While working the day shift on a Friday morning, at around 11:30am, the radio reported that there was a man shot in the parking lot of a small strip mall in the city where I am a police officer. As several other officers and I answered the call, another dispatch announced that there was a citizen on a cell phone relaying real-time information to the comms center, and that the citizen was following the shooter. The caller, who was next door to the business where the shooting took place, claimed that a man had walked up to an older male who was getting out of his car and had shot him at close range with a shotgun.
The caller stated that the shooter had then calmly walked across the street to a large discount store parking lot where there were several other citizens engaged in shopping and at risk of being shot as well. This courageous citizen voluntarily followed a deranged gunman while remaining on the cell phone with dispatchers, relaying vital information. Our officers responded in less than one minute, and immediately the airwaves were filled with officers relaying new information as well. The gunman began shooting into the air in an apparent attempt to frighten other patrons of the business, and then he turned on even more innocent citizens. In the parking area of this discount store, he calmly approached one middle-aged gentleman after another, adding three more victims to his list of carnage.
One of our first responding officers pulled into the parking area and spotted the gunman walking in the opposite direction. In a well-intended split-second decision, the officer chose to attempt to end the shooting spree by running over the gunman with his patrol car. Maneuvering into position behind the shooter, the officer floored the accelerator; however, the madman heard the engine revving, looked over his shoulder and slipped between cars parked in the lot, effectively avoiding being stopped then and there. Realizing that the cavalry had arrived, with shotgun firmly in hand, the criminal stopped attacking citizens and took off at a dead run toward the rear of the discount store. Taking his attention away from other innocent bystanders probably saved countless lives that day, as the gunman’s attention was now firmly directed toward arriving officers.
Reloading his shotgun from a bag filled with ammunition slung over his shoulder, he ran to the rear of the business. All of the officers now on-scene formed an impromptu skirmish line and converged on the back of the store in the direction the gunman had gone. The shooter initially ran away through a row of trees and hedges after attempting to enter the store from the rear door and finding that it was locked from the inside. However, he suddenly rushed back through the trees and shrubs, running toward all of us responding officers while firing the shotgun in our direction.
All of us on scene returned fire, and the gunman fell to the ground, leading us to believe this nightmare was finally over. To our surprise, the shooter immediately jumped back up, grabbed his shotgun and again attempted to attack us, even after being shot. Some officers were using their issued handguns while others had retrieved patrol rifles, and all of us once again returned fire, putting the active shooter down for the second and final time. We still weren’t sure if it was safe to approach the suspect without adequate cover. We quickly obtained a large police SUV from our agency and were then able to conduct a slow, static approach and secure the gunman and his shotgun.
It was fortunate that none of the victims were killed, but several had life-altering injuries, including the gunman himself. Apparently unfamiliar with shotgun ammunition, the gunman had purchased a large amount of birdshot with which to use on his rampage. His ignorance proved to be good fortune for four innocent people that day. The officers on scene were completely safe and knew that they had performed as they had been trained. On that day, my entire agency learned that these kinds of incidents do not just happen somewhere else—they are all too common and can happen anywhere.
ARMED WITH AN AK
Early in the morning, my SWAT team was notified that the local sheriff’s department was going to be seeking an arrest warrant for a convicted felon who had just been released from prison as well as a search warrant for the trailer that he was living in. SWAT was being called in because the suspect had a long history of significant violence and had vowed never again to return to prison. The crime that the sheriff’s department was investigating was the abduction and rape of his ex-girlfriend, which had been committed while armed with an AK-47. The suspect had fired at least one round from the rifle during the incident.
Located in a rundown trailer court, the target itself looked fairly simple. A standard two-bedroom affair, the team had entered and secured numerous examples of this floorplan over the years, so we were all quite familiar with the layout. What was not necessarily normal: Some of the intelligence we had been given indicated the suspect had attempted to fortify the trailer with bars and other non-traditional locking mechanisms. The suspect was also said to sleep with the AK-47 close at hand.
The trailer court itself was also not the easiest of places to work in, as many of the residents had prior criminal histories and there was some concern that as the SWAT team rolled in to execute the warrant, the element of surprise would not be possible. If we were seen, the suspect would probably be warned of our presence. Taking all of the above into consideration, the basic outline of a plan began to take shape.
Three assault teams would enter and secure both the trailer and the suspect. Two would use the front door, and the remaining element would breach the back door of the trailer, nearest what was believed to be the suspect’s bedroom. Flashbangs were to be deployed prior to the entry of the teams into the structure.
As the time came to execute the warrant, the team assembled and was briefed before loading into the van for transportation to the site. Debarking from the vans about 50 yards from the trailer yet behind concealment, we made our way to our assigned positions. As the individual assault teams made their way to their breach points, patrol officers in marked police cars were quietly sealing off the area to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Once all of the teams reached their final assault points, the team commander began the count: “I have control, standby…standby…initiate!”