Police: Woman killed by officers was threatening them with ax

Photo of Gay Ellen Plack courtesy Cheryl Sherman
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) — Henrico police say a woman has died following a shooting Tuesday that involved police officers after she confronted them with an ax.

Gay Ellen Plack, 57, was killed, Henrico police said. The Medical Examiner determined Plack’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the abdomen and the manner is homicide. Police have said body camera video of the confrontation which will be released at some point.

In a video statement released Thursday night by Henrico County Chief of Police Humberto Cardounel he said police officers responded to the 2900 block of Huntwick Court for a welfare check.

A neighbor, who spoke with the officers when they arrived, said the check was at the request of Plack’s doctor.

Cardounel said the officers knocked on the door multiple times, but Plack did not answer.

“After several attempts, the officers went around back and saw the resident’s vehicle parked there and found a door that was unsecured,” Cardounel said. “At that point they made the decision to go in and verify her well being.”

“She never answers the door, she’s afraid they’ll take her to the hospital,” a neighbor said. “They were walking around her house, shining a flashlight in her bedroom window. Officers went inside and then I heard three gunshots.”

According to police, they found a room locked inside the home and after multiple attempts of calling out Plack’s name, the two officers made forced entry into what was revealed to be the bedroom.

One officer searched the bedroom area, while the other officer searched the bathroom and was confronted by Plack.

“He was confronted with an individual wielding an ax and swinging an ax,” Cardounel said.

The officer retreated, but the Chief said Plack came out of the bathroom and “charged” at the other officer in the bedroom.

“The officer at that point literally had four seconds to make a decision," Cardounel said. "Although he made several attempts, and pleaded for her to stop and for her to desist, she continued to come at him with the ax. The officer had to make the most difficult decision in his life, his career, which was to use deadly force.”

Friends of Plack’s said the 57-year-old suffered from mental health issues but was aware of it.

“She was working with her physicians to get her medication just right and would bounce back," said Karen Dawson.

“I've never known her to strike anyone or cause any physical harm to anyone,” said Cheryl Sherman. “She was very gentle."

Plack’s older brother, Bob Bostock, contacted NBC12 Wednesday stating his sister just turned 57-years-old, only to die ten days later.

“Gay had been a fierce warrior for decades against the unrelenting and unforgiving mental illness of bipolar disorder,” Bostock said. “She was recently hospitalized involuntarily, and released, as required by law, after just three days.”

Bostock added welfare checks had been done before on his sister, and everything went fine, until Tuesday.

“My sister fought harder than anyone can imagine to combat the terrible disease which had her in its clutches,” he said. “Gay was a kind, generous, vivacious, caring person, with a joy for life, a hearty laugh, tremendous artistic talent, and a deep and abiding love for Jesus, her family, and her many caring and supportive friends. She did not deserve to die this way, terrified in her own home by police officers, sent there to help her, who instead ended her life.”

It’s unknown what happened inside the home, and police have yet to say whether Plack had a weapon or not.

“She wouldn’t own a gun, she hates guns,” a neighbor said.

“Just incredible grief about how the situation unfolded,” Sherman said.

Sherman found out about the situation when reports surfaced of the police presence Plack’s neighborhood.

“I got all these messages, ‘Are you OK?’ ‘What’s going on?’ ‘I can’t believe it,’” said George Simons, who lives one street over. “I said [to my family] I think we’re fine, I really don’t know what the details are, other than it looks like the entire West End Police Department is parked on our cul-de-sacs. They’re everywhere.”

Another man noticed the presence Tuesday morning saying his biggest concern is trying to explain the situation to his kids.

“It’s a real quiet street, so nothing really happens much out here, so this is a big deal," said Dan Nelson. "Everyone’s just trying to figure things out. My kids go to the elementary school out here, so I’m going to go pick them up in about a half hour and try to figure out how to explain all this stuff.”

Pocahontas Middle School was placed on a brief “lock and teach” while police investigated the situation. An email to parents stated it was due to a “mental health situation” officers were investigating.

“She was a very compassionate and sweet person,” Sherman said. “A great friend, very generous with her money and her time. She was a wonderful artist.”

“[She] loved life,” Dawson said. “We loved being outdoors together. We’ve gone bike riding, walking, hiking.”

Emotions are still raw for Dawson to handle more than 24 hours after Plack died.

“She will be greatly missed,” she said.

Dawson dropped off flowers Wednesday morning in memory of the 57-year-old who enjoyed the beauty of the outdoors.

“She loved flowers, and she loved her bees,” she said.

Dawson and Sherman said Plack loved to help other people – working as a cardiac nurse for several years and even an aide at an elementary school.

“Yeah, she was definitely a person who loved people and was willing to go out of her way to help them as much as she could,” Sherman said.

Details are still limited in the investigation, but Lt. Matt Pecka said no officers were injured in shooting and have been placed on administrative leave, per protocol. The Police Chief is expected to issue a statement Thursday.

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