Gun victim is ape expert
Police: Scientist shot accidentally
The Smyrna woman shot Monday afternoon as she ran errands with her husband, the innocent victim of an unrelated drug shooting, is a world-renowned primatologist credited with possibly identifying a new species of great apes.
Shelly Williams, 49, was shot once in the back about 2:30 p.m. Monday in the parking lot of a retail center on Spring Road, said Smyrna police Capt. Keith Zgonc. "At this time it appears that the victim of the shooting, Shelly Williams, was an innocent bystander and had no connection to the suspects," Zgonc said Tuesday.
Williams' husband, Al Hostetter, said the retired primatologist, who holds a doctorate in psychology, remained in critical condition in intensive care at Atlanta Medical Center on Tuesday.
"She has to remain completely still," Hostetter said. The bullet, which passed through her spinal cord, grazed the nerve before glancing off her liver and lodging in her diaphragm. "She can shake her head yes and no, but the doctors said they can't remove the bullet until she is more stable," he said.
The parking lot of the retail strip center at 2800 Spring Road was evidently the site of a botched drug transaction that resulted in someone firing a single gunshot, possibly unintentionally, Zgonc said.
Occupants of a silver Dodge Durango seen speeding from the parking lot and a white, newer-model Dodge crew cab pickup truck are believed to have been involved in the shooting, Zgonc said. One of the vehicles has a right-side passenger window that is missing where the gunshot shattered the glass, he said.
Leads from cellphone records of one of the people allegedly involved in the drug deal provided information leading police to tentatively identify some participants, Zgonc said. No arrests had been made, he said. Police would not say how they obtained the records.
Williams is credited as the first scientist to identify a previously unknown group of large apes in the jungles of Central Africa. The animals, with characteristics of both gorillas and chimpanzees, were sighted by Williams in 2002 in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo.
A report about Williams' discovery of the mysterious creatures published in 2004 in the British magazine New Scientist said that if the apes are confirmed to be a new species of primate, it could be one of the most important wildlife discoveries in decades.
Williams lives about a half-mile from the retail center. She had just picked up two pairs of slacks that had been altered, said seamstress Vuoch Taing. Williams paid for her alterations at 2:23 p.m., Taing said.
"She seemed fine when she came in, not mad or upset or anything," Taing said Tuesday. "She said 'Have a nice day' and left.' "
Taing said she returned to her sewing machine in the rear of her shop and did not hear the shot. She became aware of the shooting after seeing an ambulance pull up outside.
Williams captured the previously unknown apes on video during a visit to the Congo in 2002. She described her encounter with them in the New Scientist article.
"Four suddenly came rushing out of the bush towards me," she told the magazine. "If this had been a bluff charge, they would have been screaming to intimidate us. These guys were quiet. And they were huge. They were coming in for the kill. I was directly in front of them, and as soon as they saw my face, they stopped and disappeared."
In a January article in Time magazine, Williams defended her discovery against scientific critics who have discounted her methods.
"The unique characteristics they exhibit just don't fit into the other groups of great apes," she told Time. The primates could be a new species, a new subspecies of chimpanzee or a hybrid of chimpanzee and gorilla, she said. "At the very least, we have a unique, isolated chimp culture that's unlike any that's been studied," she said.
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