A Fort Bliss soldier is being hailed as a hero after he helped evacuate children from an El Paso shopping mall near a Walmart where a deadly mass shooting was taking place.
At least 20 people were killed and more than two dozen were wounded when a gunman opened fire at an El Paso shopping center, CNN reported.
Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley Jr, a 22-year-old automated logistics specialist assigned to the 504th Composite Supply Company, 142nd Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, was shopping at a sporting goods store at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso when a young child ran in yelling about an active shooter at the Walmart.
“The guy at the register and I sort of looked at each other,” Oakley told Task & Purpose on Saturday. “He’s a little kid, are you going to believe him?”
It wasn’t until Oakley exited the store a few minutes later and made his way towards Foot Locker that he realized the gravity of the situation.
He told ABC News during an interview released on Sunday that the realization spurred him to go into “combat mode.”
Hearing gunfire echoing across the mall, Oakley pulled the Glock 9mm he carries under Texas’s concealed carry laws and looked for cover.
“That’s what you do,” he told Task & Purpose. “You pull your gun, you find cover, and you figure out what to do next.”
Glendon Oakley describes how he helped rescue several children
A handful of Foot Locker employees decided to make a dash for the exit, prompting Oakley to join them and cover their escape. But the group encountered about a dozen small children clustered in one of the mall’s play areas screaming for their parents, prompting Oakley to change course.
“I didn’t even think. I just grabbed as many kids as I could and ran five stores down to the exit,” he said. “We got there and ran into a whole batch of police pointing their guns at us. I wasn’t focused on myself, and I wasn’t focused on my surroundings, I was just focused on those kids.”
Oakley tried to get fleeing bystanders to help gather the kids, but nobody else would stop.
“I heard four kids died,” he said. “I wish I could have gotten more kids out of there. I wish those guys who ran would have stayed. I just think, what if that was my child? How would I want some other man to react?”
While Fort Bliss officials have yet to release a statement about Oakley’s actions, they did confirm his status in the Army to the Army Times.
They also noted that he has received the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
According to Task & Purpose, Oakley joined the Army and shipped off to Basic Training in September 2017. He graduated from Advanced Individual Training in March 2018, deploying to Kuwait a few months after arriving at Fort Bliss. He had only been back stateside a few months when he found himself in the middle of the deadly shooting.
The media grapples with deadly El Paso and Dayton mass shootings
Less than 13 hours after the deadly shooting in El Paso, a masked gunman opened fire in downtown Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people. In the wake of the two mass shootings, the public has grappled with how to explain the tragedies.
Media outlets and politicians have already begun to examine – and in some cases assign blame for – what caused El Paso and Dayton.
President Donald Trump’s critics, including some 2020 presidential hopefuls, have accused him of engendering an anti-immigrant climate in America that they say may have motivated the shooting in El Paso. A manifesto allegedly written by the El Paso shooter contains strong anti-immigrant sentiments.