Employee: Carter tried to protect her

Cheryl Doyle was wounded, but Carter was fatally hit while shielding her with his body.

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MILTON-FREEWATER - Cheryl Doyle saw him approaching through the window at C. Rob Carter Plumbing.

"Oh my God," she heard herself say. "George is here."

Within seconds, she said, George W. Craigen, 49, lifted a riflehandgun up to the window at the Stephens Road office and began firing into the business.

Doyle, a billing and receiving employee at the plumbing outfit west of Milton-Freewater, was immediately struck in the thigh by a ricochet. The next thing she knew her boss and well-known resident Cecil "Rob" Carter had jumped on top of her, warning her not to move. Two other employees in the office during the 8:30 a.m. firestorm hit the floor nearby. The shots moved downward. Outside the building, Doyle's 7-year-old son hid behind a car.

"It seemed like it was never going to stop. Honestly, I don't know how long it lasted. It seemed like it lasted forever," Doyle recounted.

When the firing ceased, neither she nor the others saw which direction Craigen headed - though Carter's wife and one of his daughters had watched in horror from the window of their home just a short walk away from the shop and office.

Instead employees of the business called police and took turns administering CPR on Carter who was hit under the armpit by gunfire. He was transported to Walla Walla's Providence St. Mary Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead Friday morning.

"He would give the shirt off his back to anyone who was cold and never think about it," Doyle said of her boss and father figure. "He had the biggest heart of anyone you'll ever meet. He was very, very loved in this community. I just can't believe he's gone."

More than a boss, Carter had been a father figure to Doyle, she said.

She and his daughter, McKenzie, had met about eight years ago. Both had twins born just four months apart. "We're soulmates," Doyle said of her friend. "We've been together ever since then."

She said she immediately felt accepted as a member of the family. She referred to Carter as "Pops." "He's my family, too," she said.

His generosity showed itself again just before Christmas. Without a tree for her home, Doyle said she was surprised to step onto her porch before the holiday to find one sitting there.

"I called Pops and he said, ‘I don't know where the Christmas tree came from. It must have come from the Christmas Tree Fairy,'" she said.

His final act of caring came as he moved to protect his employees from Craigen, a former neighbor who may have been motivated by revenge, sources said.

According to news reports, a more than 20-year history of crime came to a head last May, when Craigen was arrested in Umatilla County.

At the time he had warrants dating back 20 years in Umatilla County. He also had a warrant dating back to 2000 in Hawaii, where widespread news reports have said he was suspected of assaulting a former girlfriend and running away with her then-15-year-old daughter. They reportedly ended up in the Walla Walla area together and had a child.

Craigen, who reportedly lived on property next to Carter's, believed his neighbor helped his girlfriend escape with his child and was responsible for his arrest last spring. Several sources close to Carter said Craigen was mistaken about Carter.

"Rob is not a snitch," said Rick Trumbull, a 40-year friend of Carter's. "He did not turn him in. He is about as true blue American guy as anyone I've ever known."

Doyle said Craigen wrongly accused Carter. "We had nothing to do with it. Yet he blamed us because we're his neighbors," she said.

She said she was struck with fear the moment she spied Craigen through the window Friday morning. She and her coworkers "were in the office talking about our day and what we were going to do - kind of just joking," she said.

In the hours since, the community has held a collective breath waiting for word of an arrest in the manhunt for Craigen. Doyle said she knows of neighbors and family members armed with guns and sleeping in shifts as they keep watch over their homes and children.

"The police told us they will give us a call when they apprehend him. We will be the first to know when he has been captured," she said.

She's keeping watch, too, on the tennis ball-size bruise growing under her skin from the wound. It doesn't hurt nearly as much as the loss, she said. "At this point, I don't feel anything."

Sheila Hagar contributed to this report.

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