The firefighters of Engine 5 get called to a house fire. As the trucks pull up, they realize they’re being shot at. As they retreat, cops get called in. Meantime, two more houses catch fire as offices try to find the shooter in the shadows. Det. Justin leads the investigation. Officers Andy and Robert look to save the day.
Captain Craig began his career as a firefighter in 1991. He joined his current fire department 13 years ago and was eventually promoted to Captain. His fire station/crew specializes in Water Rescue Operations. He’s been married for 20 years and has 4 children.
Firefighter Dave has been a firefighter & paramedic for the last 20 years. He is part of a Water Rescue Crew and trains new firefighters who join his crew. Dave has encountered guns and knives in his job several times but until the incident in “Engine 5,” he had never been shot at. Dave was struck in the helmet by a shotgun blast. He’s been married for 10 years and has 3 children.
Firefighter Bob began his career in fire when he was in high school as an Explorer Scout. He has served as a Firefighter/Paramedic for 41 years, and for the past 20 years, Bob has specialized in Water Rescue. He and his wife have 4 children.
Officer Robert’s career in law enforcement has spanned almost 22 years with 3 different local agencies. He began as a Deputy in the County Jail which led to him being hired by a local municipality. He transferred to his current police agency two years ago. During his career, Robert has served as a K-9 Handler, a Field Training Officer, and a patrol officer. He’s married and has 4 children and 3 grandchildren.
Officer Andy began his law enforcement career in 1995 as a military policeman in the Army. After his Honorable Discharge in 2003 he was hired by his hometown police department and is in his 16th year with the agency. During his career, Andy has been a financial crimes detective, a K-9 handler, and is currently on patrol. Andy has a wife and a daughter and they live with Andy’s retired K-9 and another family dog.Read Transcript
Craig: [00:00:02] We heard two rapid shots.
Police Officer: [00:00:04] Shots fired. Shots fired. Shots fired.
Craig: [00:00:06] I distinctly heard pallets hit in the garage door that we’re right in front of.
Brian: [00:00:10] It was just like this [mimicking bullet sounds]
Police Officer: [00:00:12] Withdraw from the structure. Abandon the structure.
Craig: [00:00:15] We got a working fire. I’m missing a crew member. We have other engines that are coming. So, I got to shut them down and I need police here.[Small Town Dicks intro]
Yeardley: [00:00:23] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. So, I invited my friends, detectives Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country, and have the men and women who investigated them, tell us how it happened.
Dan: [00:00:49] I’m Dan.
Dave: [00:00:50] And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from Small Town, USA.
Dan: [00:00:54] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant at his police department.
Detective Dave: [00:01:00] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places, relationships, and certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan: [00:01:15] So, we ask you to join us in protecting their true identities, as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.[Small Town Dicks theme playing]
Yeardley: [00:01:32] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:01:38] Good morning.
Yeardley: [00:01:38] Good morning. So good to see you.
Dan: [00:01:40] Great to be here.
Yeardley: [00:01:41] And we have Detective Dave.
Detective Dave: [00:01:43] Good morning.
Yeardley: [00:01:43] Good morning. Good to see you too, by the way.
Detective Dave: [00:01:46] I appreciate that. It’s good to see you.
Yeardley: [00:01:47] Thanks. We’re doing something a little different today. We have so many guests at the table. It’s fantastic. So, I’m going to let Detective Dave take it away.
Detective Dave: [00:01:59] With us, we’ve got several first responders on the microphones right now. We’ve got Captain Craig.
Craig: [00:02:05] Hi.
Detective Dave: [00:02:05] Welcome. We’ve got firefighter, Bob.
Bob: [00:02:08] Good morning.
Detective Dave: [00:02:08] Good to have you here. And we’ve got firefighter Johnny.
Johnny: [00:02:11] Hey, there.
Detective Dave: [00:02:12] We’ve got, now, Captain Brian. Welcome.
Brian: [00:02:16] Thank you. How are you?
Detective Dave: [00:02:17] Doing well. And we’ve got firefighter, Dave. Thanks for being here.
Dave: [00:02:21] Hi.
Yeardley: [00:02:22] And we’re not done yet. Continuing on with our incredible roster of guests for today, we are always pleased to welcome back one of our favs, Detective Justin. Hi, Justin.
Justin: [00:02:35] Thanks for having me.
Yeardley: [00:02:36] So pleased to have you. Last but not least, to round out the A team of newcomers on the podcast today, we have Officer Robert.
Robert: [00:02:45] Hello.
Yeardley: [00:02:46] And Officer Andy.
Andy: [00:02:48] Hello. Nice to be here.
Yeardley: [00:02:50] Welcome. Thank you all so much for being here. There will be a task later with all the names. Just kidding. So, you all are part of a case that actually started with the fire department. And then, to put it mildly, shit goes sideways in a hurry and the police are called in. So, our own Detective Dave, why don’t you get us into this?
