I suspect a lot of us these days have a false air of invincibility, a sense of security born of solid core doors, house alarms and a thousand rounds sent down range against an army of paper zombie targets. Despite the fact that we prepare for the worse scenarios in what are generally very controlled environments, we plod along happily, secure in the knowledge that when the shit hits the fan, you and your trusty Sig will be ready to go…Rambo style if need be.
But life doesn’t always work out like we think it will, and that’s the lesson learned by our good friend Ryan after a close call with what the law enforcement agencies have now termed an ‘active shooter’ situation in his apartment complex a few months ago.
It all unfolded one evening, on what was an otherwise very average day. Ryan had just gotten home from his job as a high school teacher and was preparing dinner, when gunfire erupted outside his Grapevine, Texas apartment. Ryan heard the shots and instinctively ran out to investigate… and then realized he’d made a huge mistake, one that might have cost him his life.
Ryan was gracious enough to share his story with us in the hopes that others may learn from his mistakes and act differently than he did that night. As told by Ryan…
“It was early evening, and I was cooking some steak and potatoes on the stovetop. Paul Rudd had me laughing as I poured a 10-year old bourbon over a single cube of ice. I stirred it a few times to chill the whiskey, and before I could take a sip, I heard gunfire suddenly erupt from outside my apartment. Immediately I bolted out the front door and ran towards the direction of the gunshots.
I was shielded from the apartment’s parking lot by a stairwell but I saw a man standing there, directly in front of me, looking down, and I recognized him immediately. Suddenly things didn’t make sense anymore. My brain was telling me it couldn’t have been gunfire (even though I knew damn well it was), and my mind was searching furiously for any explanation of what it was I was seeing in front of me.
I heard someone mumbling and I looked down to see a man lying on the ground, clutching his stomach and bleeding profusely. I also saw a woman lying face down, several feet away. She looked lifeless. It seemed like an eternity, but it only took a few seconds. Then I looked up and saw the man standing in the parking lot again, but this time I noticed he was holding a gun down at his side. He turned to look at me and we stared at each other for a second; then he bolted into the breezeway that cut through the large apartment complex.
I yelled for someone to call 911, and saw my neighbor on his balcony, dialing away. I kneeled down to the man who was now crying, and I begin to pull up his shirt. Suddenly I stopped as my brain began to think sensibly and my world shifted from slow motion back to normal time. I asked myself why he only fired 4 or 5 shots. Did his gun jam? Was he reloading in the breezeway? It occurred to me that the shooter could come back at any moment.
I left the man lying there and ran back into my apartment to grab my gun, and also for towels to stop the bleeding. I had intended to get the “Brick,” as I nicknamed my old 9mm Ruger P85. Despite being big and clunky, it was my most dependable pistol, a bonafide paper target shredder, but there was one problem; it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I had moved it from its usual hiding place two months prior and in my heightened state of mind, I couldn’t remember where I’d put it. I quickly ran to my closet and started ransacking it, looking for my other gun which I knew was in there somewhere.
20-30 seconds were wasted looking for that second weapon.
I finally found the gun, and even though I always keep my pistols in condition 1 (round in the pipe, hammer cocked, safety on), I still chambered a round, extracting a potentially critical bullet onto the carpet. Why didn’t I do a simple press check that I’ve practiced countless times before?
A few more seconds, and a round of ammo, wasted.
Next I proceeded to fumble with the thumb safety as I made my way back out my front door. A Marine friend once told me that when your adrenaline dumps, your dexterity is the first thing to go. He couldn’t have been more accurate.
With some towels and gun in hand I emerged from my apartment, dropped the towels near the victim and took a position behind a truck to survey the area. By now, people were coming out of their apartments and approaching. I yelled out, “There is a shooter running around. Get back in your apartments,” or something like that, and some of them ran back while others continue to stand and gawk.
A neighbor handed me a flashlight and I began to scan the area for the gunman. However people continue approaching from all directions, and in the darkness my eyes darted from person to person, looking for the shooter. At one point a man pulled a large black object from his pocket and I yelled at him to stop, but his confused stare told me that he was not the shooter and the object turned out to be a cellphone with a black rubber case.
