Clifton Thomson
Clifton Thomson

UPDATE: An autopsy Friday morning determined Clifton Thomson was shot a single time and died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

The death of the 72-year-old Conewago Township man has been ruled a homicide.

It will be up to District Attorney Tom Kearney to decide whether the police shooting was justifiable.


Clifton Thomson's daughter said she doesn't believe her father was trying to hurt officers in the moments before one of them fatally shot him at his Conewago Township home Thursday morning.

"I just want people to know he wasn't a monster," said Karen Hartman of Manchester. "He had some mental issues, and I just think he didn't get the proper help for them."

And while news reports of the shooting are all most people know about 72-year-old Clifton Thomson, Hartman has a lifetime of memories.

Some of her favorite are from beach camping trips near Ocean City, Md., with her parents, older sister and three brothers.

"He used to have a boat," Hartman recalled. "But I think he was happiest when he was flying his ultralight."

Thomson flew his one-man aircraft for years, she said, and loved the freedom.

A retired truck driver, Thomson relished baby-sitting, and spoiling, Hartman's two children, she said. He was a good father, she said.

But Thomson also battled demons, according to Hartman -- demons that may have become overwhelming.

The shooting: Thomson, of the 400 block of Hykes Mill Road, was shot by a Northern York County Regional police officer about 2:15 a.m. At the time, he was holding his .30-30 rifle and moving toward the officer, according to state police, who are investigating the officer-involved shooting.

Just prior to being shot, Thomson had run outside to his back patio after firing a single shot, apparently at officers, state police said.

Police were called to the rural home after Thomson called a mental-health crisis hotline and told them he had a gun and was thinking about hurting himself, according to state police.

Suicide by cop? Hartman and Joan Thomson, widow of Clifton Thomson, said they believe if he had wanted to hurt an officer, he wouldn't have missed.

"I think that was just his way of killing himself," Hartman said. "He wasn't trying to shoot the officer."

It's a phenomenon known as "suicide by cop," and Joan Thomson said she thinks that was her husband's plan.

Clifton Thomson battled anxiety and depression for many years and recently made the comment, "I can't take it," according to his wife.

Exacerbating those issues was his inability to get over the suicide of one of his sons 20 years ago, the women said. The anniversary of the suicide is March 8, and Hartman said she wonders if that wasn't weighing on her father as well.

"He needed help," Joan Thomson said. "We had happy times and we had hard times."

At peace? Several times recently he mentioned killing himself, she said.

"I hope he's at peace finally," the widow said.

Hours before Clifton Thomson was killed, he and Joan went to dinner at The Hop on Arsenal Road.

"He hardly talked at all," she said.

On their way home, they stopped at an express-type medical clinic. Clifton Thomson went inside and asked the receptionist if they helped either "crazy" or "nutty" people, according to Hartman.

The woman thought he was joking and said something like, "I feel that way myself," Hartman said.

He told the woman to forget it and left, his daughter said.

"I think he was trying to get help," Hartman said.

Wife asleep: Joan Thomson said she slept through her husband's early-morning call to a crisis hotline and didn't wake up until police were at her door, telling her to get out of the house.

She said she heard her husband fire his gun. The bullet damaged the chandelier in their dining room as well as a ceiling tile in a far corner of the room.

Joan Thomson said she was sitting in a police cruiser when she heard an officer fire the shot that killed her husband. She said she only heard one shot.

The widow said from what she can tell, her husband forced police to shoot him.

The officer who shot Clifton Thomson wasn't hurt. He is now on administrative leave as state police investigate.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at