Police identify gunman in 2003 shooting of a North Texas cop, but he won’t go to court

Officer Jeff Garner was a motorcycle officer in North Richland Hills 19 years ago when he tried to pull over a red Jeep Wrangler for making an unsafe turn in front of him.

What Garner, who was 29 at the time, didn’t know on the afternoon of March 3, 2003, was that the man he was pulling over had just robbed a bank in neighboring Watauga. Garner pursued the man from Bursey Road to 7900 Smithfield Road when the driver left the road and made a U-turn. He opened fire, hitting the officer in the leg.

Garner returned fire, striking the Jeep in the tailgate, but the gunman got away.

Now Garner, a captain with the department, finally knows who shot him after DNA data in a forensic genetic genealogy test gave them the name of a man living in Oklahoma.

Mark Alan Long, identified by forensic genetic genealogy company Indentifinders Internation, shot Garner on March 3, 2003 after he robbed a bank in Watauga, according to a news release from police.

Long was to be charged with attempted capital murder of a peace officer, aggravated robbery and two counts of robbery, according to the release. His bond would be set at $675,000. But when authorities with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations went to serve arrest warrants they learned he’d been found dead near a cell tower in Oklahoma City.

Police said he knew investigators were onto him when he is believed to have killed himself sometime within the last five days.

Authorities in Oklahoma said evidence from the investigation into Long’s death has led them to believe he killed himself, according to the release. The final ruling on his cause of death will be determined by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner.

The search for the man who shot Garner in 2003 sat cold for years before North Richland Hills police Detective Erik Whitlock was assigned to the investigation in 2015. He determined from an analysis of evidence that the shooter was linked to seven bank robberies from 1998 to 2003.

DNA evidence was sent to Parabon Nanolabs in 2018 but the DNA profile was simply that of an unknown man and was not able to provide a specific suspect.

In 2019, Whitlock sent the DNA data to Identifinders International. In December 2021, they told police they’d identified a suspect through public DNA comparison platform GEDMatch.

Undercover detectives went to Oklahoma in February armed with that DNA evidence and began surveillance on Long, getting samples of DNA from items the man used at a restaurant. They submitted that for forensic examination with DNA evidence in three of the bank robberies to which they believed he was connected.

In early April, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations detectives got search warrants for Long’s home and a Jeep they believed he used in the Watauga bank robbery. When they went to execute the search warrant, investigators found the revolver Long used to shoot Garner and the Jeep, in which they found a repair to damage on the tailgate consistent with that of a bullet hole.

What happened on March 3, 2003

After 19 years, police are confident it was Long who entered Bank One in the 6600 block of Watauga Road on March 3, 2003 and took an undisclosed amount of money before making his getaway in a mid-1980s red Jeep Wrangler.

The man told a teller he was armed, the FBI said at the time, but no shots were fired and nobody was hurt during the robbery. Witnesses described the person as “a portly man with a prominent mustache,” the Star-Telegram reported in 2003. He was white, about 5-foot-6 or 5-7, around 280 pounds and in his late 30s to mid 40s. He had a long mustache, possible fake, and wore a straw cowboy hat.

The man had acne scars on his face and a bandage over his left eye, the FBI said in 2003. He had an earpiece with a wire hanging from it in his left ear.

Garner, who had been with the department for four and a half years, didn’t know about the robbery when we went to pull Long over after he saw him make an unsafe turn. Police in 2003 said he thought it was a routine traffic stop.

When Garner pursued, Long ran until he went off the road, made a U-turn, pulled a revolver and opened fire at Garner as he drove past him. Garner was hit in the leg but still got off his motorcycle to return fire. Police didn’t know if he’d hit the driver or not, they said in 2003.

Bystanders went to Garner’s aid after the shootout and police responded immediately, a witness told the Star-Telegram in 2003. The shooting led 10 schools in the area to go into lockdown from about 1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. or later. Students were told to stay in their classrooms, but weren’t told why. The principal of one school said they wanted to leave it up to parents to decide how much to share with their children.

One woman in 2003 told the Star-Telegram she was coming home early when she saw Garner lying in the grass next door. She and several other bystanders went to tend to his injury briefly until more police arrived and took over.

Within minutes, police had coverage of all the major streets and intersections but took more time to patrol neighborhoods in the area, a police spokesman said in 2003. Traveling those residential roads and getting out of the area before neighboring police agencies were notified was probably how Long escaped, they speculated at the time.

At that time in 2003, police had to pick up a phone and call each neighboring police agency to relay information about who they were looking for, then dispatchers had to relay that information to officers on patrol. It created delays of a few minutes, enough for Long to escape.

It led to criticism of the way police agencies communicated with each other in emergencies like that one.

“No one has an extra person to sit on the phone and just start calling everybody,” one Watauga Department of Public Safety official said in 2003.

Garner was in the hospital overnight from March 3 to March 4, 2003, when he was released around 7 p.m.

This story contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.

This story was originally published April 13, 2022 7:32 PM.

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James Hartley is a breaking news journalist at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He’s a North Texas native who joined the Star-Telegram team during a 2019 internship and just didn’t leave. He’s passionate about true stories and loves understated movies, good tea and scotch that’s out of his budget. Connect with James on Twitter, @ByJamesHartley, or Instagram, @JamesTakesPhotos.

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