Ceremony honors N.J. officers killed in 1975 standoff

"It's very emotional," said John Holmes' wife, Beverly, 76. Her husband was paralyzed before dying in 1992 at 53 from injuries related to the shooting. "I'm happy, but I'm very, very sad." (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )

Hainesport Police Officer William Wurst fired two shotgun rounds from behind his cruiser, aiming for the disturbed Vietnam veteran shooting onto the street from a third-floor duplex window.

Wurst's next shot - his last - came as a bullet struck him in the eye. Sean O'Donnell, taking cover nearby, watched in horror as his 24-year-old rookie partner stopped breathing.

"We knew when he got hit that he was gone," O'Donnell said, recalling a day of violence and despair four decades ago that cost two New Jersey police officers their lives and left a third paralyzed.

Mount Holly Officer Donald Aleshire, who had turned 30 that morning, was fatally shot in the chest. Fellow Mount Holly Officer John Holmes' spine was partly shattered by the bullets.

On Saturday, the 40th anniversary of the shooting, family members, first responders, and hundreds of police officers from around the region gathered at the site of the tragedy to honor the fallen officers and place a plaque in their memory.

"It's very emotional," said Holmes' wife, Beverly, 76. Her husband was paralyzed before dying in 1992 at 53 from injuries related to the shooting. "I'm happy, but I'm very, very sad."

Officers responded to the Garden Street home of James T. Carhart, a 23-year-old Army sharpshooter, after receiving reports of a man with a gun.

Carhart claimed during his 1977 trial that he was Jesus Christ and that he shot the officers because of what they did to him in previous lives. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was kept in Trenton State Hospital until 1989, when he was transferred to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow Township. His psychiatric status is reviewed annually by a judge.

"It's something you live with all the time," Aleshire's widow, Eileen, 66, said Saturday at the memorial. "There's a part of your life missing that shouldn't be."

Aleshire had been a Philadelphia police officer before he and his wife moved to Burlington County for more living space. He also fought in Vietnam, as did Wurst.

Eugene Stafford, Mount Holly's police chief at the time of the shooting, recalled it as a nightmare.

He and other officers were unable to help Holmes, who lay wounded on Garden Street, because Carhart shot at anyone who approached. Later, during a daring rescue, Holmes was carried to an ambulance.

"It was very chaotic," said Marty Dreyer, 78, a retired state police lieutenant who had helped pull Holmes to safety.

Authorities captured Carhart after shooting him in a hip during the nearly three-hour standoff.

In total, an estimated 300 officers responded. The duplex was peppered with bullets, Stafford said.

At the memorial site, all traces of those bullets are gone. Sunshine splashed off the duplex's white paint, and children played not far from the gathering of saluting officers and bagpipes.

"It's amazing that something so tragic happened here," said Roland Pittman, 38, who lives in the Garden Street duplex. He said he had never heard of the shooting. "I don't know what to think about it. It's shocking, really."


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