Civil Liberties

Why Did a Culpeper Cop Kill a Retired Sunday School Teacher in a Church Parking Lot? [UPDATED]


On February 9, 2012, 54-year-old retired Sunday school teacher Patricia Cook was shot to death in the parking lot of Epiphany Catholic School in Culpeper, Virginia. The Culpeper police officer who shot and killed Cook claims that he was responding to reports of a suspicious woman sitting in her vehicle on the school's property, and that when he went to take Cook's license, she rolled up his arm in her Jeep's window and drove off, dragging the officer and forcing him to shoot.

Three months later, one eyewitness says this is a complete lie, and that the officer was not in danger when he fired at Cook six times.

Kris Buchele, a Culpeper carpenter who was working in a house near the church and claims to have seen the entire event unfold, told WUSA9 the following:

"He was right next to the vehicle.  He had one hand on the door handle and one hand on his weapon.  And she was rolling the window up.  And they were exiting out of the parking lot.

The window was half way up he said 'stop or I'll shoot.'   I really didn't think he was going to do it.  But she got the window all the way up and that's when he shot.  And then she took a left out of the parking lot here and he stepped out in the street and fired five more times," said Buchele.

Buchele says the officer was not dragged and that he shot her before she drove away.  He says he didn't have his arm caught because the officer's left hand was on the door handle and right hand was holding a weapon. Also, he says he distinctly saw her roll up the window all the way before the officer shot out the glass and killed her.

According to a petition on, started by Culpeper residents and Cook's family, "At the most recent town council meeting, citizens were not allowed to discuss the shooting, and no information has been made available by the Virginia State Police regarding the status of the investigation."

Community members also started a Facebook petition calling for the investigation findings to be released, and the unnamed officer to either be cleared, or charged with Cook's murder. 

Cook, a Methodist, was not a member of Epiphany Catholic Church. Her husband thinks she may have been in the parking lot because she wanted to work at the chuch's school. 

Virginia State Police and the Fauquier County prosecutor's office have been investigating the shooting for 10 weeks. The officer, whose name has not been released, is reportedly on paid administrative leave. 

UPDATE: Reason's own Ron Bailey directs me to a story in The Hook that a) sheds some light on the offending officer's identity and background, and b) reports one of Virginia's top law enforcement veterans is irate about how long the investigation is taking: 

Three months after a Culpeper police officer gunned down an unarmed woman and despite an official explanation that has been contradicted by at least two witnesses, there's still no action. Frustration has grown so intense that about 500 citizens have signed a petition, and now Central Virginia's leading law enforcer is speaking out about the case and its allegedly slow pace.

"What I've heard about it stinks,"says Albemarle Sheriff Chip Harding.

A former Charlottesville police captain who gained a national reputation in DNA technology, Harding says that 80 percent of a police shooting investigation typically occurs in the first five or six hours. Here, the State Police, aside from issuing a pair of press releases essentially blaming the victim, have released little– even denying multiple requests for the name of the officer in question.

"How long does it take to do an investigation?" asks Harding. "It's not rocket science."


The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg cites two unnamed officers confirming that the shooter's name is Daniel Harmon-Wright.

Moreover, the newspaper reports that the 33-year-old Harmon-Wright has previously used other names. On Facebook, he goes by "Dan Wayne," a graduate of James Madison High School in Vienna, the paper reports. More curiously, the five-year veteran of the Culpeper P.D., also a veteran of the U.S. Marines, previously lived in Fauquier where he was known as Daniel Sullivan.

Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins did not return a phone call from the Hook seeking confirmation that Harmon-Wright is Sullivan and the shooter– and why the officer might tamper with his own surname.

UPDATE II: Cook's husband has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Culpeper PD.  

WUSA9 has more: