“He’s Got A Gun!”

Given the numerous recent shootings in the news, probably each one of us have questioned what we would do if someone yelled, “He’s got a gun?”

Unfortunately, I’ve had that experience. Several years ago while teaching at a California State University, I was having coffee with two of my students after an early morning class in the outdoor patio of the student union. We were seated at a table next to a cafeteria parking lot separated by a three-foot wall. All of a sudden we heard an explosion in the direction of the parking lot. My first thought was something in the kitchen area must have blown up. We all stood in curiosity just as there was another explosion. This time I could see the flash point and source of the explosion. It was a young man with a rifle and he had just fired another shot point-blank at a person lying in the shrubbery. The gunman then turned and began to walk directly toward us.

I don’t recall many specifics of the next few seconds. I do remember a sense of disbelief followed by a surge of white-hot terror. The next day, both my male and female students would tell me I grabbed each of them by the head and pushed them to the ground. I don’t remember doing that but I’m sure some paternal instincts were involved. They also said they could see my head moving back and forth and my eyes darting all around. When they described my behavior I did recall desperately looking for something to throw at the gunman. After all, I’m an old baseball player and I’m sure I thought I might be able to knock the rifle out of his hands. Very stupid. It never worked in the movies, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked then. 

As the gunman approached, he stopped and began to do something with the rifle. At that point, a campus security officer ran into the lot behind the gunman. He had heard the explosion, but had no idea it was a shooting. I yelled, “He has a gun,” and the officer dropped to one knee and pulled his pistol. State University security are always armed. The gunman turned and began to run toward the underground entrance of another parking lot. The officer gave out an alert on his radio and followed after him. For some reason I followed along at a distance.

As the gunman ran down the parking lot ramp out of sight, I could hear an officer already in that lot yell, “Drop the rifle.” Then five pistol shots rang out followed by one rifle shot. The gunman was down and dying. He did not survive.

It turned out to be a love triangle and the young man had decided to kill his ex-girlfriend. He waited in the lot where she parked her car and confronted her. The first shot literally blew her into the shrubs, and as he hovered over her for the second point-blank shot, she was able to pull a large economics text to her chest. The bullet rang through the book but this act saved her life. People from the cafeteria put her on a food cart and raced her to campus clinic where doctors were able to save her.

I was interviewed by several reporters who had arrived on scene and then taken, along with the two security officers, to a police station for our statements. Mine differed from theirs in that I distinctly recalled five pistol shots followed by a rifle shot (I believe when the gunman fell to the ground). They said the rifle shot came first. No matter. In all honesty, if I’d had a gun when he approached me, I would have shot him myself.

The only mystery left was when the police asked me what the gunman was doing with the rifle when he had approached me. I could not remember. Moments of terror really confuse your senses. I tried and tried but could not come up with an answer. Six months later, in the middle of the night while sleeping, it came to me. I sat up in bed and yelled, “He was trying to kill himself.” Of course, I scared my wife half to death, but I now saw it very clearly in slow motion. He was trying to put the rifle barrel under his chin just as the first officer entered the parking lot and I yelled “He’s got a gun.”

We hear experts on television giving lots of advice and maybe that’s a good thing. If I’d been more prepared, perhaps I would have simply run. I don’t know and I hope you never have to find out for yourself.

Be safe.

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