Nothing kept Glenn “Lights Out” Gullette down.
His friends remember that indelible night in March 1993, when Gullette, 23, boxing on ESPN, got knocked to the mat but bounced to his feet, only to meet a left jab that sent him stumbling across the ring.
Gullette lost that bout, his sixth as a heavyweight, but his resilience and determination to keep getting up won the admiration of his friends and family.
That’s what makes his ending all the more incomprehensible.
A week ago, Gullette, 44, met a foe more fearsome than any he’d faced in his 14 years in the ring – this one, police say, was a teenager with a handgun.
Preparing to drive to church for Sunday morning services, he was in his car outside his north Charlotte house when the teenager approached and demanded the vehicle, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.
Gullette, a father of five with eight grandchildren, apparently didn’t resist, but the teenager shot him through the window, police say. They’ve arrested four teenagers, one 13, one 15 and two 16. Police are still looking for a fifth.
“These kids, they just don’t understand who they took and how many lives they’ve affected,” said Jennie Hague, who grew up with Gullette in the same Cabarrus County neighborhood near Harrisburg. She called him “Pooh Bear” because of his gentleness.
“Of all people, Glenn’s the last one I’d ever think would meet such a bad end. He was such a great guy. If those kids had just given him a chance, I’m sure he would have given them what they wanted.”
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Looked for ‘suitable victims’
The fatal shooting came at the end of an eight-hour crime spree.
Police say the teens were not close friends. At least two grew up within a mile of each other near the Hidden Valley community, in recent years plagued by gangs, but police don’t believe last Sunday’s spree was gang-related.
The teenagers met Saturday night walking from the Charlotte Transportation Center uptown to the Power 98 Step Off at the Grady Cole Center, said Capt. Cecil Brisbon, head of the CMPD homicide unit. The competition featured step and dance teams from Charlotte-area high schools and middle schools.
On the way, they hatched a plan to rob money and cars.
The teens “just decided they wanted to go robbing people,” said Maj. Mike Smathers. “That was their sole goal – and they just were driving around the city and finding people they thought were suitable victims.”
The spree, police say, unfolded like this:
2:28 a.m.: A lone gunman approached three people sitting inside a teal Saturn on North Tryon Street near Sugar Creek Road. He ordered the three out, and he drove off in the Saturn. Victims in later crimes would report seeing a blue car.
4 a.m.: A 35-year-old man stopped at a traffic light in a gray Dodge Ram pickup truck near West Boulevard. A suspect with a black object in his hand approached and demanded the man’s phone and truck. The suspect drove off in the truck, which police say was used in later crimes.
7:45 a.m.: A 29-year-old jogger was running on Canterwood Drive near Tom Hunter Road and North Tryon Street when a gray Dodge pickup pulled up beside him. One suspect got out and demanded money. The jogger gave him what he had – $4. The suspects fled in the Dodge truck.
8:20 a.m.: A 66-year-old man was driving home in a Pontiac Vibe when he noticed in his rearview mirror a gray Dodge pickup following him. After the man pulled into his driveway near East W.T. Harris Boulevard, an armed suspect approached and demanded his wallet and car. The victim fled to get help, and the suspect drove off in his car with the gray truck following.
Minutes before 10 a.m., the teens pulled into the Hemby Woods neighborhood off West Sugar Creek Road in the Derita community. Stopping along Hemby Woods Drive, they spotted a man sitting in a polished silver Chrysler 300C, a luxury model with gleaming chrome rims.
Behind the wheel was Glenn Gullette.
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‘Always in the center’
Glenn Gullette Jr. had hung up his gloves in 2005. He worked as an electrician and helped look after his mother, Wendy Griffin, and two young sons from a second marriage, friends say.
He was raised in New York, but he moved to Harrisburg with his mother when he was in the seventh grade. Griffin and his father, Ronald Sr., never married, and sheraised Glenn on her own in North Carolina. During summers, he would sometimes return to New York to visit his father.
In the Cabarrus Woods neighborhood near Harrisburg, Glenn kept an eye on his friends and admonished them if he felt they were straying.
“He took on the big brother role, and I loved him for that,” said Hague, three years younger. “If I ever talked back to my mother, he’d give me the evil eye and sometimes took his belt to me, and made sure I behaved. I know he did it out of love.”
They’d play spades or basketball until darkness fell.
One night they were playing basketball in a park and they kept playing under a full moon, said George Bost, a friend from the neighborhood who was so inseparable with Gullette that people thought they were brothers.
“A ranger had to come and kick us out,” Bost said. “That’s who we were. We didn’t go around looking for trouble like these teenagers today.”
At Hartsell Middle School in Concord and later at Central Cabarrus High, Gullette played football and basketball. He also dated cheerleader Cynthia Swayney. At 18, freshly graduated from high school, they drove to York, S.C., to get married by a justice of the peace.
They were married eight years before they divorced at 26. In that time, they had three children, all now in their 20s. After the divorce, Glenn stayed close to his children.
