“There has been a man with a bag and a coat walking around, cutting off power to the buildings around here,” a Marine Corps recruiter in Greensboro, North Carolina, told a 911 operator on Dec 14.
“We’re the only section with power still.”
“He’s been cutting off the breakers behind the building,” said a Navy recruiter next door separately told a Guilford Metro 911 operator.
The ominous scene was set just minutes before that same man started firing shots into a recruiting station, where Marine Corps and Navy recruiters worked.
Just after 6:20 p.m., according to 911 reports obtained by Military Times via a records request, the man fired four shots into the building, sparking nearly 10 calls to 911 from people nearby.
“There’s a guy out here shooting at our windows,” a Navy recruiter said at 6:21 p.m. The recruiter, who had barricaded himself in the office, identified the weapon as a 9 mm handgun based off its sound.
Before opening fire, the shooter had gone behind the building and attempted to cut off the recruiting center’s power, according to three 911 calls and a source with direct knowledge of the incident, who spoke with Military Times and asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to media in an official capacity.
Police later recovered a Glock 43 9 mm pistol from James Alexander Cooper, the suspected shooter, when he was arrested near the scene.
No Marines or sailors were hurt, according to Navy and Marine Corps officials and previously reported by Military Times. Army and Air Force personnel were not present during the shooting, according to Army and Air Force officials.
Cooper remained in custody in Greensboro Jail Central as of Monday on a slew of criminal charges both stemming from the alleged shooting incident and other run-ins with law enforcement.
He had tried to join the Army multiple times before the shooting, according to an Army official and the source with direct knowledge of the incident.
His most recent disqualification from enlistment had come earlier that day, according to Kelli Ward, a spokesperson for U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
Local FOX affiliate WGHP reports that witnesses saw “Cooper leave the career center, appearing disgruntled and shouting about CIA and 9/11 conspiracy theories” after learning of his latest disqualification. He allegedly obtained a firearm and returned later, though.
He is charged with firing a weapon into an occupied building, a class E felony in North Carolina, in addition to six misdemeanor counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and a misdemeanor concealed-carry violation, according to court records.
Cooper has separate pending charges for felony vandalism, felony theft, felony forgery, felony possession of a stolen vehicle, felony larceny and felony breaking and entering. Cooper was also cited for a hit and run in 2019.
Now a fuller picture of the event emerges through new surveillance footage, public records and 911 calls obtained by Military Times.
‘We are barricaded inside’
A Marine’s life may have been saved that day, by force protection measures implemented following the 2015 Chattanooga shootings, where a lone gunman attacked a Marine Corps recruiting station and the local Navy Operational Support Center.
The source with direct knowledge of the incident credited a bulletproof office cubicle with protecting a Marine from injury. Navy officials reported that troops were able to successfully barricade using the cubicles and bulletproof benches.
In the wake of the Chattanooga attacks, the Defense Department also established procedures for recruiters to arm themselves.
At least one Marine was armed and prepared to defend his troops if the attacker had continued his assault.
“We are barricaded inside the Marine recruiting office,” a Marine in the office next door to the Navy recruiters told 911. “The shooter is outside, and he shot through the door. ... Our Gunnery Sgt. has an armed weapon right now.”
Another 911 caller was in the parking lot when the shooting began.
“We turned off the lights in our car and we’re laying down,” said a woman to the operator.
The Marines were able to monitor the suspected shooter using the building’s security cameras, he told the 911 dispatcher.
Military Times obtained surveillance video of the shooting courtesy of Recruiter Times, a popular Facebook page devoted to the Army recruiter experience, and confirmed as authentic by the previously referenced source with direct knowledge of the incident and the footage’s origins.
The first video depicts a man, believed by law enforcement to be Cooper, walking down the sidewalk in front of the Battleground Avenue recruiting center, firing a handgun into each glass door.
Exclusively obtained interior footage of the Marine Corps office shows a Marine seated in a bulletproof office cubicle near the door when the shooting begins.
The glass door shatters from an apparent gunshot, and the Marine in the cubicle runs for cover with another Marine who briefly comes into frame. A comparison of the footage with photos of the damage shared by Recruiter Times reveals that the Marine may have suffered serious injuries if not for the bulletproof panel.
The source with direct knowledge of the incident told Military Times he thinks the panel potentially saved the Marine.
The third clip, which has not been published previously, allegedly shows Cooper pacing around outside of the office after the shooting. He smokes a cigarette as the recently-fired Glock 43 9mm pistol rests on the ground.
The shooting also added an unexpected wrinkle to the daily life of two people who were completing the sale of a used coffee table.
“We’re [here] buying a table,” said the woman who was hiding in her car. “I actually don’t even like the table. I’m gonna be honest.
“Like I figure it’s probably fun, but I don’t think I want to get shot over a coffee table,” she confessed.
The man she bought the coffee table from fared little better in the shooting’s aftermath, though. In his call to 911, he explained his escape from the scene.
“I can’t go get my stroller, which I probably ran over because I pulled through the sidewalk. My kids are okay, though.”
Police arrived on the scene shortly afterward. The full 911 report shows that officers had arrested Cooper by 6:34 p.m., and WGHP reports the arrest took place less than a quarter mile from the scene of the shooting.
The source with direct knowledge of the incident told Military Times that Cooper was disqualified due to issues with his criminal background check that were likely connected to the active felony warrants for his arrest.
At 36 years old, per data provided on the Greensboro Police Department’s incident report, Cooper also was too old to sign an initial enlistment contract, according to Army regulations.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.