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Shooting of likable policeman perplexes his neighbors

CAMPBELLSVILLE — Even above the thunderstorm, a neighbor could hear the loud cries of the wife of a small-town police officer outside the ranch house next door. The sobbing woman had just called 911 and reported finding her husband shot to death in their rural Kentucky home.

David Ford, 40, had spent more than three years as a police officer in Central Kentucky. Days after his wife Tonya reported the shooting, state police were saying little Friday about their investigation — or whether they found any link between the homicide and the man's personal or professional life.

"Just by the nature of the job of a police officer, we have enemies," said Billy Gregory, a trooper who is a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police.

Shelton Young, chief of the Lebanon police department where Ford had worked, said he knew of no vendetta against the often jovial officer. Nor did he have firsthand knowledge of any personal problems.

"No matter who would do it or what reason they'd do it, I've got a dead police officer," Young said. "The tragedy is there .... It could be anything."

After Tuesday's shooting death, word spread quickly both in Campbellsville and Lebanon, two close-knit communities where Ford was well-known and generally well-liked. The area is about 70 miles southwest of Lexington.

Young said Ford went home to nearby Campbellsville each night after his shift and seldom socialized with other officers. Ford's obituary on the Web site of a Campbellsville funeral home listed four sons and three stepchildren among survivors.

On Tuesday he was found dead of a single gunshot to the back of the head. James Cravens, a deputy coroner in Taylor County where the shooting occurred, said the autopsy ruled out suicide and accidental death.

Sondra Gilbert, who lives next door to the Ford home on the Campbellsville outskirts, said she can't be sure how much time elapsed between what she thought was a gunshot and then the screams of Tonya Ford.

"I knew something really bad was wrong," Gilbert said. "I just felt shaking inside."

She found the officer's 35-year-old wife sobbing on the ground, outdoors in the storm, and urged her to come inside. Tonya Ford collapsed on Gilbert's kitchen floor.

Gilbert said the Ford children often used rifles for target practice into the creek and trees next door, so she thought nothing of the gunshot she heard.

Scott Alsager, a retired electrician who owns a cattle and poultry farm across the street, said his son also heard a shot and didn't find out Ford was dead until after police arrived.

Alsager said he never had problems with Ford but occasionally scolded some of the children for shooting onto his property. Alsager said it wasn't unusual for people to use the heavily wooded area for hunting practice.

Gregory declined to say Friday whether suspects had been identified.

Area residents remained perplexed.

Timmy Gribbins, stopping into a gas station deli, said he had known Ford from the officer's days as the one-man police force in neighboring Bradfordsville. Ford loved kids, Gribbins said, and sometimes would show up at a video arcade and pretend to handcuff some of the giggling children.

Felipe Contreras, assistant manager of Los Mariachis Mexican restaurant, said everyone in town knew Ford. Contreras said Ford once responded when he had a fender bender, and he was impressed to find out that the officer was studying Spanish to better communicate with the local Hispanic population.

"He gave me a card and said, 'Anything you need, just give me a call. I'll be there,'" Contreras said.

A funeral service was being held Friday.