FOREST ACRES, S.C. (AP) — Police Officer Gregory Alia had welcomed a baby son into the world just months before a man with a stolen gun killed the policeman at a South Carolina mall, authorities said Wednesday.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said 34-year-old Jarvis Hall of Eastover has been charged with murder in the death of Alia, 32, a member of the suburban Forest Acres Police.
Hall shot Alia with a stolen .40-caliber pistol and was arrested immediately, according to arrest warrants.
The head of the small Forest Acres Police Department, Chief Gene Sealy, met briefly with reporters several hours after the shooting to say Alia died after being taken to a local hospital from the Richland Mall. No other injuries were reported, he added.
The chief said Alia was a seven-year veteran, a new father, and a lifelong resident of the Columbia area.
"He was an outstanding police officer," said Sealy. "He was just training a new officer who happened to be with him."
Sealy said Alia's wife, Kassy, gave birth to a baby boy earlier this year.
The chief was the only member of the force of about two dozen officers who agreed to speak with reporters.
The U.S. flag outside the single-story police building was lowered prior to his statement and locals began leaving flowers on a police cruiser parked outside its door shortly afterward.
Forest Acres is a small city completely surrounded by Columbia.
Sealy said Alia was responding to the report of a suspicious person in the parking lot at the mall just before 8 a.m.
Two officers responded and attempted to talk to the person, who fled into the mall near a Barnes and Noble bookstore, Sealy said.
The chief said Alia confronted the person and the young officer was shot during an ensuing struggle.
Sealy said Hall had a knife, as well as the gun, which an arrest warrant said was stolen in neighboring Lexington County around Sept. 2.
Records show Hall was arrested in August for failure to stop for a Columbia police officer. A 30-day jail sentence wasn't due to be completed until Oct. 16.
It wasn't clear why Hall was not in jail at the time of the shooting. A police spokeswoman did not immediately return a message.
The chief did not take questions at the news conference. He said the small department is in mourning.
"Our hearts are broken," the chief said.
Joan Woodward, 81, who lives next door to the officer's parents, said she had known him since he was a baby. She said Wednesday afternoon that she'd just visited with his wife and baby who were at the parents' home.
"She said she was so fortunate that she had him for that length of time," Woodward said.
She remembered sneaking candy to the officer when he came to her door as a child, and she called him "a special human being."
"When my husband died eight years ago, he was so sweet," she said. "He came and sat with me. God always takes the angels."
A GoFundMe page in support of Alia's family had raised more than $47,000 by late afternoon Wednesday. It was set up by Patrick Walsh of Ruston, Louisiana, who said he and Alia were both members of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity at the University of South Carolina.
Walsh said that his friend embodied characteristics that would be helpful in law enforcement.
"He was never confrontational, and I thought serving in the police, that's an incredible quality to have," Walsh said.
Hours after the shooting, the largest department store in the mall had opened, but the Barnes and Noble remained closed.
A small hall near the bookstore was still cordoned off with yellow tape in the late afternoon and a cleaning crew was working there.
Throughout the incident, the mall parking garage was open, and customers pulled in and out of a gas station on the corner. A nearby high school was locked down briefly.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the officer's wife is Kassy, not Cassie.