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The police officer cradles a man in his arms. That man – the apparent victim of a drive-by in a busy Las Vegas street – looks at the cop, opens his mouth and utters what are to be the final words he will ever speak. After falling into a coma, just short of a week later the man will die from his injuries.

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That was 1996 – more than 20 years ago. But despite the fact there were nearly 20,000 murders in the United States in the same year, with annual figures remaining above 14,000 ever since, memories of that particular Las Vegas shooting endure. The reason? Because of the lasting fame of the victim: the legendary rapper Tupac Shakur.

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And now, a further twist in a tale that has seemingly never been far from the popular consciousness over the intervening decades has seen the cop who was first on the scene make a shocking revelation. Indeed, that police officer – Lieutenant Chris Carroll – was the same man who cradled the dying Shakur on the Las Vegas street that fateful evening.

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In that poignant moment when the dying man was lying in the arms of the Las Vegas Metro Department officer, a brief exchange took place. Those words were privy only to the two men involved – and it has taken Lieutenant Carroll more than 20 years to publicly reveal what the legendary rapper told him.

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Unsurprisingly, it’s a revelation that has garnered significant interest. Not only was Shakur – who took the stage name 2Pac – one of the most famous hip-hop artists of his generation, but his fame and importance to the genre have also grown since. Indeed, Shakur’s murder has been the subject of numerous documentaries, all of which have fueled the public’s thirst for information and insights relating to the nature of, and the reason for, the artist’s death.

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Shakur was just 25 years old when he died. Despite his tender age, though, he left behind a critically acclaimed catalogue of music that has stood the test of time. Only four studio albums were released by Shakur during his lifetime, but his prolific output in the studio meant that six further studio albums have been released following his death.

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As well as a recording artist, Shakur was also an actor and appeared in a handful of films and TV series. But it was his music that made him one of the most seminal figures in the U.S. entertainment industry during the early 1990s. His songs about the travails of inner-city life for young black Americans made him a champion of those he sang about and opened the eyes of the wider world to the realities of life in the perceived American ghettos.

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In many ways, Shakur embodied the life he sang about. He was born into a poor family that had suffered – and indeed would suffer – more than its fair share of violence and grief. As well as the Black Panther movement, to which both Shakur’s mother and father belonged, a number of his formative influences were people affiliated to the Black Liberation Army.

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In fact, not long before Shakur’s birth, his mom Afeni was found not guilty of serious charges relating to an alleged planned bombing campaign against the police in New York City. That particular case became infamous as the “Panther 21” trial. So, Shakur arrived in this world into a highly politicized household and a socially conscious environment.

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Originally named Lesane Parish Crooks, his mom subsequently decided to call her infant young son Tupac Amaru Shakur instead. It was a highly symbolic title, as his mother later explained. “I wanted him to have the name of revolutionary, indigenous people in the world. I wanted him to know he was part of a world culture and not just from a neighborhood,” Afeni Shakur said, according to a 2014 article by University of California historian Chuck Walker.

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In fact, Lesane’s new name came from a famed Peruvian resistance fighter called Túpac Amaru II. He’d inspired the indigenous peoples of the country to rebel against Spanish colonialists. With the Shakur family’s Black Panther and Black Liberation Army connections, as well as his highly symbolic name, it was perhaps no surprise that the young man was destined for an anti-establishment existence.

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But at the same time, the young Shakur was also artistic and highly cultured. In Maryland, where the family moved when Shakur was in his teens, the future recording artist attended the Baltimore School of the Arts. It was there that Shakur took theater and poetry classes, even appearing in Shakespeare plays. Indeed, later in life, Shakur revealed his admiration for The Bard of Avon. “I love Shakespeare. He wrote some of the rawest stories, man. I mean look at Romeo and Juliet. That’s some serious ghetto s**t,” he told Chuck Philips of the Los Angeles Times in 1995.

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As well as Shakespeare, and theater in general, Shakur had wide tastes in music and also wrote poetry. Indeed, after the family moved once more, this time close to San Francisco, Shakur frequented the classes of educator, poet and entrepreneur Leila Steinburg, who became an important formative influence on the aspiring rapper.

