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Police shoot escapee holding gun to son's head

Woman in critical condition in Tennessee hospital

Karen Lynn Lovell holds her son in one hand and a gun in the other while on the run from police.

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SMITHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- A woman was in critical condition Friday after she escaped from jail, kidnapped her 3-year-old son and -- while holding a gun to his head -- was shot by police, officials said.

Karen Lynn Lovell, 28, would likely have been released from the DeKalb County jail soon, said Chief Deputy Milton Bowling of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department. But instead of waiting for her release, Lovell stole a police car; kidnapped her son; shot a family pet; shot at a police officer after hitting him with a stolen police cruiser; and finally pointed a stolen police gun at her son's head.

She was shot near an eye by an officer who watched the final showdown unfold.

The incident began shortly after midnight Thursday, when Lovell suffered what appeared to be a seizure while serving a sentence at the jail, Bowling said.

Lovell was taken to nearby Baptist DeKalb Hospital, where a doctor said she appeared to be fine, and discharged her about 1:15 a.m., Bowling said.

But as the corrections officer took Lovell back to the jail, he thought he smelled marijuana coming from the men's annex, Bowling said.

He went to investigate, leaving his gun with a female corrections officer and giving Lovell an opportunity, Bowling said.

"Somehow she ended up with the gun and the keys to the patrol unit," he said.

Lovell took the gun and, using the keys she had also taken, drove off in one of the department's Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars, he said.

A dispatcher for the sheriff's department said she knew Bowling's sister lived in Dowelltown, Tennessee, about six miles away, and suggested that the inmate had gone there, Bowling said.

Lovell had done just that -- driving to the house where her sister lived with her husband, their three children and Lovell's son, Bowling said.

The family reunion was violent.

"She took the kid at gunpoint; she shot the family dog, a Doberman pinscher, inside the house," he said.

Lovell then got back into the stolen police car and fled, taking her son with her, he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy David Ward had set up a roadblock half a mile from the family's house.

Soon, at the wheel of the stolen patrol car, Lovell approached the roadblock, Bowling said.

The driver ignored Ward's blue lights, and instead hit the deputy, who was outside his car. Lovell fired one round through the windshield that missed, Bowling said.

Ward was taken to a hospital, treated and released, Bowling said.

Although the roadblock didn't stop her, it did cause her to lose control of the car, and -- a quarter-mile up the road -- plowed into a field, where it became stuck in a ditch, he said.

Carrying her son, Lovell emerged from the car and ran into thick woods nearby.

"It's an excellent place to hide," Bowling said.

For several hours, officers and dogs from a neighboring sheriff's department and a fixed-wing plane equipped with infrared-detection equipment from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation failed to find the two.

About 11 a.m., a helicopter from the State Highway Patrol apparently flushed them from the thicket, because the woman walked out of the woods, her son in her arms, Bowling said.

"She had a gun at her baby's head," he said.

By this time, television cameras had assembled and captured the image of Lovell, clad in a white T-shirt, walking to the porch of a nearby house, smiling and appearing almost nonchalant as she pointed the gun in various directions as though she were playing with it.

It wasn't until she pointed it toward the head of her son that Capt. Mark Collins fired once, striking her near her eye.

"She dropped the gun and dropped the baby," Bowling said.

Collins then ran forward, grabbed the sobbing toddler and carried him away.

Lovell was taken by helicopter to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga.

"At this time, she's still alive," said Bowling, who praised Collins' work.

"By doing what he did, he saved the baby's life," he said. "He felt sure she was going to kill the baby."

Investigators have turned up "some letters and maybe some statements from her that, if she ever got an opportunity to get out, she would kill the baby and herself," he said.

Lovell, who had been extradited from Michigan for failing to appear on a charge of what Bowling described as "maybe aggravated assault or stalking or something like that," would likely have been released soon, he said.

"She was probably going to be out next month," he said. "We were talking about buying her a bus ticket and sending her back to Michigan -- we're so overcrowded."

TBI will investigate the escape.

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