Former principal recalls nearly fatal shooting

Hunt's car window following shooting (Source: James Hunt)
Hunt's car window following shooting (Source: James Hunt)
Pieces of teeth, bone, and pellets removed from Hunt's tongue after shooting (Source: James Hunt)
Pieces of teeth, bone, and pellets removed from Hunt's tongue after shooting (Source: James Hunt)
James Hunt, while serving as principal at Fairmont Middle School in Fairmont, North Carolina in Robeson County. (Source: whoshotprincipalhunt.blogspot.com)
James Hunt, while serving as principal at Fairmont Middle School in Fairmont, North Carolina in Robeson County. (Source: whoshotprincipalhunt.blogspot.com)

ROBESON COUNTY, NC (WMBF) - Although he doesn't want the public to see all of it in a recent interview with WMBF News, former principal James Hunt's face looks remarkably good.

Especially considering less than two years ago, someone shot him in the head as he started his day like any other.

"It was a loud explosion, my hand just exploded and I pulled to the side of the road and looked in the mirror and saw my face was just destroyed," recalls Hunt.

Hunt was driving to school when the shooting happened.

"…I leaned forward because I was in excruciating pain, and as I leaned forward my whole front of my upper jaw, my lower jaw, my teeth just all fell out. All fell out," Hunt remembers of that April morning.

Somehow, Hunt managed to drive himself to the hospital in Lumberton.

Amazingly, after more than nine surgeries re-building his face, he talks as normally as anyone.

The story that Hunt is now telling about his near death experience, is about gangs. That a gang member may have shot him, that gangs are much bigger in our area than you'd think.

WMBF News Anchor Matt Nordin spoke with Hunt to learn more about his take on gang violence. "Are these gangs that we would, the names of, that we would recognize?" asks Nordin.

"Oh yes! The "bloods", the "crips", we have these here in Robeson County without a doubt. And then we have these pseudo-gangs, these you know, wannabes," says Hunt assuredly.

The leadership of the Robeson County Sheriff's Office isn't talking… ignoring repeated phone calls from WMBF News.

When we reached the investigator on Hunt's case, he said he couldn't talk without the sheriff's OK.

What is apparent, however, from the North Carolina Department of Justice, is just how violent Robeson County is.

Forty murders in 2008 and '09. That's twice as many as the Wilmington area, even though Robeson County's population is one-third smaller.

After Hunt was shot, he received an email from a fellow teacher informing him that an "influx of students wearing red t-shirts and red bandanas" showed-up at baseball games.

Gang members, Hunt believes, declaring victory.

"They were wearing their colors, and I won't name which particular one it was but they said --- and I've got the information that I forwarded to the sheriff's department --- that there was a great number, turnout, of this particular gang," says Hunt.

A state official with the North Carolina Industrial Commission is convinced Hunt's gang theory is accurate, writing:

"Based upon the evidence of record, the shooting of (Hunt) was more likely than not, related to his anti-gang activities…"

Just two days before he was shot, Hunt had held an anti-gang rally at the middle school, and delivered a simple, but powerful, message.

"If you're in a gang and they're telling you you can't get out, you come to Mr. Hunt. We're going to get you some help," Hunt repeats his message that he delivered to his school.

Now, nearly two years after he was shot, it is James Hunt who's having to ask for help, help from somebody who knows something, because his case is getting cold.

No one has been charged, and there seems to be an unsatisfying answer to the question everyone wants to know.

"Do you know what the shooter looks like?" asks Nordin.

"You know, and that's, that's the… It's hard to believe --- people ask me this --- how could you have gotten shot and not see the shooter?" says Hunt.

So many people want him to have seen the shooter, but then you learn, it may be best that he didn't, that he was on his cell phone at the time.

"Because of that, my profile, my facial profile was slightly tilted to the right and I was slightly leaning to use my phone. And so when the shot came across it wasn't a direct facial shot to the temple and to the side of the face. It was a glancing. It was almost like I was in the perfect position to be shot that morning," Hunt recalls.

A new principal is now in place at Fairmont Middle School.

Hunt isn't sure if he'll ever be able to return… emotionally, it may be too much. He's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He's just hoping his case isn't forgotten. He's hungry for justice.

"And that's what I'm here for today. I want the truth to come out. And if I knew what it was, I would be the first one to sing on high and say this is what happened. But to be honest with you, I don't have any idea. I'm just as flabbergasted as you," Hunt states matter-of-factly.

Hunt is also fighting for workers' compensation, believing that since he was on his way to work and was conducting business on his cell phone at the time he was shot, he deserves payment for all the costs his health insurance isn't picking-up.

That could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he says, and the school district and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction are fighting it.

Hunt won the first round, but now the other side is appealing.

So, Hunt is still waiting on his money. In the meantime, he says he's living on just 50% of his old salary and what his wife makes as a school secretary."

For more information, visit the blog dedicated to finding Hunt's shooter and posting updates concerning the workers' comp battle. Anyone with information related to this crime can email anonymous tips to helpjhteam@gmail.com.

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