Chancery Court Judge Charles Smith had just stepped away from his truck at the Lauderdale County Courthouse on the morning of March 16 when he said he heard a boom he thought was a lightning strike.
With his back on the ground, Smith looked up and saw clear skies.
“I realized I must be shot,” he said. “I started calling for help.”
Smith, who returned to the bench this week for the first time since the shooting, credited nearby medical workers and deputies for helping to save his life.
“It’s a miracle,” Smith said. “I’m so blessed. If they hadn’t had the right people in the right place at the right time, I wouldn’t be here.”
Smith is chancellor of the 12th Chancery Court District, which includes Lauderdale and Clarke counties.
With nerve damage in his leg and a broken hip, he has endured multiple surgeries and requires the use of a wheelchair, crutches or a walker.
“I’ve missed it ... and missed all the people and just the general atmosphere around here,” he said Wednesday. “I’m feeling good.”
No arrests have been made in the case, which is being investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, but Meridian police previously said the shooting was “personal.”
Smith said he did not see or hear the shooter and doesn't know why he was shot.
“I try to be fair and impartial in the courtroom, but as a judge, you have to make some tough decisions and both sides don’t generally win, so someone may go away angry or mad,” he said.
Investigators have reviewed case files from Smith's time as a judge, attorney and prosecutor, according to a news release from the Administrative Office of Courts.
“I don’t know know that I’m more fearful, but certainly I am concerned about my safety, my family’s safety and everyone here at the courthouse,” Smith said. “I feel the same as I did before, but I certainly am more watchful.”
The courthouse, which was designed more than 100 years ago, is not set up for modern day security measures, the judge said.
Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department said additional security measures have been implemented, but he would not discuss them for security reasons.
The East Mississippi Crimestoppers program is offering up to $32,000 in rewards to anyone with information that would lead to an arrest in the shooting, Calhoun said.
Submissions can be made anonymously.
The funds include $5,000 from the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, $15,000 from the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors and funds from a group of private citizens, Calhoun said.
The Meridian Police Department said Friday that it also planned to offer a $15,000 reward in the case.
“That really lifts me up,” Smith said. “I’m glad to know there are people and organizations out there that truly care and don’t want to see this happen and just trying to put forward the money and resources to try to help locate the person who did this, so it does make me feel good.”
Anyone with information can call the Crimestoppers tip line at 855-485-8477 or visit the East Mississippi Crimestoppers Facebook page or website at www.eastms.crimestoppersweb.com.