WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.— There’s not a day that goes by that Sharnette Smith does not think about how her life could have changed on January 15, 1994, if Winston-Salem Police Officer Robert Buitrago had not been there.
On that night, Smith was an innocent bystander who was almost killed during a robbery.
“I mean it just blows my mind what happened that day,” Smith said.
Smith says she had just got out of her car at Southpark Shopping Center in Winston-Salem that night when she walked up to the Food Lion and Michael Larry was running out.
Smith said Larry pointed a gun at her and tried to force get in the car.
“He told me ‘come with me, come with me,” Smith said.
Officer Robert Buitrago, who was off duty at the time, was also inside the store.
“Both Larry and Buitrago got into an argument and Larry just shot him,” Smith said.
Officer Buitrago, who had only been with the department for six months, was killed at the scene.
“He was 23, I was 21. I just could not believe it,” Smith said.
For the first time since the night of the shooting, Smith paid her final respects for the officer. On Tuesday, she brought her son to the fallen officer’s memorial right outside the Winston-Salem Police Station on Cherry Street.
Smith and her son Shawn Allen laid white flowers on the memorial that bears Buitrago’s name.
“If he hadn’t been there, God knows what would have happened to my mother. God Bless him,” Allen said.
As for Thomas Michael Larry, he is currently on death row.