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Of course, this love of culture contrasted with some of Shakur’s other activities, a handful of which were criminal. Shakur’s police rap sheet included felonious assault in 1993 and assault again in 1994, the latter of which involved an altercation with Allen Hughes, the director of Menace II Society.

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And most seriously of all, in 1993 Shakur found himself charged with the sexual assault of a lady in New York. The allegations included rape, and despite being acquitted of some charges, Shakur found himself receiving a sentence of up to four-and-a-half years.

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However, Shakur himself was adamant that he wasn’t a criminal and defended himself passionately in that 1995 piece in the Los Angeles Times. The interview in question took place just days after he’d been released from prison after serving nine months of that potential four-and-a-half year stint. “Let me say for the record, I am not a gangster and never have been,” the rapper said.

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And Shakur went on to further defend himself. “I’m not the thief who grabs your purse. I’m not the guy who jacks your car. I’m not down with people who steal and hurt others,” he stated. “I’m just a brother who fights back. I’m not some violent closet psycho. I’ve got a job. I’m an artist.”

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Despite his pleas to the contrary, though, Shakur died a gangster’s death, gunned down in a drive-by assault in Las Vegas just a year after the Philips interview. However, in spite of countless rumors, a lengthy police investigation and a number of documentaries on the saga, the crime remains unsolved to this day.

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But more than two decades after the incident, one of the police officers who attended the scene of Shakur’s shooting has provided a little more insight into what transpired that night in Las Vegas. Chris Carroll is a retired Las Vegas Metro Police Department Lieutenant – and the man who heard the rap superstar’s final words.

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“I had Tupac in my arms as he was dying,” Lieutenant Carroll revealed in a July 2018 Interview with 3 News Las Vegas. True to his profession, Lieutenant Carroll had tried to get Shakur to identify the person or persons who’d shot him. And Shakur’s answer was surprising to say the least.

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In an earlier interview with Vegas Seven that was quoted in a May 2014 Rolling Stone piece, retired officer Carroll had recalled other details about that fateful evening on September 6, 1996. Carroll had arrived on the scene just moments after the car Shakur was traveling in had been sprayed with bullets.

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As can be imagined, Carroll was greeted by a chaotic situation. “So I grabbed him with my left arm, and he falls into me, and I’ve still got my gun in the other hand,” the retired lieutenant recalled. It was almost immediately clear to the officer that this was someone out of the ordinary.

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“He’s covered with blood, and I immediately notice that the guy’s got a ton of gold on – a necklace and other jewelry – and all of the gold is covered in blood,” Carroll recalled. “That has always left an image in my mind. And as Suge is yelling ‘Pac!’ I look down, and I realize that this is Tupac Shakur.”

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Carroll subsequently revealed Shakur’s dying words during a television interview. The former officer also expressed his surprise that people are still talking about Shakur’s death more than two decades after his passing. “In the mid-90s, rappers were getting killed left and right. We never thought that 20 years later this would be a thing. I also did not think six months later it would still be a thing,” Carroll said.

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Of course, less than a year later, Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., was also shot and killed in a drive-by attack. As Carroll stated, it was an era in which rappers feared for their safety. And like Shakur, Wallace achieved notable posthumous success. Similarly, more than two decades later, people are still interested in the events surrounding Biggie’s death – and indeed any part he allegedly played in the demise of Shakur.

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The apparent enmity and rivalry between Shakur and Wallace have been the subject of numerous documentaries, including 2002’s Biggie and Tupac and 2017’s Who Shot Biggie & Tupac? The conspiracy theories swirling around the two rappers’ deaths have only increased their posthumous fame. This in turn partly explains why, to Carroll’s surprise, people still ask him about Shakur’s death all these years later.

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Although the hype around the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop rivalry of the mid-1990s and the alleged feud between Shakur and Wallace has never really gone away, thanks in no small part to those documentaries, there’s another reason why interest in Shakur’s death has resurfaced. It relates to recent claims surrounding the identity of the shooter.

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“We’ve all known, law enforcement, people on the street, the gang community, everybody knows that Orlando Anderson’s the shooter in this case. We’ve known that for years,” Carroll revealed in the interview. So why has Anderson, a Crip also known as Baby Lane, never been arrested for the murder of Shakur?

