ARLINGTON -- Rookie officer Jillian Michelle Smith was nearing the end of her shift Tuesday night when she arrived at a southeast Arlington apartment complex to take a report from a woman who had been assaulted by her ex-boyfriend.
The victim, Kimberly Deshay Carter, 29, was reportedly alone with her 11-year-old daughter at the Arbrook Park Apartments, so Smith responded without backup to the low-priority call at 8 p.m.
But minutes after Smith arrived at the complex off Arbrook Boulevard and Collins Street, the ex-boyfriend came back armed. Arlington police say the man, Barnes Samuel Nettles -- a registered sex offender with a long criminal history -- fatally shot Smith and Carter before turning the gun on himself.
Carter's daughter managed to escape unharmed.
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"She got away and went to a friend's house in the complex," Carter's brother, Lamen Jennings, said in a brief telephone conversation Wednesday before boarding a plane from Washington state to Texas to be with his grieving family. "This is a very, very big shock."
Based on evidence and witness statements, investigators believe that Smith was trying to shield the child when she was fatally shot, police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said at a news conference Wednesday. It was unclear whether Smith fired her weapon.
"She was a hero, trying to save as many lives as she could and ultimately sacrificed her own," said Randle Meadows, Arlington Police Association president.
Smith, 24, an Arlington native who joined the department in February, is the second Arlington police officer killed in the line of duty this year.
"This is a very, very tragic year," Police Chief Theron Bowman said.
Clutching family photos and handwritten note at a news conference Thursday, Smith's uncle, Ronald Haney, spoke proudly of his niece becoming an Arlington police officer to serve the community she grew up in.
Despite their concerns for her safety, Haney said the family strongly supported Smith's decision to join the force earlier this year.
"Jillian was always the adventurous type. She didn't seem to be afraid of anything," the family spokesman said outside the South Arlington Police Service Center where Smith was stationed. "It may not have been our choice but it was her choice and we were supportive.
"It doesn't surprise me that she would do what she did," Haney said. "[She's] just a hero in my mind."
The service for Smith is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, 301 West Sanford St., followed by burial at Moore Memorial Gardens, 1219 N. Davis Dr. A candlelight vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the church.
Meanwhile, in Mobile, Ala., Nettles' relatives were also reeling.
"We are at a loss right now," said Nettles' cousin Andrew Johnson. "We're just sorry for the relatives of both victims. It was selfish."
A violent past
Carter and Nettles moved from Tacoma, Wash., to North Texas in search of different things.
Carter -- a military kid who was raised in Indianola, Miss., attended high school in Fayetteville, N.C., and settled in Tacoma -- wanted to be closer to her father, who now lives in Mansfield.
Nettles was an unemployed sheet metal worker looking for a job.
But the couple's relationship deteriorated, and Carter and her daughter moved into a place of their own in Arlington.
"I didn't hear anything about him being abusive until they moved to Texas," Jennings said. "I don't know if it went on here [in Washington]. If it did, my sister didn't tell me."
In September, Nettles, 38, was arrested in Arlington and charged with assaulting Carter's stepmother, Leah Richardson, and stepsister, Candace Washington.
Nettles allegedly confronted Richardson and Washington as they were leaving Carter's apartment. Nettles apparently was angry at Richardson for forbidding Carter from dating him because he was a registered sex offender. He tried to choke Richardson and throw her over the second-floor railing, an arrest affidavit said.
Nettles also grabbed Washington and threatened to kill Richardson and her husband, the affidavit said.
According to court documents, local defense attorney Abe Factor was appointed to represent Nettles in September after he indicated that he could not afford a lawyer because he was unemployed and supporting himself and his three sons, ages 18, 14 and 11.
He listed his gross monthly income as $1,340 from "odd jobs" and stated that he also received food stamps and Medicaid and had filed for child support.
Nettles' cousin, Kim, said his sons from a previous marriage were staying with their grandmother in Washington during the school holiday and weren't around when the shooting occurred.
"It is so shocking to us," Kim Nettles said. "Everything seemed OK. You never know what is going on inside, though."
Before coming to Texas, Barnes Nettles served time in Washington for a variety of offenses, including rape of a child, burglary, reckless driving, assaults, domestic violence, violation of court orders and failure to register as a sex offender.
When the shooting occurred, he was free on $5,000 bail in the assault on Carter's relatives.
Although police officials said it's standard for one officer to respond to a low-priority call, the Arlington Police Department will review its policies and procedures in light of Smith's death.
"This just punctuates that there is no routine call," Meadows said.
Neighbors at the complex said they were stunned not only by the violence but also by the fact that they never heard gunshots.
Jacob Peters, who lives on the second floor of the unit, said he was listening to music Tuesday night when he heard arguing.
"It sounded like a man and a woman's voice," Peters said. "Then I heard footsteps like kids playing and running up and down the stairs. I almost opened my door and told them to cool it."
About an hour later, police knocked on his door and asked whether he had heard any gunshots, he said.
"They said an officer was shot and killed," he said. "I couldn't believe it."
'Her beautiful smile'
By all accounts, officer Smith had landed a dream job.
Officials said she became interested in police work in the sixth grade while participating in the DARE program.
After graduating from Seguin High School in 2005, she received a bachelor's degree in criminology from the University of Texas at Arlington in August 2009. She graduated from the police academy in August, joined the Police Department in February and was released from field training Dec. 13, Richard said.
Flags are flying at half-staff at UT Arlington in honor of Smith, and university President James D. Spaniolo released a statement on Thursday:
"We are honored to have counted Officer Smith as a part of our University family," he said. "Officer Smith typifies the kind of student who best represents UT Arlington. She identified her goals, worked hard to achieve them and dedicated herself to serving others."
She is the eighth Arlington officer to die in the line of duty in the department's history and the second to die this year.
In January, Arlington officer Craig Story was killed when his police motorcycle and a school bus collided during a traffic stop on South Cooper Street. The 34-year-old officer's motorcycle caught fire.
"Anytime an officer is lost in the line of duty, it's difficult," Sgt. Dace Clifton said. "We do have a strong police family. Police officers know the job they do is dangerous. They come together to support each other in times like this."
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said he met Smith at her academy class graduation and will always remember "how she stood out with her beautiful smile."
"You could tell she had achieved what she was working hard for a long time," Cluck said. "The only reason she became a police officer, the only reason she went to that house that night, was to help other people."
Staff writers Alex Branch and Mitch Mitchell contributed to this report.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639
Melody McDonald, 817-390-7386