On Saturday, Chris Harris and his fiance, 2013 Toughman Contest Middleweight Division runner-up Celise Roxby were returning from church when they were accosted by a group of nine people outside Harris’ Wheeling, WV home.
Harris, as a last resort to protect them from their attackers, fired a warning shot into the air with his handgun in an effort to show his attackers, who were armed and did not believe the gun was real, that the weapon was authentic and that it would be in their best interest to change course.
According to Harris, the two had just finished teaching Saturday evening “Sunday School” classes at the Vineyard Church. The couple was sitting in the car saying goodbye before Roxby drove home and Harris went inside when a group of young men –at least one armed with a knife — approached the car and began banging on windows, threatening the couple. According to some witnesses, the men were “saying they would rape [Roxby] in front of” Harris.
The couple says Roxby, Roxby, a self-defense instructor and anti-bullying advocate and owner of the gun, then pulled out her legal concealed handgun in an effort to dissuade attackers. Harris took the gun from Roxby, whose hands were shaking, and leveled it on the men — However, they claimed that the gun was not real and continued to advance.
Harris says that he did not wish to actually shoot anyone, so he fired a single warning shot into the air then pointed the gun squarely on his attackers. “The warning shot was to show them it was a real gun. It was to give them a chance to reevaluate their decision,” Harris told AATTP.
The couple managed to retreat inside, and police arrived on the scene shortly after. Harris was then arrested for wanton endangerment, while the attackers walked free.
“I just don’t understand why they arrested him, still,” Roxby said. “It just baffles me.”
“I don’t know what kind of world we live in, where you’re arrested for defending yourself,” she added.
Roxby told AATTP that she was on the phone with 911 dispatch when the shot was fired — so police should have known that attempts were made to warn the attackers away.
Police actually took statements from their attackers, and Harris is prevented from having contact with one of them — the one he says was at the front of the pack — as a condition of his bond.
Harris was initially held on $6,000 bail. However, within a period of twelve hours, it was lowered twice: First to $2,000, then to $500. Harris, who is currently free after paying bond, says that the arrest — simply for defending himself — has taken a toll on his family. His grandmother, with whom he was staying, will no longer allow him to sleep at her house. He said that the worst impact is that, as long as the investigation is ongoing, he can not do what he loves most: He has been barred from teaching Sunday School, pending results of the investigation.
Harris says that he and Roxby both have extensive firearms training. He explained to AATTP that he “wasn’t walking around Target with an AK-47,” but was instead, “using a gun the way it should be used”: As a last resort when there was legitimate concern that his life was threatened.
“Charges or not, I’m comfortable with the decision I made.” he told AATTP. “If taking a life is the only option, then crossing that bridge would weigh on me for the rest of my life. This way, no one got hurt.” He argues that the discharge of the handgun kept them safe, even though he chose not to fire it at another human being.
“The gun was used in self defense, kept us safe, and no one got shot.” he said. “What happened was better than the alternative if I would not have had the gun.”
Harris says that actually shooting someone should be a last resort. He told AATTP that the couple does not normally carry a firearm, but it was stored –with ammunition kept separately — in the car because the two had just returned from a Florida trip, where they took the gun for safety.
We spoke to two witnesses, neither of whom was willing to talk on camera. While one did not see the unfolding events until after the couple began backing toward the house, he did tell AATTP that he recognized some of the attackers — at least a few of whom were just released from prison in the early summer. The witness said that some of those involved were known drug dealers and heroin addicts.
One of Harris’ neighbors told AATTP that she clearly heard the mob discussing plans to rape Roxby. She said that she saw at least one weapon, but with the number of people Harris was facing no weapon mattered besides his: He was outnumbered.
“It’s a bit convoluted. … The problem is, they didn’t remain at scene and just tell us that story,” Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said. “I think his story does bear some accuracy, I just wish he would have told us his story when we arrived.” He added that, “If you’re confronted, it’s best if you get away from them. Call 911 and that gets us on the way.”
Police say that Harris was hiding in his garage when they arrived.
Harris faces one to five years in jail as a result of his decision to preserve life, yet still defend himself with a firearm.
One must wonder if he would face any charges at all, had he simply emptied a clip into someone.