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“Unfortunately, [Anderson] himself was murdered shortly after the Tupac murder,” Carroll explained. In fact, Anderson’s drug kingpin uncle Keefe D has even claimed to have been in the car at the time Anderson allegedly shot Shakur. This confession recently received attention after it was depicted in the 2018 USA Network show Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.

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Keefe D’s statement provoked a furious response from Shakur’s fan-base. Many demanded that the self-styled criminal to be taken into custody over the confession. However, retired officer Carroll addressed these calls in the same 3 News interview and explained that it would be difficult to make any charges stick.

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“Someone is not guilty of murder merely because they are in the car, you need a little more than that,” said Carroll. “You have got to know what happened and what transpired inside of the car.” With that in mind, justice in the Shakur case seems as far away as it ever was.

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But what of those final words? Could Shakur himself have uttered something that could implicate someone in his own killing? “I was trying to get more information and asked him, ‘Who shot you?’ He looked me straight in the eyes and he said, ‘F*** you.’ Those were the last words he ever said in his life,” Carroll revealed.

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Surprising words, perhaps, for a man who’d just been shot multiple times. But then this was also a man who’d grown up with a profound mistrust of the police, as well as a deeply rebellious edge. On second thoughts, then, it’s not so shocking that Shakur was unwilling to cooperate, even in his dying breaths.

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But why did it take Carroll so long to reveal the final words of the rapper, details that would obviously generate huge interest among Shakur’s legions of fans? Well, Carroll stated in the interview with Vegas Seven that there were a couple of explanations for why he hadn’t made the information public. The first was simply because, as an active police officer, he couldn’t talk publicly about an active case.

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Having now retired, of course, Carroll’s circumstances had changed. “There’s clearly never going to be a court case on this,” Carroll stated. But there was another reason that Carroll had remained reluctant to talk about Shakur’s words for so long.

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Carroll, as a cop, also didn’t want Shakur to be celebrated for showing contempt to the police even in his dying moments. In that Vegas Seven interview, Carroll expressly stated that it wasn’t his wish for “Tupac to be a martyr or a hero because he told the cops ‘F*** you.’”

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Shakur didn’t die immediately from his wounds. He was struck by four different bullets, with two striking the rapper in the chest and further bullets entering him in the thigh and in the arm. Suge Knight, who was driving the car carrying Tupac and was the owner of Shakur’s record label Death Row, was also injured in the attack.

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After the police arrived and the exchange with Officer Carroll took place, Shakur was taken to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. A sedated Shakur was eventually placed into a coma by staff at the hospital’s ICU. Six days later, on the afternoon of September 13, 1996, the rapper passed away due to internal bleeding.

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Shakur’s body was cremated just a day later. Glowing tributes to the rapper’s artistry soon followed. “The slaying [of Shakur] silenced one of modern music’s most eloquent voices – a ghetto poet whose tales of urban alienation captivated young people of all races and backgrounds,” wrote Chuck Philips in the Los Angeles Times. “The 25-year-old Shakur had helped elevate rap from a crude street fad to a complex art form, setting the stage for the current global hip-hop phenomenon.”

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Indeed, Shakur’s legacy is powerful. The musician’s mother, Afeni, set up an organization in her son’s name: the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation. Its stated aim is to “provide training and support for students who aspire to enhance their creative talents.” It seems a fitting way to remember a young man who displayed so much creativity.

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And as for his music, Shakur’s place in the pantheon of legendary musical artists is secured, despite the fact he was only 25 when he died. As well as having sold in excess of 70 million units, Shakur is also an inductee of both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. He was among the very first to be admitted into the latter, although obviously all of this was achieved posthumously.

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In 1995 Shakur’s hip-hop group Thug Life released their solitary studio album Thug Life: Volume 1. On that record, there’s a track about a fallen friend titled “How Long Will They Mourn Me?” In the song, Shakur asks, “I wish it would have been another, how long will they mourn me?” The answer is that, more than 20 years after Shakur’s passing, for some the process has never stopped.

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