RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP – A bill proposed in the North Carolina House would honor a Raleigh police officer who was killed during a mass shooting last year and expand death benefits for public safety workers who die basically while on the job.

House Bill 363 is known as the Gabe Torres Act because it seeks to memorialize the police officer who died when a 15-year-old opened fire near his home in East Raleigh on Oct. 13.

Raleigh Police Officer Gabriel Torres

Torres was on his way to work, and so his death was not covered by the language in state law. HB 363 would close the loophole that excluded him and be retroactive to January 2022, which means his death would be covered.

State employees have estimated that this bill would mean Torres and other public safety workers who lost their lives in 2022 would be paid about $600,000 in benefits. Another $300,000 would be budgeted for the future.

Jasmin Torres, Gabe’s widow, made a statement to WRAL in Raleigh: “Our law enforcement officers are always on duty, and Gabe was no different. In other states, this is considered an in-line-of-duty death, and NC is falling short. While we hope we never have to use it, this is a way to honor Gabe, his memory and ensure that we fix this for the future.”

State Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Forsyth) (NCGA)

District 74 Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Forsyth) is one of the primary sponsors of the bill, along with three House members from Wake County: Sarah Crawford (D-Wake), Erin Pare’ (R-Wake) and James Roberson (D-Wake).

The bill also has 32 bipartisan cosponsors, including about nine members from across the Piedmont Triad.

“I developed a profound respect for police officers during a 13-year period in my life when I lived in downtown Baltimore,” Zenger told WGHP. “Since then I have had a number of friends that have worked in the PD or sheriff’s department. All of this has given me the opportunity to see firsthand the sacrifice not just the officers but also their families make.

“The Gabe Torres tragedy just accentuated what I already have seen. I am proud to stand with our police, sheriff’s deputies and troopers at all times but am especially proud to run this bill.”

Crawford told WRAL: “Even when they take that badge off, they’re never not a police officer, and they’re going to respond to accidents, to incidents, to tragedies. They’re going to respond whenever they can even if they are at home and off duty.”

The bill, officially filed on March 14, was approved unanimously Thursday by the House Committee on State Personnel and referred to the Committee on Pensions and Retirement.  If OKd there, it would return to the House Rules Committee before going to the floor for a full vote.

The bill also would have to be approved by the Senate and ultimately Gov. Roy Cooper. The General Assembly is adjourned for the Easter Holiday until April 18, so it’s unclear when all of that might happen.

Seven shot by teen

Torres was one of seven people shot that day allegedly by Austin Thompson, then 15. Nicole Connors, 52, Mary Marshall, 34, Susan Karnatz, 49, and James Thompson, 16, were killed when Austin Thompson is said to have opened fire in the street, killing Torres and one other person, then fled to a trail, where he killed three more.

Another RPD officer, Casey Clark, 33, who was in a gun battle with Austin Thompson, was wounded, as was Marcille Gardner, 59.

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Torres’ death had drawn a huge outpouring of support. Hundreds attended his funeral just more than a year ago. His family recently was presented with a mortgage-free home.

Not yet charged

Austin Thompson also was shot and hospitalized for days in critical condition, but police have not released an update on his condition.

Because he is a juvenile, any charges he may face cannot be disclosed. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has said she plans to pursue the case against Thompson as an adult.