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GASTONIA, N.C. - Family members got their first look inside a Gastonia, North Carolina, home Monday after a police officer shot and killed an armed 74-year-old Army veteran inside.
Charlotte's WSOC-TV found court documents showing that firefighters forced James Allen’s door open Saturday night during a welfare check. The police chief said an officer fired his weapon after Allen pointed a gun at him.
Family members said they are devastated by what happened.
"I think that he probably thought somebody was breaking in his house or robbing him of something," said the victim’s sister, Mary Battle.
She is in disbelief over the shooting. She said her brother, who fought in the Korean War, was recovering from heart surgery. Police said they went to the home to do a welfare check after relatives in Anson County alerted authorities there.
WSOC-TV found that the Gastonia Police Department did 531 welfare checks in 2014 alone. On Saturday night, officers came to the residence twice but could not get anyone to come to the door.
“The thing I questioned is, why make a wellness call at midnight?” neighbor Gene Clark said.
Clark told police that Allen was hard of hearing, and he had not seen him since the day before. According to a search warrant, police claim the 74-year-old approached both police and firefighters holding a gun after they made entry into his home.
That’s when Officer Josh Lefevers fired his weapon.
“There should have been a better way to handle this. Something else could have been done,” Battle said. “I’m so mad; I’m hurt. I’m hurt.”
Court documents said police recovered three shell casings from the home, along with a .22-caliber revolver. Clark said he knows police have a right to protect themselves but also understands the family’s concerns.
“It goes both ways. I really don’t know. All I know is he was a good man,” Clark said.
Allen's family and friends are questioning whether his killing could have been avoided.
They want to know if it was necessary for police to use deadly force after they entered Allen's home and found him standing there, holding a gun.
Scott Maclatchie, a Charlotte attorney and veteran Los Angeles police officer, said that when it comes to conducting welfare checks, the law in North Carolina is clear.
“The law is very clear that a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to defend himself when they’re confronted with what appears to be an imminent threat,” Maclatchie said
It's the officer's job to use force to get inside the home if he or she has made every effort to get the person to come to the door, he said.
The State Bureau of Investigations is now looking into the killing.