'A bullet for caring'; Vietnam vet 71, cousin shot - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

'A bullet for caring'; Vietnam vet 71, cousin shot

Posted: Updated:

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- On crutches, his right foot booted with bullet fragments still in it, James 'Sonny' Gibson would wait almost three hours in the lobby to get his ride home

"I said, 'why didn't you call somebody'," says 'J.J. Kilgore, Gibson's friend and brother to his landlord. "He said 'I didn't want to bother nobody.' That's all Old School, you just don't bother people."

But, on Taylor Street, where signs of gang activity are as close as the shoes strung over the power lines next door, 'Sonny' has a soft-spot for the neighborhood's young men, 'at risk.'

"I was in Vietnam with the Marines, got out and joined the Black Panthers," Gibson tells Channel 3 off camera. "Did stupid stuff. Did some time in San Quentin. God wants me to keep others from that path."

"He thinks all of 'em's good," Kilgore says. "They just need guidance. And he tries to talk to 'em and they gather up here.' And when they gather up here, bad things happen."

'Bad' hit at 8:40 Thursday evening, according to a news release from Chattanooga Police.

Gibson had taken in a much younger cousin, 21-year-old Blake Reid.

"He'd burned his bridges with everyone in the family," Gibson says. "But I wasn't gonna let him sleep out in the cold."

Reid took a bullet in the stomach, according to his family. He's out of intensive care, but remains in Erlanger Medical Center, his father says.

Friday, you could find a pair of black latex gloves that investigators left in the street, close to where Reid fell.

Tape marks two spots where bullets struck Gibson's front door; one coming clear through, about eight inches from the bottom. Gibson was sitting on his couch.

"I heard 'Pop,Pop, Pop', he says. "Loud. Like it was right in this room. I went out on the porch. I didn't even know I was shot until I looked down and saw the blood.

His own.

"There's no telling what it was all over," Kilgore says.

If police know, they haven't said anything yet.

Gibson maintains that he's never had any trouble with anybody, even with the worst element.

"I tell 'em my house can be your home, but there's 'house rules'," he says.

Swearing means a fine. He keeps the levies in an old water bottle he calls the Cussin' Jug.

He's more than a tenant to Kilgore and his brother, also nicknamed "Sonny."

"My brother's a Marine, he's a Marine," Kilgore says. "Marines stick together."

The Semper Fi ('Always Faithful') credo is why the Kilgore brothers are giving Gibson's house the full-makeover; remodeled kitchen and bathroom. Refinished floors. Re-insulated. Re-wired.

"He'll do odd jobs, and he has Social Security, but he'd give it away if somebody needed it," Sonny Kilgore says.

Kilgore's been taking Gibson to lunch, and to pay his bills, "so that others don't take advantage of him."

Gibson vows that Thursday's brush with violence has changed him. 

"Maybe I'll put my energies into volunteering," he says.

"JJ" Kilgore knows that's what's best. But it comes with sadness.

"We keep hearing don't give up on these kids, and young men," he says. "Somebody's gotta do it. But here's his (Gibson's) thanks. Safe bet is not to do it. Not for him. Run 'em off."

Powered by Frankly