Bobby Wilson.
September 15 was also Bobby Wilson’s first day as a promoted captain at the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was mad because of what he’d done. This is my county, these are my neighbors and it just made me mad that someone would do something like that,” Wilson said.
That afternoon, the captain’s new responsibilities were tested.
“It was mass hysteria,” Wilson said.
He coordinated the sheriff’s department’s response.
“You kind of feel helpless. You know you have a mission to do and you want to get in there and save everybody that you can. On the other hand, you got to think if my responders get hurt going in there we’re not helping anybody else,” Wilson said.
Wise was still inside the building. No one knew exactly where.
At the same time, the panicked plant workers evacuated.
“Tons of people running out screaming he’s in there killing people, help us, help us,” Wilson said.
They filed into the Aiken High School gym where Sgt. Don Henry watched over them. He remembers the look on many faces.
“Disbelief, still a lot of shock and not really understand why or what happened,” Sgt. Henry said.
Back inside the plant, the Aiken County SWAT Team searched for Wise. Later the SLED SWAT team joined them. Sr. Investigator Lynn Ghant was among those inside.
“You don’t know what’s gonna happen, you don’t know where he’s at or what you’re looking for,” Ghant said.
But all went smoothly. The SWAT team found Wise two hours after the shooting, sick to his stomach. He’d swallowed insecticide in a failed suicide attempt. Investigator Ghant rode with Wise to the hospital.
Wise living meant he was able to stand trial for his actions. And now, he faces his punishment of death.
But to Captain Wilson, this is not an ending for anyone involved, it’s merely another step.
“Those families are going to feel better that he’s got his punishment, but you know the holidays are coming, Christmas and Thanksgiving, mom and dad and brothers and sisters are not going to be there,” Wilson said.