Despite the 22 people killed in a mass shooting at a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas on Saturday, several lives were saved thanks to first responders and Good Samaritan heroes — like Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley, who is being heralded as a hero for his role in saving children.
In interviews with multiple outlets, Oakley, 22, said he was shopping for a jersey at a Foot Locker next to the Walmart at the Cielo Vista Mall when a child ran in and said there was a shooter next door. Oakley told CNN that at first he didn't believe it until he walked out and heard the gunshots for himself.
"The guy at the register and I sort of looked at each other," he told Task & Purpose. "He's a little kid ... are you going to believe him?"
As the attack wore on, Oakley spotted a group of children clustered in one of the mall's open play areas screaming for their parents. "Only thing I think of is pick up as many kids I can as possible," Oakley told CNN.
"I was just focused on the kids, I wasn't really worried about myself. So [I] just put my head down and just ran as fast as I could," he said. "They were anxious, when they were in my arms, they were trying to jump out of my arms but [I was] trying to keep them as tight as possible. They are kids, so they don't understand what is going on."
He said his military training and experience helped him make the split-second decision to get the kids out of harm's way. Oakley is an Army automated logistics specialist assigned to the 504th Composite Supply Company, 142nd Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas.
"I was just thinking about if I had a child and I wasn't around, how I would want another man to react if they saw my child running around," he said.
"I didn't even think. I just grabbed as many kids as I could and ran five stores down to the exit," he told Task & Purpose, adding that once he saw the heavy police presence outside, he let the three children go. "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."
Next, he pulled out his phone "in case they [police] were going to shoot me and started recording while I was running." He told KTSM TV that he showed officers that the clip in his gun, which he carried under Texas concealed carry laws, was full to prove he wasn't the shooter.
Oakley was deeply traumatized by the shooting, which has left 22 dead and dozens more injured. Investigating authorities are calling it an act of domestic terrorism; the shooter reportedly posted a racist manifesto on the dark website 8chan that specifically focused on "the Hispanic invasion" and drove over 600 miles from his home to kill as many Mexicans as possible.
In his interview with KTSM, Oakley was clearly shaken and apologized for shaking. He told Task & Purpose that despite his military training, he was "scared for my life."0comments
"I heard four kids died," he said, his voice softening. "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?"
"I wish they had some sense of service," he said.