An off duty paramedic approached from his friend’s apartment and began to assist with the man who’d been shot, and soon after a nursing assistant came forward and helped as well. With the man being tended to I ran over to the woman who I assumed was dead. She was lying face down and appeared to have been shot in the head. I rolled her over and though she was my neighbor, I barely recognized her from the blood soaked clumps of grass matted to her face and hair. She began to cry as I search her body for gunshot wounds. She was bleeding heavily from a head wound where she had apparently been beaten with the butt of the shooter’s gun. Another woman was now sitting with me tending to her, and I handed her a towel, telling her to keep pressure on the wound.
I heard sirens approaching and slipped the gun into my pocket to avoid being mistaken for the gunman. Between her cries and gasps for air, the woman told us that it was her boyfriend who shot the man and beat her. She gave me his name and the description of his vehicle. Police officers began arriving and I quickly give them the suspects name and description. They searched the apartment complex with the AR’s at the ready but didn’t find him. Less than an hour later, he was apprehended about eight miles from the apartment complex. The fact that he drove a silver Smart car with California plates probably made it easier to find him.
With proper medical care and police on the scene, I walked back into my smoky apartment and heard the loud shrill of the smoke detectors. In all the commotion, I left my dinner cooking on the stove unattended. I looked for my drink hoping that it would settle my nerves, but it wasn’t in the kitchen, nor was it in either bedroom or anywhere else in the apartment. I finally gave up on it.
An hour later, a policeman was taking my statement out in front of my apartment when I noticed the glass of bourbon, sitting on the blood soaked concrete in front of my apartment, next to the pile of blood soaked towels. I chuckled and asked the officer for permission to grab it. I threw it back in one swallow.
The woman, my neighbor, returned home two days later, and the gunshot victim, a friend of hers, would be released from the hospital soon after. Despite taking four gun shots at point black range, the man miraculously escaped with no fatal injuries.
In the days that followed the shooting, I had plenty time to think about the whole ugly event and about my reactions to the chaos that night. I had many questions that I needed to answer about the decisions I made once the shooting started.
1). Why did I run out of my apartment unarmed?
The only conclusion I could muster up was that I am a teacher, and I have conditioned myself to think about scenarios at school where I would need to act without a firearm. As for why I ran out of my apartment and towards danger to begin with, I honestly don’t have a clue. My body reacted faster than I could think and before I knew it, I was outside, face to face with the shooter.
2). Why did I spend so much time in my home gathering towels and my weapon?
I never conditioned myself for this scenario, which is entirely my fault. I have always had contingency plans for an intruder in my home, but I never considered what to do if a gunman was shooting people outside my home. I had also played out scenarios where I may have to engage someone with a firearm, but never thought about a scenario where I was face to face with a gunman with wounded people lying at my feet. I was drawn to the wounded. In his book, “On Combat,” Dave Grossman writes about the importance of not rushing to a victim’s aid until you ensure your own safety. You cannot be helpful in a dangerous situation if you become a victim as well. I’m lucky both victims survived and nobody else was harmed, otherwise I might have to live with my ill prepared actions for the rest of my life.
3). Why did I have so much trouble with the safety, needlessly extract a round of ammunition and leave behind an extra magazine?
No matter how much I practiced at the shooting range with my pistol, I didn’t practice under the right circumstances. Perhaps if my neighbor had been attacked by a paper zombie target I would have been more efficient. A big lesson learned: have a plan, and then another plan. And another.
I write this with a mouthful of humble pie. I made several mistakes, some of which could have been costly; I’m thankful that my girlfriend was out of town that night, or else she might have been there in the middle of the ugly mess. Although I am hopeful that I will never have to witness something like that again, I’m grateful for the opportunity to better prepare myself in case I do.”
Post script: The shooter–who was the boyfriend of the Ryan’s neighbor–was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He bailed out of jail three days after the shooting. The gunshot victim was shot eight times but sustained no life threatening wounds.
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