By Melissa Nelson-Gabriel and Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
MOBILE, Ala. — Gil Collar was a guy everybody wanted to be around in high school, friends said: The girls liked his good looks, even his opponents on the wrestling mat became buddies, and adults knew him as courteous and kind.
The nude 18-year-old who was shot to death by a police officer on the University of South Alabama campus wasn’t the young man they knew. School officials said the slightly built freshman took a “fighting stance” and chased the officer, though Collar’s mother said she was told he never touched the officer. Acquaintances said he appeared to be intoxicated, because of alcohol or something else, as he took his clothes off, ran through the streets, screamed obscenities and claimed he was on a “spiritual quest” in the moments before he was killed.
The case has been handed over to Mobile County authorities and could take weeks to resolve. Meanwhile, friends and relatives are trying to figure out what could have happened to the quiet kid who showed so much promise.
“It’s completely opposite of the way he was,” said South Alabama student Chandler Wescovich of Long Beach, Miss., who became friends with Collar during his short time on campus.
His mother, Bonnie Smith Collar, told The Associated Press that she was told by someone involved in the investigation that surveillance video shows Collar never touched the officer. School officials with access to that video have said nothing to indicate Collar was armed. And they have refused to say whether the officer who shot Collar was carrying a baton and pepper spray, both of which campus officers typically have with them.
An attorney for the family, former Alabama Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, said his firm’s review of the shooting would include whether the officer followed department rules and regulations.
The university said the officer heard a bang on a window at campus police headquarters and went outside to investigate. The officer tried to retreat numerous times to defuse the situation before opening fire, the university said in a news release.
Collar’s mother said she has received conflicting information about what might have happened before the shooting and declined to discuss it. But she asked people to withhold judgment until all the evidence comes out.
“Whatever caused the incident was something that made him act not in his normal personality,” she said.
Collar grew up in the rural outskirts of Wetumpka, about 20 miles north of Montgomery. Brandon Ross, a sophomore at Jacksonville State University, said Collar moved to the neighborhood as an 8-year-old.
“I was the first person he met on the bus, and we’ve been friends ever since,” he said. “He was the kid everybody liked.”
Others agreed the actions were out of character for the normally quiet and reserved Collar, whom friends described as a popular and good-looking high school wrestler who stood 5-foot-7 and 135 pounds. Collar wasn’t someone to make enemies — he even befriended his wrestling opponents, said his high school wrestling coach, Jeff Glass.
Collar wasn’t known as a troublemaker and had only two minor scrapes with the law, according to court records: a speeding ticket and a citation for being a minor in possession of three cigarettes in March. He paid a $25 fine for the tobacco possession.
He was also so good-looking that his teammates didn’t like standing next to him in team photos.
“The girls thought he was the best thing they had ever seen, and they may have been right,” Glass said.
Wescovich said everything seemed normal when he saw Collar with friends in a student dining hall less than six hours before the shooting. Wescovich said he and others gave Collar a ticket to BayFest, an outdoor music festival in Mobile, and went on their separate way.
Hours later on campus, Collar was out of sorts and appeared intoxicated from alcohol or something else, according to two acquaintances who saw him. He was screaming profanities in the street and running around naked, said South Alabama student Bronte Harber, 18, of Columbus, Ohio.
Sarah Hay, 18, of Dallas, said she saw Collar shirtless outside her on-campus residence shortly before Harber encountered him. Collar was the loudest of a group of four or five young men, she said, and some of the others were trying to get him to calm down.
“He was talking about being on a spiritual quest,” said Hay, but wasn’t making any sense. Hay, who described herself as an acquaintance of Collar, said he was removing his pants as she walked back inside.
Neither Harber nor Hay said they witnessed the confrontation between Collar and the officer.
A candlelight vigil is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Wetumpka High School. Collar’s mother said funeral arrangements have not yet been made yet.
Rawls reported from Wetumpka.