HAMILTON - Kimberly Pace of Hamilton said everything had been leading up to a great Christmas Day for her and her family this year.
“It had been a wonderful day and my children and grandchild were going to be together,” Pace said,
Preparations had been made for a family Christmas dinner, one of her daughters was home from Auburn University and all that was left was to pick up her other younger daughter from her ex-husband.
Pace said that she and her 19-year-old were just arriving at the Hamilton Police Department to pick up her daughter when the Paces’ Christmas Day changed for the worse in a split-second.
Pace says that she has used the local police department office as a location for custody exchanges as it is a central location. She says she never anticipated arriving at a murder scene.
“We were pulling around the front of the building when I started hearing shots,” Pace recalled. “I just thought kids were setting off firecrackers.”
Pace said that it wasn’t until she had fully pulled in to the west parking lot at the police department that she realized what was unfolding in front of her and her daughter.
“My daughter was yelling at me to get out of there, there was a man dead on the ground, a mother yelling, children running away screaming and a man setting down a gun,” Pace said.
Only moments before Pace had arrived, official reports allege that Christopher Andrew Cochran, 29, Hamilton, shot and killed the father of his girlfriend’s children during a separate custody exchange that same day.
Hamilton Police Department Investigations Supervisor Scotty Chandler said that according to witnesses, Lorenzo Jose “Joe” Mercado Garcia, 48, and Cochran had engaged in a verbal altercation during the course of the custody exchange and Cochran drew a firearm and shot Garcia when Garcia began approaching him.
Garcia was dropping off his two children, ages 3 and 4, to their mother, Sami Jo Norgard. Cochran is the Norgard’s boyfriend.
Pace said she didn’t know why, but she couldn’t bring herself to drive away and as a former emergency medical technician (EMT), her instincts kicked in.
“I got out of the car and took control of the situation. They were heated,” Pace said. “The shooter had his hands up and just kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry, ma’am, I’m so sorry.’”
Pace said that she ordered Cochran to get away from the gun and Garcia’s body and go sit down, told Norgard to get her kids who had ran off and had her daughter call 9-1-1.
Pace said that she was stearn with Cochran and Norgard and under the impression that things could have escalated even further had she not been there.
According to Pace, another woman was present and was just standing there without any reaction. Chandler reported that this other individual was Darla Gibson, who had accompanied Garcia to the exchange.
Pace was able to call her ex-husband and stop him before he arrived with their younger daughter.
“They didn’t need to see that. No one should ever have to see that,” Pace said. “I’m just glad they weren’t there already. Things could have been a lot worse.”
Pace had nothing but praise for the response by local law enforcement and first responders.
“The firefighters and police officers got there quick and did an excellent job,” Pace said. “And it wasn’t just a couple of them—all the officers came when they got the call. You should have seen their faces—they were speechless. It was overwhelming.”
She said that there have been comments made on social media criticizing the local police department for not having officers in the office on Christmas Day.
Pace said that those comments are unfounded and that while there was no one at the department, the department had put officers on patrol that day. Chandler also confirmed this.
Pace said that officers taped off the parking lot, and she and her daughter were interviewed as witnesses and were then released.
Pace said that after being cleared to leave the scene, she was able to pick up her daughter at another location and they were able to go back home to try and enjoy the rest of their Christmas Day.
Pace says that her family is still overwhelmed and that she has not been able to get the images out of her head of the incident.
“It happened so fast. With something like this, you’re in it before you can even realize what has happened,” Pace said.
“I want to ask people to be in prayer for everyone involved—the children, their family, the shooter, the victim’s family and my family.”
(When a defendant is charged with a crime, the charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.)
See complete story in the Journal Record.