VA Hospital shooting victim, suspect were neighbors

Posted at 11:31 PM, Feb 22, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-28 17:39:12-05

BLACKSTONE, Va (WTVR) -  The fatal shooting at Richmond’s McGuire Veterans Medical Center Wednesday morning allegedly involved a custodial worker there from Blackstone who inexplicably fired a pistol at a neighbor he had brought there for a regular cancer treatment, his girlfriend told CBS-6 News.

James Stephenson Lee, an Army veteran receiving cancer treatments, was struck in the head and the eye during the 7:15 a.m. shooting on the parking lot outside of the vast South Richmond facility. He was taken to VCU Medical Center, where his family said he was put on life support but showed no brain activity. Life support was removed sometime after 8 p.m. Wednesday.

A VCU Medical Center spokesman said he died between 8 and 10 p.m.

State troopers stopped Cornelius I. Hayes, 55, at the wheel of the blue pickup they had been riding in a little after the shooting near I-295 and Route 10. On his lap was a revolver holding two bullets and three spent cartridges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hayes live-in girlfriend, who works as a nurse’s aide at the VA, is the victim’s first cousin. They live one block – five houses - apart on the quiet 3rd Street in Blackstone.

They had been bringing James “Steve” Lee, who is approximately 59, to the hospital daily for the past five weeks for his cancer treatments.

There had been no friction, the girlfriend said. No fight in the truck on the way there, or after they arrived. There was only the briefest warning.

She said Cornelius said something like, ‘I’m not going to be here any more,’ and then shots rang out.

The girlfriend said after she heard his words, she briefly thought Cornelius Hayes was about to shoot himself. The only thing she can think of is Hayes had been worried he might have cancer himself.

Records show Hayes served about a year in prison for 2001 charges for assaulting a police officer and firing into an occupied dwelling. It appears he hasn’t had much trouble with the law since, except for some traffic violations in Nottoway and in Chesterfield, according to a partial records search by CBS-6.

Currently, Hayes is being held on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His girlfriend and another relative of Lee’s believe Hayes was also an Army veteran.

Because the shooting happened on the federal property, the FBI is investigating. Tuesday night, as many as 20 agents and investigators searched the home, yard and outbuilding Hayes shared with his girlfriend.

His girlfriend stood stunned as she watched the investigators turn her home upside-down with cold efficiency.

She said she’ll never forget the sight of her cousin on the parking lot, a spreading pool of blood around his head.

She’s also horrified for Hayes. “I love him,” she said. “I’ll probably never see him again . . . except maybe at trial.”

The sudden, inexplicable nature of the tragedy had her still gasping for breath 12 hours after it happened. “I just want to know what happened.”