Safeway employee saved lives by confronting Oregon gunman, police say

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Donald Surret Jr. could have run away on Sunday when a man armed with an AR-style rifle opened fire at the Bend, Oregon grocery store where Surrett worked. He could have hidden.

Instead, the 66-year-old Safeway employee attempted to disarm the gunman.

Surrett “could very well have prevented further deaths,” Bend police spokeswoman Sheila Miller said Monday, choking when speaking about Surrett at a news conference. “Mr. Surrett acted heroically in this horrific incident.”

Surrett was one of two people killed Sunday night in a shooting that erupted as the weekend dwindled and people tried to do some shopping before the start of the work week. The “horrific attack” disrupted life in Bend, a small town in central Oregon known for the Deschutes River, outdoor recreation and craft breweries. On Monday, Mayor Pro-Tem Anthony Broadman said he refused to get used to such shootings.

“We have to be wary of the cynicism of seeing these attacks as ordinary, inevitable things,” Broadman said. “I don’t accept that. I know the Bend community won’t accept that. We must stand together. We’ll.”

Supermarket shootings are becoming more frequent, turning an inconspicuous message into an unforgettable nightmare. Guns Down America, a nonprofit organization that promotes gun control, counted 448 such incidents that killed 137 people during the 16½ month period between January 1, 2020, and May 14, the day a gunman butchered 10 people at a convenience store in Buffalo. Included in the data: 10 people were killed in a mass shooting at a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. Three months later, one person was killed at a grocery store in Decatur, Georgia. Three months later, someone was fatally shot at a Kroger market in the Memphis area.

“It’s one thing to hear about a shooting, but when you hear it happening in a place like where you work, it makes it even more real,” Trish Gross, a cake decorator at a grocery store in Long Beach, Calif., told The Washington Post last year. “Now I think every day that I am at work: what I would do, where I could hide. It’s something I constantly think about.”

Sunday’s attack on the Safeway in Bend began around 7 p.m. when Ethan Blair Miller left his apartment armed with the AR-style rifle and a shotgun and began firing almost immediately, Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz said at a news conference Monday. Miller then headed south to the Forum Shopping Center, where he continued shooting while in the parking lot of Costco and Big Lots, according to a department press release.

Miller, 20, entered the Safeway through the west entrance of the store, where he shot and killed Glenn Edward Bennett, an 84-year-old resident of Bend, police said in the release. He continued to shoot as he wandered the store, until Surrett confronted and attempted to disarm him in the produce department, police said.

Surrett was fatally shot.

Meanwhile, Bend police responded to multiple 911 calls received at 7:04 p.m., police said. “When our officers arrived, they heard gunshots in the Safeway, and they entered the store to confront the gunman while the shooting was still ongoing,” said Sheila Miller.

Officers swarmed the store back and forth about three minutes after the initial 911 call, and at 7:08 p.m. they found Miller with a self-inflicted gunshot wound next to a rifle and shotgun, according to the release.

Police said that given the guns Miller had and the time of day, Surrett may have saved lives by confronting the gunman. “A lot of people came out of the store,” Krantz said. “That’s a busy area… with a lot of shopping areas there, a lot of stores. It was a very busy parking lot at the time.”

Bend resident Josh Caba and his family were there; they had stopped by the Safeway to run errands, KTVZ reported. Not feeling well, Caba’s wife sat in the car while he and their four children went inside.

About 10 minutes after shopping, Caba was on his way to the front of the store when he heard six or seven gunshots. “I just turned to my kids – I knew what it was right away – I just said, ‘Kids, run!’ “He told KTVZ. “It was absolutely terrifying, more terrifying than you think. As a father, you always play those scenarios in your head.”

Caba and three of his children fled through the back of the store. After hearing the shots, his wife had driven their car around and was waiting as they went outside, yelling at them, “Get in the car! Get in the car!” As they did so, Caba darted back inside to save their fourth child, who had fallen behind.

As the Cabas went out, police officers went in, he added.

“When I got out of that store and the kids were picked up, they run into the store. They are great people. They deserve all the praise and praise in the world. It’s definitely more terrifying than you can imagine to have someone shoot at your kids,” Caba told the station.

Police said investigators are trying to determine a motive for the shooting, pinpoint any links Miller may have with the Safeway, and put him in touch with online messages, including a manifesto that could explain his thinking.

“We are aware that the shooter may have posted information online regarding his plan. We’re investigating this,” Sheila Miller said. “We have no evidence of previous threats or prior knowledge of the shooter. We were given information about the shooter’s writings after the incident took place. And the shooter has no criminal history in the area.”

On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) Surrett’s ‘heroism’.

“While we are still compiling the facts about last night’s shooting, it is clear that many more people could have been killed if Donald Ray Surrett, Jr. Shots were still being fired,” Brown wrote in a Facebook post.

“In the face of senseless violence, they acted with selfless courage,” the governor added. “Their courage has saved lives.”

Surrett’s ex-wife, Debora, told the Oregonian she wasn’t surprised he confronted the gunman, given his background. Surrett served in the United States Army as a combat engineer for over 20 years.

“He’s trained to do stuff like that because that’s what a combat engineer does,” she said. “They are the first to go to war.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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