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Safeway employee saved lives by confronting Oregon gunman, police say


Donald Surrett Jr. could have run away Sunday when a man armed with an AR-style rifle started shooting inside the Bend, Ore., grocery store where Surrett worked. He could have hidden.

Instead, the 66-year-old Safeway employee tried to disarm the shooter.

Surrett “may very well have prevented further deaths,” Bend police spokeswoman Sheila Miller said Monday, choking up as she spoke of Surrett during a news conference. “Mr. Surrett acted heroically during this terrible incident.”

Surrett was one of two people killed Sunday evening during a shooting that erupted as the weekend waned and people tried to squeeze in some shopping before the start of the workweek. The “heinous attack” disrupted life in Bend, a small central Oregon city known for the Deschutes River, outdoor recreation and craft breweries. On Monday, Mayor Pro-Tem Anthony Broadman said he refused to become accustomed to such shootings.

“We need to guard against the cynicism of thinking of these attacks … as regular, unavoidable things,” Broadman said. “I won’t accept that. I know the community of Bend won’t accept that. We have to stand together. We will.”

Shootings at grocery stores are occurring more often, twisting an unremarkable errand into an unforgettable nightmare. Guns Down America, a nonprofit organization promoting gun control, counted 448 such incidents in which 137 people were killed during the 16½-month span between Jan. 1, 2020, and May 14, the day a gunman massacred 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo. Included in the data: 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo. Three months later, one person was killed at supermarket in Decatur, Ga. Three months after that, someone was fatally shot at a Kroger market in the Memphis area.

“It’s one thing hearing about a shooting, but hearing about it happening in a place like where you work just 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 about it every single day I’m at work: What I would do, where I could hide. It’s something that’s on my mind constantly.”

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

Miller, 20, entered the Safeway using the store’s west entrance, where he shot and killed Glenn Edward Bennett, an 84-year-old Bend resident, police said in the release. He kept firing as he roved through the store, until Surrett confronted and tried to disarm him in the produce section, police said.

Surrett was fatally shot.

Meanwhile, Bend police were responding to multiple 911 calls they had received starting at 7:04 p.m., police said. “When our officers arrived, they could hear gunshots in the Safeway, and they entered the store to confront the shooter while shots were still being fired,” Sheila Miller said.

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

Police said that, given the weapons Miller had and the time of day, Surrett may have saved lives by confronting the gunman. “There was a lot of people coming 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 swung by the Safeway to do some grocery shopping, KTVZ reported. Since she wasn’t feeling well, Caba’s wife stayed in the car while he and their four children went inside.

About 10 minutes into the shopping trip, Caba was heading toward 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 dad, you’re always playing those scenarios through your head.”

Caba and three of his children fled through the back of the store. Having heard the gunshots, his wife had driven their car around and was waiting as they exited, yelling at them to “Get in the car! Get in the car!” As they did, Caba darted back in to rescue their fourth child, who had fallen behind.

As the Cabas were going out, police officers were going in, he added.

“When I got out of that store and the kids were rounded up, they are running into the store. They are wonderful people. They deserve all the praise and credit in the world. It is absolutely more terrifying than you can imagine to have someone shooting at your kids,” Caba told the station.

Police said investigators are trying to discover a motive for the shooting, establish any links Miller may have had to the Safeway and connect him to online postings, including a manifesto that might 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 received information about the shooter’s writings after the incident had taken place. And the shooter has no criminal history in the area.”

On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) highlighted Surrett’s “heroism.”

“While we are still gathering the facts about last night’s shooting, it’s clear that far more people could have been killed if not for the heroism of Donald Ray Surrett, Jr., who intervened to help stop the shooter, and the officers who entered while shots were still being fired,” Brown wrote in a Facebook post.

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

Surrett’s ex-wife, Debora, told the Oregonian that she wasn’t surprised he’d confronted the shooter, given his background. For more than 20 years, Surrett served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer.

“He was trained to do that kind of thing, because that’s what a combat engineer does,” she said. “They’re the first ones to go into war.”

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