In 15 years on the job, Officer James Payton had never fired his weapon at another human being — until the Ward Parkway Center shopping mall shooting.
Nearly 12 years later, he chokes up when he talks about it. He recalls the sting and numbness of his own gunshot wound.
“He told me to kill him. Put his finger right here,” Payton said, pointing at his own head with his fingers in the shape of gun. “And said ‘you only got one chance, partner.’”
Payton rarely spoke publicly about the Ward Parkway shooting. But he recounted the events of that day after his recent retirement from a 26-year career at the Kansas City Police Department.
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He was the first to encounter David Logsdon and interrupt a deadly shooting spree that ended at the mall. Logsdon had killed his neighbor, stolen her car, and went on to kill two others in the shopping center parking lot.
The multiple shootings and threat to the public at the shopping mall prompted officials to issue a city-wide call for law enforcement help, Payton said. Officers arriving at the mall found a bloody scene.
Payton, now 55, recalls the day in intricate detail — he sat at the intersection of Bannister Road and Lydia Avenue thinking of where next to search for the dead neighbor’s stolen car.
He might have moved on but found himself delayed at the intersection where the traffic lights were stuck on red. He sat there long enough to notice the maroon Oldsmobile sitting in the convenience store parking lot to his left.
It matched the description of the stolen car.
Payton made a U-turn, flipping around in the intersection, the lights still red on either side. He checked the plates to confirm it was the car that belonged to Patricia Reed, Logsdon’s neighbor, who was found dead in her home.
“It went all downhill from there,” Payton said.
Payton pulled up behind the Oldsmobile and walked up to the driver’s side window. In the car was Logsdon.
In the dashcam video later released by the department, Payton can be heard shouting at Logsdon: “Hey! Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!”
Logsdon didn’t threaten Payton at this point. But he had a gun, and the two struggled over it as the car rocked back and forth. Payton eventually wrestled it out of his hand.
Logsdon pulled a second gun and shot Payton through the arm.
Recalling the other gunshot victims he’s seen, Payton counted himself lucky.
“I’ve been on thousands of shooting scenes,” he said. “I’ve seen people get shot in the face. I’ve seen people’s faces blown off. I’ve seen people shot in the chest, the arm. I’ve seen chunks blown out of their body.”
“I guess it wasn’t my time,” he said.
He shot his gun at Logsdon almost two dozen times, striking him in the lower torso and legs as he drove away toward the Ward Parkway shopping center.
In the parking lot of the mall, Logsdon shot and killed two shoppers: Leslie Noble Ballew, 33, of Kansas City and Luke A. Nilges, 30, of Shawnee.
Logsdon entered the Target where he used to work and was shot and killed by Sergeant Michael Griggs.
Some call Payton a hero for confronting Logsdon and injuring him before he reached the mall.
“Many say that he undoubtedly saved lives during that,” said Sgt. Jacob Becchina, a Police Department spokesman. “One word is hero. One of the best heroes this department has had.”
Payton, on the other hand, doesn’t see his actions as heroic. He says he was just doing his job, like so many others that day.
“I never for one second ever, ever considered myself a hero,” Payton said. “Not even for a second. Never did, never will.
“You just, you really want peaceful endings,” Payton said. “That’s your goal, to try to keep the peace.”
Payton’s career wasn’t all violent — he recalled moments of kindness he experienced with other officers and people they met along the way.
He remembered a disturbance call he went on in 1999 just days before Christmas — a woman’s son had stolen the presents and replaced them with wrapped-up dirty clothes.
The woman had no money to pay for presents now, so Payton helped her out. And he kept helping her for nearly 20 years.
“Every year once a year we go to this house,” he said. “We’ll just give them a little bit of money. Just because they’re nice folks, no other reason.”
For the last three years and eight months of his career, before retiring in December, Payton worked in the department’s victims assistance unit, where he helped victims of crime access the resources they need — such as referrals to trauma counselors and information on victims rights.
At Payton’s retirement party, the community room in the metro patrol station was packed with people who came out to thank Payton for his service and wish him well, Becchina said. Nearly 50 people overflowed into the lobby.
“People were proud,” Becchina said. “Obviously sad to see him go, but happy for the times we had together working with him.
“He continues to exude humility around his career and his accomplishments.”
Next for Payton: a few months of relaxation and then on to the next job. Maybe something in transportation. He’s been looking forward to retirement for years.
“I’m relieved to not be involved in the business of violence,” he said.
Even with the Ward Parkway shooting more than a decade behind him and a new chapter to look forward to, he thinks about it every day.
“I pray for the victims’ family — even to this day — by name,” Payton said. “Every day, so I don’t forget their names … The families suffered beyond anything I’ll ever know.”