St. Louis, MO – A military veteran working as an unarmed MetroLink security guard was fatally shot in the face on Sunday by a man he was speaking to about a disturbance, according to police.
The deadly attack occurred at the Delmar Loop station platform in the 700-block of Hodiamont Avenue at approximately 10 a.m., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD), 30-year-old MetroLink Security Guard James Cook had approached 36-year-old Nathaniel Smith and was speaking with him about a disturbance when Smith suddenly pulled a gun and shot him in the face, KMOV reported.
MetroLink and Missouri state law prohibits security guards from carrying firearms, so Cook was unarmed and unable to protect himself during the attack, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Investigators found his body lying facedown in a pool of blood at the top of the stairs leading down to the station platform, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Cook was wearing his yellow MetroLink public safety jacket when he was killed, according to the paper.
Witnesses told police that Cook had dealt with Smith earlier that day over Smith potentially breaking MetroLink rules by sleeping on a train, KMOV reported.
The gunman fled the scene after murdering the security guard, but police used a photo of him from a surveillance video to help track him down, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He refused to speak with investigators, and has been charged with armed criminal action and first-degree murder.
Smith, who had no criminal history in Missouri, had previously been cited for two traffic violations in Haywood County, Tennessee, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He is being held without bond.
Cook, a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran, was deployed to Afghanistan and Africa during his eight years of military service, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He also spent time working as a detention officer in Crawford County.
“This officer was doing his job…and he was brutally shot,” SLMPD Lieutenant Colonel Rochelle Jones told KMOV.
Cook’s mother-in-law, Vickie Munton, said that while the victim’s family is “relieved” to know his accused killer is behind bars, “at the moment, we’re just indifferent. We’re just in too much pain to care,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“I can’t wrap my head around this violence that took this life after he was around the world twice, literally, and come home to die in his backyard,” Munton told KSDK.
Cook’s mother, Tracy Nichols, said she believes her son “would have had half a chance, had he had his weapon.”
Nichols and Munton said Cook loved working as a security guard and would often use his own money to buy train tickets for people who couldn’t afford them.
“James was funny, he was smart, he was talented beyond measure… like nobody else,” Nichols told KSDK. “He was just an all-around good person. It’s what he is and will always be.”
The young security officer and his wife, Kimberlee, were childhood sweethearts, KMOV reported.
“I think they met when they were in seventh of eighth grade and they’ve been together ever since,” their friend, Anthony Tucker, told the news outlet. “He joined the Marines and she followed…They love Jesus. They were very active in the church.”
The couple has two daughters, nine-year-old Zoey, and five-year-old Lydia, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“He loved his family,” family friend Pastor John Blackmore told KMOV. “He loved Kim, loved [his children]. I mean, they were his world.”
A fundraising page established to help Cook’s family has raised over $155,000 so far.
Bi-State Development Chief Executive Taulby Roach said Cook’s murder has been “devastating,” but that he still believes leaving the security guards unarmed is the right thing to do, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
MetroLink contracted guards and security employees were previously allowed to carry firearms for at least 10 years before they were stripped of their weapons on Apr. 1, 2020, Bi-State Development Communications Director Patti Beck told the paper.
“Our only option for armed authority on MetroLink is by partnering with our police departments, and of course we do that,” Roach noted. “And we have moved to strengthen these partnerships and have done so in the cooperative security agreement.”
According to Beck, the policy change was the result of new security measures, as well as the company’s contract with G4S Security Solutions, a private security firm, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Bi-State Development established the security plan at the recommendation of an East-West Gateway Council consultant, who said the change would leave police responsible for carrying firearms, according to the paper.
Roach said Bi-State Development’s security agreement “is helping us improve how security works on MetroLink,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“Despite this devastating setback,” he said, referring to Cook’s brutal murder, “I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Franklin County Commissioner Tim Brinker, who sits on East-West Gateway’s board, told the board chairman on Monday that they need to revisit the no-firearms policy in the wake of the attack on Cook.
“I was not in favor of this proposal at its inception and remain opposed to unarmed security today,” Brinker told the board, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “God only knows if the life of Officer Cook could have been saved by his lawful ability to carry a firearm to defend himself.”
In a statement after the fatal shooting, Roach said there would be increased patrols effective immediately, KMOV reported.
“The MetroLink Police Task Force has pledged to enhance law enforcement patrols on the Metro Transit system, starting immediately,” he said.
“Our region is challenged by these random acts of violence, and our transit community is not immune to their impact,” Roach added.