HARRODSBURG — The guys who loaf at Loafers could tell Jackie Murphy had seemed out of sorts of late. He had been talking about Vietnam a lot and having dreams, they said.
Still, the men who saw Murphy nearly every day at the tiny Harrodsburg restaurant and Rook hangout said they were “shocked” when they heard the 71-year-old Mercer County native had been shot after he opened fire on a Stanford police officer Monday in the parking lot of the Stanford Walmart, after he allegedly fled the store with some sandpaper he had shoplifted.
Mercer County Magistrate Larry Peyton was not shocked. Peyton knew Murphy had been haunted by his brutal experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and frustrated by his inability to get help from the Veterans Administration hospital in Lexington. He came to Peyton for help about eight months ago.
“Jack saw some very bad stuff in Vietnam, and he’s been having some problems, hearing voices and seeing Charlie,” Peyton said last week. “We were coming out of Loafers the other day and he said, ‘I just saw two VC (Vietnam Cong)!’ I said, ‘No, Jack, we’re in Harrodsburg. There are no VC here.’”
“So, it didn’t shock me that he went off. What shocked me was the shoplifting. I don’t think there was a thing in Walmart he couldn’t afford to buy.”
Murphy is now being treated for four bullet wounds below the waist at medical facilities in the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange. He initially was airlifted to the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center in Lexington, but a reformatory employee confirmed Monday he had been transferred.
State Trooper Paul Blanton said last week that police have served an arrest warrant on Murphy for attempted murder of a police officer.
Stanford officer Tim Morris, who returned fire after Murphy shot at him, has been placed on administration leave during the ongoing investigation of the shooting.
Peyton, a magistrate for 14 years, said he had known Murphy as a constituent and acquaintance for many years, but it was only last year that the two became closer as Murphy sought Peyton’s help as a magistrate in dealing with the VA hospital. Peyton said Murphy told him he had been treated there in the past but couldn’t get any additional help as he felt his Vietnam ghosts closing in on him.
“He saw all kinds of doctors up there, but I guess they didn’t believe him,” Peyton said. “The VA really gave him the runaround.”
In getting to know Murphy, Peyton said he learned more of Murphy’s horrific experiences as a squad leader in the jungles of Vietnam during the height of the war’s ferocious combat.
“I don’t know everything,” said Peyton, who also served in the Army after the war was over. “He’d tell me bits and pieces, and then he’d break up, so I don’t have the full story, all the details.
“His squad got overrun by the enemy. There was a lot of close fighting with helmets and knives, hand-to-hand combat,” Peyton said. “He was the only one who survived, and he had to crawl a long way to escape.
“Jack’s the kind of guy who you feel has always got your back, so you know that has bothered him all these years.”
While Peyton said he could tell Murphy’s war paranoia was worsening leading up the shooting incident, others at Loafers didn’t notice that he was becoming more tightly wound and possibly dangerous. Bobby Catlett said everybody knew Murphy and liked him, that he enjoyed shooting pool at the American Legion hall. He was a doting grandfather who often brought his grandson with him to Loafers until school started back, Catlett said, who served in the Navy SeaBees toward the end of the Vietnam war but was never deployed.
Though Peyton said Murphy denied carrying a pistol when he asked him directly a couple of months ago, most of the Loafers crowd knew he was regularly armed.
“I knew he carried a gun. A lot of veterans do,” Catlett said.
Murphy allegedly brandished his gun when a Walmart employee confronted him about shoplifting, police said. Murphy fled the store and opened fire on Morris, who was responding to the 911 call, police said.
Without knowing the details, Peyton said his theory is that Murphy had a “flashback” when Walmart security personnel began closing in on him and reacted as if he were being threatened by enemy soldiers. “That’s just my theory, but theories are like noses — everybody’s got one.”
In trying to help Murphy get treatment, Peyton said he placed three calls to Congressman Ben Chandler’s office but was never able to speak to Chandler personally. The last call was a month ago, Peyton said.
“I feel guilty because I didn’t get enough done through Chandler’s office to help him,” Peyton said.
The magistrate said he plans to speak to prosecutors or appear before a Lincoln County grand jury on Murphy’s behalf, in hope the story of Murphy’s experience as a soldier might help explain his actions.
“What Jack did was wrong — you don’t shoot at a police officer — but he doesn’t need to be incarcerated, he needs help.”
Interior Journal editor Ben Kleppinger contributed to this story.