The city of Wixom has bid adieu to 20-year veteran police Detective Gary Hamlin, one of the fearless few who stormed the Ford Motor Co.’s Wixom assembly plant in late 1996 to take down a shooter responsible for a murder.
Hamlin recently retired after a 26-year stint with the Wixom police force. One of the milestones of his career occurred on Nov. 14, 1996 when he received a call just before lunch that there were shots fired at the Ford plant.
“By the time I got to the plant the security officer rushed out to tell me there was a guy inside with an assault rifle,” Hamlin, 52, said. “The whole front of the building was shot out. There was glass everywhere.”
Hamlin saw the gunman in plain view and he, along with backup, trailed the suspect down a long, winding hallway.
“It’s surreal when I think of it — then he dropped on one knee and started shooting,” Hamlin said. “I shot back and he took off running. I chased him through the plant and he exited out the back and barricaded himself behind a berm.”
Hamlin and other officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect and patiently waited out the situation for three hours.
“I remember I was freezing to death,” Hamlin said. “He (the suspect) went into the drain tunnels. Then he came out and was shooting at news helicopters. He finally gave up since the SWAT teams and sheriff’s department armored vehicles were there.”
But shooter Gerald Atkins, a 29-year-old Wixom resident at the time, left death and destruction in his wake. Plant Manager Darrell Izzard, 59, was shot in the chest. Atkins later told Hamlin he found Izzard under his desk wounded and had to take the “kill” shot.
“Darrell thought he could talk to him, but (Atkins) opened fired on him,” Hamlin said.
Another contractual employee and two deputies were shot at the scene also, but survived.
Atkins is serving a life sentence without parole in Michigan’s Alger Correctional Facility in Munising after being convicted of first-degree murder and several other charges. He never worked at the Ford plant, but reportedly attacked the facility about a week after being turned away by plant security guards while trying to enter the facility to propose to a woman he had met at an area bar six weeks earlier.
Hamlin received the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police medal of honor for his actions and was invited to Washington D.C. as one of the “top cops” that year.
“Gary prevented more people from being shot at that incident,” said Wixom Public Safety Director Clarence Goodlein. “He helped drive the suspect out of the building.
“There’s probably only a few men who are more loyal, committed, and courageous as Gary Hamlin,” Goodlein said.
Hamlin’s last day of service was June 29.
“It was my time to go,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll find something else to do down the road. Wixom was the best thing that ever happened to me.
“I will probably look for a part-time job — something police-related,” he said. “I used to be a tree trimmer before going into police work and I tinker with carpentry and am handy with just about anything, so we will see.”
The son of a Detroit police officer, Gary Hamlin, Sr., Hamlin began his tenure as a police officer in Wixom in December 1986. He was promoted to sergeant in November 2005.
During that year he encountered another suspect brandishing a gun. Hamlin disarmed the man without incident and as a result received an distinguished services citation for his actions.
Hamlin was appointed detective sergeant in January 2007. He was in charge of all investigations within the city until the time he retired.
“He had much policing and investigative experience,” Goodlein said. “He provided so much to the officers and staff through his leadership. I could go on and on about his service — he will be sorely missed.”
In addition to his quick thinking and bravery, Hamlin is known and respected as a humble and sincere guy.
“In addition to his accomplishments, he is always a regular, down to earth guy,” Goodlein said.
Hamlin and his wife, Theresa, have two college-age children, Sarah and Matthew.
The Wixom Police Department is made up of 19 sworn officers, two of them detectives. Hamlin’s position will remain vacant for now.