As shots rang out at the Cielo Vista shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, early Saturday, military man Glendon Oakley said he tried scooping up as many terrified children as possible as they fled the frightening scene to safety.
“A whole bunch of kids. They were without their parents and stuff. I tried to pick up as many as I could and bring them out with me,” Oakley told MSNBC hours after a lone gunman entered a crowded Walmart at the mall, killing 22 people and injuring more than 20 others.
“They’re so anxious, they’re dropping out of my hand,” he recalled of the chaos.
Oakley, a U.S. Army specialist, said he was shopping for a jersey at another store when a child ran in and said there was an active shooter at Walmart. He admitted neither he nor the employee on duty believed the child at first, and thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until Oakley heard the “pop pop” of gunfire that he knew it was time to jump into action.
Armed with his own weapon, he rushed to protect those around him.
“When (service members) hear gun shots, we’re trained to grab your weapon, think fast, take cover, just do anything you can,” he said in a separate interview with CNN.
Oakley said employees closed the gate to the Foot Locker where he was shopping, but some shoppers were so afraid that they lifted the gate and ran from the store. That’s when the serviceman followed, hoping to guard those who fled, and noticed several children running around without their parents.
“The only thing I could think is to pick up as many kids as I can, as many as possible,” he told the outlet. “There was another guy doing the same. I was just focused on the kids, I wasn’t really worried about myself. So, I just puts my head down and ran as fast as I could.”
Oakley said there were about 13 kids he saw running around, but he could only get to three. He said the other good Samaritan picked up three youths as well, carrying them to safety.
“I was just trying to get those kids out of there,” he added. “I was just thinking about if I had a child, and if I wasn’t around, how I would want another man to react if they saw my child running around” frightened.
At one point, Oakley said he was confronted by police, who he feared would mistake him for the gunman and shoot him. He said he explained he had a license to carry, followed officers’ commands to put his hands up and was able to make it safely out of the building.
“I was just so worried about those kids, man,” Oakley told MSNBC. “Ain’t no telling. I heard more than one shooter. I heard there was four. I was just worried about the kids.”
In an emotional interview with ABC News, the soldier criticized the media for twisting his account of Saturday’s events and emphasized that his actions weren’t motivated by fame.
“The focus shouldn’t be on me,” he said through tears. “It hurts me. I’m just focused on the families that were lost.”
El Paso authorities have identified the gunman as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, who prosecutors say has been cooperative and “forthcoming with information” about the motive for his attack.
Crusius, who traveled more than 600 miles from Allen, Texas, to carry out the bloody massacre, allegedly told investigators he wanted to “kill as many Mexicans as possible” in the border city, and espoused similar views in a four-page manifesto.
According to CBS News, prosecutors said they’re pursuing a civil rights hate crime investigation and domestic terrorism charges against the suspect.
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