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June 10, 2011 began as any other quiet Friday in Mount Airy, which was interrupted when Police Chief Dale Watson and Capt. Alan Freeman responded to a suicide threat at a local residence.

Although a potential suicide is a serious matter in itself, neither man anticipated the full scope of the tragedy which would unfold that morning after answering a call technically in the Surry County Sheriff’s Office coverage area. However, it was one in which Mount Airy officers were closest to the scene just off City View Drive.

Watson and Freeman, though senior members of the Mount Airy Police Department, were among the first to arrive at the single-wide mobile home and entered it to find a 45-year-old woman on a bed wielding a shotgun. Attempts were made to reason with the woman and get her to surrender the weapon, but she levelled it and pulled the trigger instead.

Both Watson and Freeman were hit and before the incident concluded the woman had been killed by other officers who returned fire after the initial blast.

While expressing sympathy at the time for the deceased and her family, Chief Watson credited preparation, training and perhaps most importantly “some divine intervention” for allowing him and Freeman to escape with non-life-threatening wounds.

Alan Freeman, who has since retired from the city police force — effective last June — and now works as the city’s part-time safety coordinator, still harbors that same kind of appreciation more than nine years after the tragic incident.

Freeman believes his faith in God played a role in keeping him going not only during a 28-year law enforcement career but military combat in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

“I give Him all the credit and glory for it,” Freeman, 55, said during an interview last Monday at the Municipal Building.

“There’s no way to tell my story without mentioning Jesus.”

Family a key

While his law enforcement responsibilities were demanding enough, Alan Freeman also is a devoted family man with a wife and eight children ranging in age from 11 to 31 — and admits that juggling home demands with work posed many challenges.

Yet once again, the longtime law enforcement officer credits others for helping him through tough times and being where he is today. Among them are his mother, his wife (who just happens to be a former narcotics officer) and fellow members of the Mount Airy Police Department who were mentors over the years.

“I had a wonderful mom who cared for me and worked herself to death to provide for me and my brothers,” Freeman said of Marie Richardson, who died in 2014 at age 87.

“She worked at Quality Mills forever,” he added, retiring from the now-shuttered company that was a key part of the local textile economy for generations.

Freeman is a lifelong resident of Surry County, except for the roughly 7.5 years he served in the U.S. Army.

His childhood, as the middle of three boys, encompassed the typical activities of a rural Surry County youth.

“I spent most of my time in the woods,” Freeman recalled. “I loved to hunt and fish when I was younger.” The teen also engaged in an enterprise known to mold many a future leader — mowing yards — and worked at a local company, LL Cultured Marble.

Freeman graduated from North Surry High School in 1983 and joined the Army the next year.

He initially found himself in Alaska, serving as a paratrooper, then was assigned to Georgia and eventually deployed to the Middle East for a stint in the early 1990s. That period covered a little operation called Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in which the U.S. first took aim at Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein.

“I was part of the invasion,” Freeman said of the mission involved. “I was with the 24th Infantry Division.”

The local man was an operations sergeant for a motorized company that included vehicles such as armored personnel carriers.

Freeman remembers that the entire ground war lasted only about 100 hours before American troops’ mission, the liberation of Kuwait, was accomplished.

Something else that has stuck in his mind from that campaign is how a large dust storm blew up and concealed from the enemy the movement by lines of U.S. motorized forces heading to the Euphrates River.

Freeman agrees that this could be considered an act of biblical proportions resembling, at least to a small degree, Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.

Law enforcement career

Unlike youngsters who aspire early on to be firemen, nurses or teachers, Alan Freeman had no such inclination about becoming a police officer.

“It never entered my mind,” he confided.

“Even when I was in the military,” Freeman said of service that can be a precursor to law enforcement work, “the thought never crossed my mind.”

It did become an option soon after he returned from Saudi Arabia and left the military in 1992, albeit in an indirect way.

Freeman enrolled in the criminal justice program at Surry Community College without a law enforcement career as a goal. “That was a program I thought would be interesting,” he explained.

It was during that time at SCC when Freeman met his future wife, Angie Davis, a graduate of Mount Airy High who also was enrolled in the criminal justice curriculum. “And we decided we would go to rookie school together — and we did.”

Freeman was hired by the Mount Airy Police Department while still in rookie school. That date of Dec. 12, 1992 stands out to him, not only as a career milestone but because it was one day after Doris Poore, a 90-year-old widow who lived alone in Mount Airy, was murdered during a home invasion.

Frank Ray Chandler, a young local man charged with and convicted of the crime, was executed in 2004.

As are other new officers, Freeman was assigned to the department’s Patrol Division by then-Police Chief Leo Shores, and relished his time in that function.

“In patrol, you get to do exciting stuff,” he said. “I was in a car — there was something different every day.”

Freeman went relatively unscathed during his time on the streets, being involved in some foot and car chases “and a few tussles here and there.”

Shift to detective

In 1995, Chief Shores transferred Freeman to the Criminal Investigation Division (detective unit) “without any warning or anything,” the latter said. Most officers see this as a promotion and career booster since someone has recognized that they possess the analytical skills to solve high-level cases.

Alan Freeman was not among them. “I didn’t want to go to CID — I wanted to stay a patrol officer.”

