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Friday, March 11, 2011

Sullivan Central SRO Gudger in running to be ‘America’s Most Wanted’ All-Star

Online voting began on Wednesday and ends April 10.



BLOUNTVILLE — A Sullivan County school resource officer who faced a man pointing a gun at her, a principal and two other officers is in the running for an award from “America’s Most Wanted.”

Sullivan Central High School SRO Carolyn Gudger was nominated and agreed to be an “America’s Most Wanted” 2011 All-Star contest participant, said Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Keith Elton.

The online voting began on Wednesday and ends April 10.

“We are encouraging everyone to vote once a day, every day for Officer Gudger, as she is most deserving of this honor,” Elton said Thursday.

The hour-long standoff at Sullivan Central on Aug. 30, 2010, resulted in the death of 62-year-old gunman Thomas Richard Cowan, a Kingsport resident who entered the school building that morning and refused to put down a loaded pistol he pointed at Gudger, Principal Melanie Riden and two other police officers.

On the morning of the shooting, Cowan was coaxed down a hall by Gudger and then shot by Gudger, Lt. Steve Williams and Officer Sam Matney, who has since become a detective.

“A lot of people have just focused on me. There were two other officers who came in. ... They both deserve recognition,” Gudger said Thursday afternoon, noting that additional officers responded to the building.

Gudger, a 15-year veteran of the SCSO who has been a school resource officer for nine years, said she was unaware of her nomination by a parent until an official with the television show contacted the sheriff’s office.

Shortly after the shooting, students began wearing “The Gudge” T-shirts, designed by a graphic arts class at Central and sold to raise money for a graphic arts club. The back of the shirts reads, “She’s got our back.” Gudger said students still wear the T-shirts on occasion.

“We all know our real hero, our God,” Gudger said Sept. 10, 2010, at a “thanksgiving” event held at Northeast State Community College. “He got us to it. He took us through it.”

On the day of the standoff, the gunman pointed his pistol at Riden before Gudger came between the two, and he also pointed the weapon at Gudger and the other two officers before they shot him.

Director of Schools Jubal Yennie has lauded Riden and her staff for getting the school in lockdown quickly, as well as the work of law enforcement. SROs are in all four county high schools, but Yennie and Sheriff Wayne Anderson said they are working to get SROs in the county middle schools as well. Gudger was returning from a middle school when she encountered Cowan.

Riden said sheriff’s office personnel are always welcome at Central for drills, and Anderson said his department will use the Central response as a model and for training at other schools.

Savannah Benton, a 16-year old junior, at the Sept. 10 event read an essay about a hero being someone who is courageous, takes responsibility for his or her actions, is selfless and leads.

“When you look at her (Gudger), you see a hero,” Benton said.

To vote, go to the Web site, locate and click on Gudger’s photo or link, and click on the vote box.

Voting ends April 10 at midnight.

Click here to read Carolyn Gudger's story on the America's Most Wanted website. When you get there, vote for Carolyn by hitting the VOTE button underneath her picture, and when the next page pops up, type in the verification letters on the screen and enter your valid email address. Your vote for Carolyn will be counted then. Be sure and vote again as much as you can until the April 10th deadline.

Carolyn is a true hero and she's hometown. Let's help her win this!