CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (WCCU) — Three local officers are on paid leave after shooting a University of Illinois student in the leg Thursday evening. Police say the suspect, 23-year-old Samuel Applebaum, was holding an air pellet gun that closely resembled a semi-automatic handgun at the time.
According to the police report, responding officers ordered the suspect to drop the gun, but instead Applebaum pointed his weapon at the officers causing them to open fire.
Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said he stands by the decision the officers made last night, saying they did exactly what they were trained to do.
Police said the student was not dropping his weapon and was aiming at officers.
''An officer tells you to sit-down or stay over here or don't go here, the easiest thing is to follow his instructions,” Sheriff Walsh said. “If you think he is wrong, you can always take it up with his management, or you can always sue him later. But always follow an officer’s instructions and that way, hopefully nobody will get hurt."
He said officers had to examine the scene as it was and at that time, police believed the weapon was a real gun.
According to the police report, this all started when a 911 call came in, reporting a man loading a semiautomatic handgun on the street.
Moments later officers responded to John and Locust in Champaign, just steps away from campus.
Brenton Barnes, who lives at a nearby apartment complex, said he was within feet of the student, right before officers opened fire.
He said the student started walking towards him with what appeared to be a gun.
“I was parked right up over here and he walked up pass, stopped and turned around and walked back towards that way," Barnes said.
But something seemed off.
“No expression. The kid just looked like he was in a whole other world," he said.
Minutes later he heard officers yelling.
“Drop the gun, drop the gun. They yelled it a bunch of times before they actually started firing shots," Barnes said. “It got real serious, really quick."
Responding officers encountered him, ordering him to drop the gun. They say that's when he pointed his weapon at the officers--causing three officers to fire.
It was later discovered the weapon was an air pellet pistol that police say closely resembled a handgun.
“He was on the ground holding his leg and a couple cops around him in the corner,” said bystander Kieran Buckley. “It was honestly kind of surreal because nothing really happens around here.”
For the next several hours, the area was blocked off by police with investigators working into the early hours of the morning looking for answers.
A nearby restaurant owner ended up closing early that night out of fear for his safety, saying it's not worth the business.
“There was a shooting, but my kids, my kids here,” said Huang Wigo, owner of Mirsung Indian Fast Food and Groceries. “So I say, 'oh everybody go home, go home.' I’m so scared, and my wife go, 'go home,' I call the company and go 'I’m closed.'"
We also reached out to police to get the officer's body and dash camera footage. Right now, they can't release anything until the investigation is over.
We also asked for the 911 call that alerted police about the student and are still waiting to hear back.
At this moment, the UI student remains in the hospital as Illinois State Police continue to investigate.