‘God stopped that bullet’: Survivor of Joelton shooting calls for change in North precinct

Special Reports

Nashville's Killing Field

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nearly 30% of the murders in Nashville last year happened within the area covered by the police department’s North precinct.

The North precinct covers eight zip codes, including North Nashville, Bordeaux, Joelton and Whites Creek.

Thirty-one of the city’s 109 criminal homicides in 2020 were reported in the North precinct, including the murder of Jerry Birdwell.

Metro police said Birdwell was shot by his uncle while watching TV with his girlfriend. It happened the morning of June 28, 2020 at a home on Jackman Road in Joelton. Police identified William “Kenny” Gardner, 77, as the suspect not long after.

Birdwell’s girlfriend, Tammy Cornwell was also wounded in the shooting. Not ready to meet face-to-face, she spoke with News 2 over the phone and explained what happened the night she was shot.

“[Gardner] kicked in the door. He shot Jerry in the chest, then he shot me, and it hit my arm. Then he shot Jerry in the neck,” Cornwell recalled. “I started praying very loud, very hard, and Kenny said, ‘you better pray you b***h.’ Then, he shot me again, but it missed.”

“I feel like God stopped that bullet because I could feel the heat of the bullet go past my side, and I feel like God’s hand just stopped that bullet from entering me because it would have killed me,” she added.

Gardner has been charged with criminal homicide and remains behind bars.

“Kenny is, in my eyes, evil. He is a monster,” Cornwell explained. “Jerry was everybody’s friend, he never met a stranger. He was really sweet, very sensitive, caring and everybody loved Jerry.”

While the overall number of criminal homicides in the precinct increased from 28 in 2019 to 31 in 2020, the percentage of the city’s murders actually dropped from 33% to 28%. In 2018, approximately 20% of Nashville’s murders were in the North precinct.

“It’s got to stop, something has to be done,” Cornwell said. “I don’t know what, but for that many people to be affected, and their families and their friends, it’s horrible. People just don’t understand what you go through.”

In a one-on-one interview with News 2 on Wednesday, the Metro Nashville Police Department’s Chief John Drake said additional resources were being placed in high-crime areas, including parts of the North precinct. He said he’s spoken with the precinct Commander Terrence Graves, and they are working to combat the issue.

“They’ve made a lot of great progress. It’s just one of those things where it takes time,” Chief Drake said when asked if he was concerned with the number of homicides in the North precinct. “We’re invested – and surely any crime is concerning – in North Nashville, especially with some of the violent crime that they’ve had, but we’re addressing it.”

Earlier in the week, Chief Drake announced an initiative that included an “enhanced shift” of patrol officers across the eight precincts. He said the enhanced shift would consist of nine officers and one supervisor, a total of 80 personnel. They will work from 5 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., which are the hours when the most violent crime occurs.

Chief Drake said the officers working the enhanced shift would concentrate on responding “quickly and in numbers” to shooting and robbery calls to help identify and apprehend suspects.

Twelve criminal homicides were reported in the city of Nashville through Feb. 3, 2021, including two in the North precinct.

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