Several streets were blocked off as officers surrounded the armed man, later identified as 26-year-old Derek Deandre Walker of Durham, and tried to get him to surrender peacefully.
A small army of officers diverted traffic and people away from the scene on Main and Corcoran Streets around 4:20 p.m. at the CCB Plaza.
"A guy in a pink shirt standing there with something in his hand like he may have had a gun or a knife or something in his hand," said a witness.
Walker was holding a black handgun. He was visually upset, and sometimes crying. At one point, he was screaming at himself and police.
Those who knew Walker said he worked three jobs and was known as a friendly guy who doted on his young son, but had problems coping with problems in his life.
"What I saw downtown yesterday was not Derek," Bishop Franklin Hanes with Hanes Funeral Services said. "I probably was the last person he talked to. He told me he loved me, and I was trying to get him to let me come and talk to him."
Hanes said Walker was like a son to him and was part of the staff at Hanes Funeral Services.
"He called me about 4:30 p.m. and said, 'I want you to bury me in my funeral suit. I want that to happen.' And he was just crying. I said, 'I need to talk to you,'" Hanes said. "And I always told him, 'You're going to be the one, when I retire, to kind of take over for me.'"
Friends said Walker, who loved his 6-year-old son, had an ongoing domestic dispute with the child's mother.
"It seemed that there were some issues in the courts involving his son, and that just seemed to be really disturbing to him," Walker's friend Truitt O'Neal said.
Hanes told ABC11 Walker snapped -- posted a suicide message online, took a gun he obtained for a security guard job, and then faced police.
Within an hour, as police negotiators tried to talk him into putting down the weapon, Walker pointed the gun at his own head and slowly and deliberately pointed his weapon at police, which prompted Cpl. R.C. Swartz, a 12 year veteran of the Durham Police Department, to fire.
Paramedics moved in, and Walker was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
One police officer was helped away from the scene. He was visually shaken. So was the sea of onlookers after the not-so-normal day downtown.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life," said a witness. "It's just too much."
The shooting is being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation. The Durham Police Department's Professional Standards Division and Criminal Investigations Division are also investigating the incident, which is standard procedure in any officer-involved shooting.
Swartz has been placed on administrative leave with pay, which is also standard procedure.
Meanwhile, a candlelight vigil for Walker was held Wednesday evening in CCB Plaza. People gathered around the Bull statue to remember Walker.