“Give it six months and if you don’t like it, I’ll put you back in patrol,” Shores responded.

Freeman would remain in the detective division until 2009. “It was my niche,” he observed, which confirmed the outlook Chief Shores had of Freeman being well-suited to the job. He continued to serve under city police chiefs Ron Hill, Roger McCreary and Watson.

During his tenure as a detective, Freeman investigated some memorable homicide cases, including one in which a man was beaten to death for $15.

“I’ve worked a few bank robberies,” the longtime officer said of other crimes probed, which had a common denominator whether a heinous murder or property loss was involved.

“The feeling of solving a case is one of the best feelings in the world,” Freeman said.

He pointed out that citizens of Mount Airy might think they are shielded from some of the horrible crimes that happen in large cities, but such cases still occur here.

“There’s meanness and evil everywhere,” Freeman said. “And you see that in law enforcement — you wonder how people can be that evil and that mean.”

His success as an investigator mirrored Freeman’s rise through the departmental ranks, including promotions to sergeant, lieutenant and finally a captain in the administrative unit in which he was second in command to Chief Watson before retiring.

“You’re lucky to retire in this profession,” Freeman said of coping with all the dangers and stresses facing police officers. “I was very fortunate I was able to retire.”

Being ever-modest, Freeman says he was aided along the way by other Mount Airy officers, including Ray Arnder and Jeff Wolfe.

“When I was in investigations, Bill Bunker was a mentor,” Freeman said of the man who headed that division at the time.

“A big influence in my life was Major Gray Shelton,” he said in further listing individuals who provided guidance. Shelton also is a retired member of the city police force who now is its chaplain.

Freeman still has a hand in administrative affairs, including the hiring process by serving as polygraph examiner for job applicants.

Treat people right

Aside from any support he received from external sources, Freeman’s personal philosophies helped him negotiate the often-tough world of law enforcement.

“If you’ll treat people like you want to be treated, always do the right thing and tell the truth about it — those are big ones that will get you through law enforcement or any other field.”

An ability to communicate with individuals and get their sides of the story can go a long way, Freeman says. “I love talking to people — you know when people are telling the truth and being honest with you.”

Mount Airy thankfully has avoided the anti-law enforcement sentiment that exploded in some parts of the nation during the past year — including the defund the police movement.

Freeman attributes this to the strong community-policing efforts city officers regularly mount which are aimed at building a rapport with the public. “I think all the things the Police Department does that are not written in your job description,” he said by way of definition.

This includes Christmas gift campaigns for children in need, food distributions, the annual Citizens Police Academy program and others.

“Just the little things we do, especially in the last 10 years,” Freeman said in summary, “trying to let people know who we are — that we’re human beings.”

Wife a “rock”

And what about the law enforcement career of Alan Freeman’s wife?

Angie also went to work for the Mount Airy Police Department in the 1990s — all 4 feet, 11 inches of her. She was assigned to the Narcotics Division in a position funded by a grant.

“When she had her hair in a ponytail, she looked like she was 15 or 16 years old,” her husband said, a plus in undercover drug investigations.

After the grant expired, Angie Freeman joined the Surry Sheriff’s Office, also in a narcotics role, and remained there until the late 1990s before resigning to be a stay-at-home mom as the couple’s family grew.

“She’s a tough lady — she’s an excellent shot,” Freeman said admiringly of his wife. “She’s very smart — she’s got nerves of steel.”

Another testament to her abilities surrounds the fact that the Freemans have home-schooled their children.

The type of person Angie is also proved beneficial as Freeman balanced his home and work life over the years, which he admittedly failed at in some respects.

“You have to get your priorities straight, and for a while, I didn’t,” he said. “Sometimes my priorities got mixed up — I put my work before my family.”

Freeman found himself forced into positions in which he had to devote many long hours to an important case, with push simply coming to shove.

“And it takes a toll on a family,” he said of missing important occasions such as birthdays, either physically or due to one’s mind being obsessed with some investigation. “Even when you’re there, you’re not there.”

Freeman said that when going home from work, he tried to take off the police hat and put on the husband/dad hat.

“But it’s very hard to separate those two — my faith has kept me sane.”

A more-worldly factor also was a huge advantage in this regard.

“First of all, I had a wife I could talk to when I went home,” Freeman said — not just a supportive spouse, but one who also understood issues he was facing due to having worked in the law enforcement field herself.

“She’s been my rock,” he said.

All this adds up to Freeman’s realization that law enforcement is not a profession someone can enter into lightly. “It’s a difficult job — it’s a calling.”

Now that he’s retired from his full-time role, Freeman has more opportunities for hobbies including hands-on activities.

“I enjoy doing any kind of construction work,” he said. “I enjoy building stuff, just tinkering with mechanical stuff.”

The retired police officer also loves spending time with his two grandchildren, Abel Shupe and Harper Freeman.

And, of course, much of the Freemans’ life surrounds religious activities, including attending services at Temple Baptist Church where three of the family’s daughters display their singing talents.

“Me and my wife are followers of Christ and we have leaned on each other and depended on the Lord — and He has blessed us,” Freeman said.

“I owe everything to God.”

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