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Haunted by fatal encounter

Mishawaka man recalls night he killed intruder.


MISHAWAKA -- Since his encounter with a 40-year-old intruder in February, Robert Birtwhistle says everything is satisfactory with him except for one thing: Despite still owning a shotgun, he wants his .32-caliber revolver returned to him.

"I don't believe in them guns," 84-year-old Birtwhistle said of using guns. "So when I retired about 20-something years ago and my friends kept insisting that I have a firearm for my protection, I bought the gun from a dealer, brought it home, and took it to the police department and had it registered. I used it for exactly what I had it for. This was a justified homicide."

The homicide Birtwhistle is referring to was Feb. 16 when an intruder -- James Rosebush -- awakened the homeowner at 1 a.m. by forcing his way into Birtwhistle's two-story home in the 700 block of East Third Street.

Rosebush ignored Birtwhistle's warnings that he would "get what was coming to him" if he proceeded to enter, Birtwhistle said.

The incident ended when Birtwhistle fired three fatal shots at Rosebush.

And the blood stains that still soil his carpet prove it.

Recently, Birtwhistle has taken his grandfather's shotgun, which he's had locked away, to his bedroom for protection, but he still prefers his former weapon.

"The revolver is easier to use; it makes me feel more comfortable," he said.

In recalling the February incident, Birtwhistle said, "He (Rosebush) got the chain loose (on the door). I fired a shot through the door to let him know I had a gun. I shot another one at the bottom of the door."

Birtwhistle said the 200-pound, 6-foot-1-inch Rosebush forced his way in, grabbed him behind his neck, and pranced him a few steps toward the entryway that separates the front room from Birtwhistle's first-floor bedroom.That's when Birtwhistle fired the third shot.

"He was on top of me," Birtwhistle said after he fired all three shots. "He was fiddling with the gun. I couldn't do nothing because both of my arms were under his weight. So I made peace with my maker and decided it was going to happen."

Rosebush then died on top of Birtwhistle.

"I never shot that gun off until those three shots," Birtwhistle said.

The shooting was ruled a justified homicide, according to the St. Joseph County prosecutor's office.

The aftershocks

Birtwhistle, who has split his life living between his current home and the home next door, was taken to the Mishawaka Police Department for questioning.

While being questioned, Birtwhistle said, he also made it a point to ask whether he would get his gun back.

"They said, 'Yes, but it has to go downstate, so it's going to take a month to six

weeks,' " Birtwhistle said. "And it's been five months now."

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Frank Schaffer said Birtwhistle's revolver is part of a death investigation, and he'll never see it again.

"We keep weapons for evidence for our own records," Schaffer said. "You never know what's going to happen, so we keep it all."

But that response isn't satisfactory to Birtwhistle, who said his only protection was his revolver.

"I'm an easy target," he said. "I'm feeble and have no (lung capacity). ... As far as I'm concerned, they have stolen that gun."

As for the possibility of another intrusion, Birtwhistle said, he's more than nervous, especially because he's no stranger to prowlers.

Although he hasn't reported all of them, he said, he's been the victim of several attempted intrusions in the past. And he says he's not worried that having his story published might compromise his personal safety.

But his encounter with Rosebush haunts him daily.

"I have flashbacks every night," he said. "I'm living with that. Spiritually, that's with me -- there ain't nothing you can do about that. That hurts worse than a sore thumb."

The only other altercation Birtwhistle recalls being involved in was a childhood fight he had with his brother for stealing his bike.

Neighbors on alert

Since Birtwhistle's February encounter, neighbors have taken it upon themselves to watch out for each other and Birtwhistle.

"We've started watch meetings," said neighbor Danny Atkinson. "We're all just doing the best we can do. Each morning I drive past (Birtwhistle's) alley, and on my way home from work, I drive by it, too."

And the police have made their presence known in the neighborhood since that night.

Capt. Dan Gebo of the Mishawaka Police Department said the incident shocked many neighbors.

After the shooting, Gebo said, more patrols were in the neighborhood and officers attended neighborhood meetings.

"We see (police) going by our house, and you always see them going through the alleys," Atkinson said. "We'll see them on bike patrols, too."

Even Birtwhistle says he's noticed more neighbors looking out for him and the heightened police presence.

But as far as Birtwhistle's concerned, he would like his gun back for peace of mind.

"I can't get (that February) incident out of my mind," he said. "If I'm not doing something, I'm thinking about it. The main thing is, I need protection. I'm getting along fine, but I'd get along better with that gun."

*FW Note:

There is never a cop around when one is needed, and when they do show up, they do their best to make things worse.

This is a perfect illustration of government's plan to "protect" the American People. Leave a citizen to defend himself, and them disarm him and leave him defenseless if he does.

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