Christina West arrived home from her day at work Jan. 6 with only one thing on her mind.
“When I came home I like grabbed my babies and (was) kind of in shock at how everything could’ve went,” West, the mother to 10-month and 2-year-old children, said. “It could’ve been much worse.”
It was West, 24, who assisted a local woman wounded by a gunshot, interrupting an otherwise typical day as a cashier at Rodeo West Exxon gas station on West Yellowstone Avenue.
The woman’s name has not yet been released by the Cody Police Department.
West said shortly after the woman entered she was followed by the man who allegedly shot her, Leon “Wayne” Carter. All of this occurred with about 30 minutes left in her shift. Cody Police ruled the incident an attempted homicide.
“My anxiety is still bad,” she said.
As Carter, 76, saw officers and paramedics approaching, he slipped out the back door of the gas station, while his girlfriend hid in the back office, West recalled.
“As he ... let her go she went running and screaming,” West said. “The scenario is still playing in my head and I’m still trying to like, process it all.”
What came next was a police standoff involving officers and Carter, who remained in his camper at the Parkway RV Campground and Trailer Village. After more than an hour spent trying to breach the camper, including dispersal of Ferret rounds and megaphone communications, police discovered Carter deceased inside his camper after committing suicide around 5:30 p.m.
“I don’t even think the officers had even made contact over at the camper before he (died),” West said. “I think his intentions were a lot worse than people realized.”
She said the female victim, 44, walked into her store around 3:30 p.m. with a rag covering a wound to her left ear, and her entire left side covered in blood. Yet, the woman remained oddly calm and collected.
“I just remember seeing most of the ear was gone,” West said.
Unlike the woman, West said she was in a panic, trying to communicate sensibly with emergency services.
But that all changed when Carter entered the building and West’s call to EMS mysteriously disconnected.
“She was like cowering back in the corner against the wall, telling him to leave and get away from her,” West said.
It was at this point West said the female informed her Carter had a weapon on him.
“It could’ve been worse than what happened,” West said. “He could’ve taken her back to the camper and shot her, or brought it into here.”
She said when Carter entered the building he was stable as well, though making threats to his girlfriend to the effect of, “she was going to get in trouble,” West said, “and this was her fault.”
“He wasn’t like angry or upset about anything,” West said. “It was just kind of weird.
“He was like, really nice.”
West said Carter attempted to get his girlfriend to go back to their camper, but West argued against it and the girlfriend also refused. It may have been her efforts that saved the woman’s life.
“I kept telling him, ‘no, no, no, she’s got to stay here,’” West said.
Just as Carter was starting to usher his girlfriend towards the store’s back door, paramedics arrived to attend to the woman. Cody Police announced she did not suffer life-threatening injuries from the incident.
“I’m just glad she’s OK,” West said.
While the standoff was occurring, police used the gas station as headquarters for their operations and closed down the business to the public. Rodeo West co-owner Ron Deberg said he wasn’t even allowed in.
“It was hectic,” West said. “Officers were in and out trying to assess the situation and get ready for whatever they were going to do because they weren’t sure.”
As officers approached Carter’s camper, an officer heard what sounded like a single gunshot coming from inside the camper, although his official time of death has not yet been publicly verified.
“It all went by pretty quick until the standoff,” West said. “Going kind of slow, trying to figure out if he was even at the camper or he had gone somewhere else.”
West said Carter and his girlfriend were regulars at her store. It was only 60-90 minutes before her last visit the victim had purchased cigarettes while already appearing upset because, “they had already been fighting,” West said the woman told her.
Carter has been described by those who knew him as a well-mannered gentleman. Even the dramatic event sparked no change to his public demeanor.
“Even when he came in here the very last time he was still calm, collected, like nothing had even happened,” West said.
West said from what she knew, Carter’s girlfriend lived with him. She said during one recent visit the couple smelled strongly of alcohol.
“One of the previous days, she came in just absolutely reeking of alcohol,” West said.
Life as usual
After the incident, the self-described introvert West said she received an outpouring of support through direct contact and social media.
“Everybody was blowing up my phone when they saw the cop cars,” West said. “It’s kind of a shock because I didn’t expect it, because I kind of keep to myself.”
Due to the store’s proximity to Cassie’s Supper Club and Cody Rodeo Grounds, co-owner Barb Deberg said the business she and her husband have owned since 2001 receives its fair share of colorful activities.
“It’s a convenience store, strange things happen,” Barb Deberg said.
West was already back at work on Wednesday, two days after the incident.
“I know everything’s under control, it’s not going to happen again,” she said.