“If you saw Glenn, his three kids were attached to him or nearby,” Hague said. “He was a good father.” He was also a good grandfather to his eight grandchildren – with two more on the way, she said.
Early on and through life, Gullette was always in the middle of a good time, friends say. He never dabbled in drugs and rarely even drank, his friends said.
“He was big and imposing, but Glenn was always in a good mood,” Bost said. “He was loud and boisterous, and you always wanted to be with him. You could hear his laugh over a crowd.”
Tommy Evans grew up in Charlotte but met Gullette when they were both in high school. Gullette and his neighborhood friends often drove to Charlotte on weekends to dance at teen clubs.
“G. was always in the center, always cutting up,” said Evans, pastor at Dominion Worship Center in Charlotte. “I never saw the guy have a bad day.”
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‘A gentle giant’
Gullette worked as an electrician, at one time for Central Piedmont Community College and lately for the Lincoln Harris Co.
He was a natural with young people.
He’d often drive to a local gym to help mentor or train fledgling boxers – the old pro imparting his wisdom from the ring and the lessons he’d learned in life.
Gullette often took Evans’ younger brother to a park to play basketball. “With teens, Glenn could instantly get on their level,” he said.
Two years ago, a teenager who lived nearby stole Gullette’s car radio, Evans said. Gullette found the teenager and told him that he wasn’t upset, that he could buy another stereo.
He told the boy: “I just want you to see what kind of person you did this to,” Evans said.
About five years ago, Gullette remarried. He and second wife, Marsha, were raising two sons, ages 3 and 4.
Normally on Sundays, they’d attend church services as a family, Evans said.
Last Sunday was no different. Gullette was running late and told Marsha to take their sons to University City Church near West W.T. Harris Boulevard and he’d meet them there.
Just before 10 a.m., he was ready to pull away. Close by, police say, teenagers in a gray Dodge truck and a teal Saturn were watching.
They decided they wanted Gullette’s shiny Chrysler, Capt. Brisbon said. It was the nicest car they’d tried to steal, he said.
A gunman approached, demanding the car. There’s “no indication” that Gullette resisted, yet police were still trying to determine whether he said anything, Brisbon said.
“That’s not to say there wasn’t some type of physical intimidation,” he said. “He was a bigger guy, and you’re dealing with kids.”
After neighbors called 911 with reports of hearing shots, police found Gullette – 6-foot-2 and about 260 pounds – with a gunshot wound. Medic pronounced him dead at the scene.
Neighbors had seen a gray pickup truck and blue car speed away.
When Gullette didn’t show up at University City Church, Marsha got concerned and called Gullette’s cellphone. She got no answer. She kept calling. Still no answer.
Now she’s in anguish, Evans said, as Gullette’s boyhood friends and older children stand vigil over his mother, trying to shield her from the hurt.
Evans didn’t know about the shooting until later. His cellphone rang all day, but he was involved with his own church services and couldn’t answer until later that afternoon.
“We are still trying to come to grips with this,” he said. “I mean, why on this day – to think Glenn was on his way to church and this terrible thing happened. Glenn was big and looked intimidating, but he was never aggressive. He was such a gentle giant. He didn’t make any enemies.
“This was just so completely random, so completely heartbreaking.”
When they were younger, Evans and several friends sang in a rap group. Gullette was their bodyguard.
The group wrote a song called “Madness.” It was about a friend “who’d met an untimely death.”
“We didn’t know the song would be so prophetic, and the irony is not lost on us,” Evans said. “To tell me a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old are involved in this is just sheer madness – senseless.”
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‘Lights Out, baby!’
When his friends tell stories, Gullette’s ESPN bout against undefeated heavyweight Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs always comes up. They still watch it in high-definition on YouTube.
He began boxing at 20 in 1990, when he wanted to tone up and walked into Ed Smith’s Boxing Gym on Brevard Street just north of uptown. Smith, then a Charlotte police officer, coached youths boxing to instill discipline.
He and later Charlotte trainer/promoter Leon Moffett saw potential in Gullette.
“At the time, Glenn’s left hook was probably the strongest in the heavyweight division,” Moffett said.
Gullette debuted as a pro in 1991 and won three of his first five fights, acquiring the ring-name “Lights Out.”
Then on March 25, 1993, he fought Briggs at Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
A crowd gathered at Gullette’s mother’s house to watch him fight Briggs on TV. Gullette was badly losing the first round, when midway through he briefly staggered Briggs with his trademark left hook.
His friends jumped from their chairs. “Lights out! Lights out, baby!” they screamed.
Gullette didn’t escape the first round. He would fight 22 more bouts until 2005, winning only 3.
His friends say that record didn’t matter to Lights Out – he found his joy and riches in relationships.
“To be a great boxer, you’ve got to devote your life to it,” Smith said. “Glenn was more concerned about being a great dad to his kids and looking after his mother. We’ve lost a good man.” Researcher Maria David contributed to this story.