EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) – A Columbia County business is in mourning after one of their employees was shot and killed Wednesday.
31-year-old Christopher Rumph is accused of shooting and killing his co-worker, 43-year-old Jerry Whitten, in the parking lot of Springwood Nursery on Cox Road in Evans.
The two worked nights together and around 3 a.m., their shift would end.
When the business opened Wednesday morning, co-workers found Whitten’s body on the property.
Whitten had worked there for more than 16 years.
Owner James Cartledge says Whitten was a dedicated worker, but also a good friend.
“He did his job. He came to work. He was dependable. He enjoyed his job. I very seldom had to ever go back on anything that he had done and reprimand or criticize or anything,” Cartledge said.
Cartledge says the suspect, Rumph, had worked at the nursery for about 2 years.
He says the 31-year-old was a good employee who had a criminal past.
The nursery hired him because he was highly recommended by a state program that helps ex-convicts get back into society.
“Chris wanted to go to school to Augusta Tech. He was going to school and he was trying to work as well. He decided that he wanted to work at night so it would free up his days to be at school,” Cartledge said.
The nursery owner says Whitten and Rumph drove together for about a year and says the two got along, so the shooting was unexpected for everyone.
“This was just some random… I don’t know. I really… we’re not able to explain it at this time. I don’t know,” Cartledge said.
He says he’s not sure they’ll ever understand what happened, but his employees are family, so they will all make it through this tough time together.
“Though we are struggling to come to terms with this tragedy, we take comfort in knowing that Jerry had a deep and personal relationship with Christ and we have no doubt that Jerry is with his loving Savior today,” Cartledge said.
Cartledge says he and his work family are also praying for the suspect and his family.
The nursery created a memorial fund for Jerry Whitten at Georgia Bank and Trust.
To donate to the victim’s family, all you have to do is go to one of the bank’s locations.
NewsChannel 6 looked into Rumph’s criminal background.
In 2007, he and a friend were charged with Murder and Armed Robbery in Lee County, Florida. The case against him was dismissed.
In 2008, he was charged with Burglary, Grand Theft Auto and Possession of a Gun. He was found guilty.
Also in 2008, in another case he was charged with Burglary and Theft. This case was dropped.
In 2013, he was arrested again in Florida for a Probation Violation.
Rumph is a convicted felon and was not supposed to have a gun.