Grandmother says she still can’t believe her grandson is dead
The series of events that led to the Sunday morning shooting death of Christian Redwine began Saturday night at Nancy Sorrells’ Columbus home.
In an exclusive interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Sorrells, Redwine’s maternal grandmother and legal guardian who raised him, recounted the hours before her grandson’s death. After a police chase that started in Columbus and ended in Phenix City, Columbus Police First Officer Allan Brown shot and killed Redwine after the Pontiac he was driving crashed on Riverside Drive.
The shooting is currently under investigation by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Brown is on administrative leave with pay.
Redwine, a troubled 17-year-old who had been in and out of legal trouble since he was 13, was at his grandmother’s house on Cherokee Avenue, where he had his own room. Hunter Tillis, 19, Hannah Wuenschel, 18, and her 11-month old son were also in the room.
Freddy Levins, a car salesman who also helped raise Redwine, shares the home with Redwine’s grandmother.
Redwine’s mother has been in and out of the picture with mental illness, said Sorrells, who is her mother.
Redwine’s father, Christopher, is serving life in prison for a murder in Muscogee County in 2000. Redwine’s half brother, who is 9, is also being raised by Sorrells and Levins.
After Sorrells and Levins went to bed on Saturday night, a key to a silver Pontiac G-6 was taken from a bag belonging to Levins, Sorrells said. About 3:30 a.m., Levins woke up, saw the car was missing and called Columbus police, according to Sorrells.
Redwine, Tillis and Wuenschel were gone and the baby was still in the bedroom.
Columbus Police came to the house to take the stolen vehicle report, discovered the baby and called the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Sorrell said.
“The police were here all night between that baby and this,” Sorrells said.
Sorrells has talked to both Tillis and Wuenschel about what happened that night and from their accounts has pieced together what happened.
Redwine, who spent his 16th and 17th birthdays in state youth detention centers, had been released from the Muscogee County Jail on Tuesday. He had been released from YDC in February, Levins said, and had twice been incarcerated in Muscogee County Jail since.
“When police found the car, Christian took off,” Sorrells said. “Hunter said that Christian said, ‘I can’t go back to jail. I don’t want to go back to jail. I am going to try and run from the police.’ So they ran him into Phenix City.”
The chase started near the Columbus State University main campus, led into downtown Columbus and then across the 13th Street bridge into Phenix City toward Opelika Road, then onto U.S. 280 before getting on the north bypass going back toward Columbus. Redwine exited on Riverchase Drive, the last Alabama exit. The car crashed shortly after that.
Wuenschel was in the front passenger’s seat during the chase and Tillis was in the backseat, Levins said, recounting what Tillis told him.
Wuenschel and Tillis have since told Sorrells and Levins that Redwine put the Pontiac in reverse.
“Hunter said he was putting it in reverse,” Levins said.
Sorrells had a slightly different version.
“Hannah said he did not put it in reverse to do the police,” Sorrells said. “He put it in reverse to try and back out of the hole they got into. ... Hannah said they are trying to say Christian backed up to try and block the police or something like that, but she said he was trying to get the car straightened out when the police shot him.”
Wuenschel told Sorrells the following account of the shooting:
“Hannah said when they got stopped, she got shot first, like three times,” Sorrells said. “She said she got out of the car, held her hands up after they shot Christian and Christian went limp. She saw Christian die and she sort of freaked out. Hunter did not know what happened. He thought he was messed up in the wreck.”
Wuenschel told Sorrells that Redwine was shot seven times.
“These kids didn’t have any guns, no weapons, no pot or drugs in the car, so my question is, if he went limp after one time why did they shoot him six more times?” Sorrells asked.
Tillis and Wuenschel were both arrested Monday and charged with theft by taking of a motor vehicle. They have a Thursday morning Recorder’s Court hearing in Columbus. Levins said Tuesday he’s not going to press charges on the stolen vehicle.
The chase, the crash and the shooting happened about 4:30 a.m. Sunday.
Columbus Police were at Sorrells’ home from 3 a.m. until after 8 a.m., taking the stolen vehicle report and then waiting for DFACS to get Wuenschel’s baby.
Sorrells said she heard police radio traffic and knew there had been a chase and crash, but she did not know her grandson had been killed. She began asking the officers questions.
“They said, ‘Somebody is going to be by to talk to you; I don’t know if it is going to be Phenix City or Columbus,’” Sorrells said. “But I was waiting for somebody to come call me.”
She was still waiting when, about noon Sunday, one of her grandson’s friends told her he was dead.
“A friend saw it on Facebook,” Sorrells said. “Hunter had called this guy and he came by and said, ‘I sure am sorry about Christian.’ I said, ‘What about him?’ He said, ‘You didn’t hear he was dead?’ I said, ‘Oh my, God, Christian is dead.’ Nobody came and told me nothing.”
An investigator from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officially informed Sorrells about 5 p.m. Sunday of her grandson’s death.
Ask Sorrells about her grandson’s legal trouble and his time in youth detention and jail, and she responds: “That is the bad side of him. When you say that, it is like he never did anything else.”
Levins, who coached Redwine in soccer, remembers the athletic kid who could dominate a game.
“All I remember is the good side,” Levins said. “I had one of his old coaches call me and say you could put a soccer ball at his feet and he could score from anywhere on the field. He said he was a great athlete and he never had a problem with him.”
Redwine quit playing youth soccer about the time he started getting into trouble.
“He had a heart of gold,” Levins said. “Christian was at a point in life where he took a wrong turn like a lot of kids do.”
Levins remembers taking Redwine, whom he treated as if he was his grandson, to Cottonmouths hockey and Auburn football games.
“There was a good side and a bad side,” he said. “Me and Nancy did everything we could to make his life perfect.”
Asked if he regretted reporting the car stolen early Sunday morning, Levins paused.
“Nancy said to me, ‘If you hadn’t reported it, he might still be alive,” Levins said. “I don’t know how to answer that. All I can tell you is this: I can’t believe he’s dead and I’m sorry he’s dead. One preacher told me one time, ‘If you deal with drugs, there’s not but two ways to go: jail or death.’”
Levins and Sorrells have received several hundred texts and phone calls from friends saying they are sorry about what happened.
“These people watched Christian grow up and they knew he was a heck of an athlete with every opportunity in the world,” Levins said. “They knew he went wrong in middle school. ... He got with the wrong crowd and drugs.”