Detective Dave: [00:03:16] This case is a perfect example of how one agency’s response to a certain incident or a certain call overlaps and can involve other agencies. In this case, it involved multiple law enforcement agencies and our firefighters. So, let’s start this conversation with the firefighters who were the first to get the call about what everyone thought was just a simple house fire. Craig, what time did the emergency tone start hitting?
Craig: [00:03:44] It was early morning hours.
Detective Dave: [00:03:45] Okay. I’m making an educated guess, because I work graveyard. What were you guys doing?
Craig: [00:03:53] We were sleeping.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:03:55] You don’t stay up all night and play pinochle or something?
Craig: [00:03:58] No, it’s during the day. We get to sleep at night.
Yeardley: [00:04:00] Oh, nice.
Detective Dave: [00:04:01] And you guys work 24 hours on?
Craig: [00:04:04] We do. We work a schedule that’s called a 13-23. So, we work 24 on, 72 off, 48 on, 72 off. And during the day, we can run anywhere from 10 to 24 calls depending on what engine company you’re on. And we sleep when we can.
Detective Dave: [00:04:22] So, you guys are sleeping and walk through what this particular call was from the moment you open your eyes and you guys start hustling to get ready.
Craig: [00:04:33] So, when the tones hit depending on how many apparatus is how many tones are going off. So, when you hear multiple tones, you know you’re going on a bigger incident. So, the tones start hitting, we roll out of bed. You hear more than two tones, which would be a medic and an engine. So, you know it’s a bigger incident, so you’re hustling. You’re trying to get to your vehicle. As we’re rolling out, then when the dispatcher starts saying, “Who’s going in or out,” they say, “Engine 5, engine 4, ladder 6.” If your number’s first, you’re going to be first due.
[00:05:04] So, we’re moving, we’re hitting the rigs, throwing our gear on. She immediately says, “Residential fire.” She says the street, which is right around the corner from the station. So, we hop on the rigs, we pull out the station. As we come around the station, we can see the flame links over the other houses, so we know we got a good worker that’s right there.
Detective Dave: [00:05:23] A good worker being?
Craig: [00:05:23] It’s going to be a big fire.
Dave: [00:05:25] Yeah, you could see the fire walking from the dorm into the engine bay.
Detective Dave: [00:05:28] Dave, you were on the medic unit with Bob, you said?
Dave: [00:05:31] That’s correct.
Detective Dave: [00:05:32] Was the engine first to the scene, or was the medic unit?
Dave: [00:05:35] So, the engine was first to the scene and they parked. And there was a car parked in front of us and we were slightly behind the fire engine.
Detective Dave: [00:05:44] Okay.
Yeardley: [00:05:45] Bob, you’re in the ambulance, right?
Bob: [00:05:49] Yep. Normally, when we pull up on a scene, we pull in front of the engine. We get out of the way for other incoming rigs. Actually, I was going to put the ambulance directly in front of where he was at. At the last second, there was a car on the street and I thought, I can tuck in behind this car and into the driveway. So, we’re on the other side of the street from the engine company.
Detective Dave: [00:06:10] Brian?
Brian: [00:06:11] So, I was the hoseman in the back. My job is to pull the hose and put the fire out. I know that going in. So, my mindset is there, but that means when we get there, I got to be ready to go. So, I’m scrambling in the back, because I’ve got seconds. I got a really short time. I got to be bunked up, air pack on and ready to go.
Craig: [00:06:29] We’ve worked together for years. This is an older crew. So, I’ve been doing this 29 years, this month. Bob’s been 20 something years. Davey, these guys here have been in here almost 20 years. So, we had over 100 years of experience between the five of us when we enrolled in there that night. So, when I looked at the flame links, depending on who my firefighter was, my decision on what I’m going to do is going to be different.
[00:06:52] When I looked in the back and I had Brian, we’re going to go kick his ass, because Brian knows what he’s doing. We’re going in the front door, we get survivable space, we’re going to go get somebody, because it was like 04:00 in the morning.
Yeardley: [00:07:02] What’s survivable space?
Craig: [00:07:04] The fire was contained to the front of the building, so like living room area. We had survivable bedrooms in different areas that if you make the fire go away, the problem goes away. So, we’re coming off the rig, we’re going to hit it hard, and then we’re going into rescue mode.
Detective Dave: [00:07:17] So, you guys roll around the corner? I’m familiar with the area, so I know that we’re talking a couple of hundred yards from your driveway.
Bob: [00:07:25] You could hit a golf ball to the fire station.
Detective Dave: [00:07:27] Well, you probably couldn’t, but I could.
Yeardley: [00:07:30] [laughs]
Detective Dave: [00:07:32] So, you’re in the engine for less than a minute before you arrived.
Craig: [00:07:36] Correct.
Detective Dave: [00:07:37] As you guys pull up, what happens next?
Craig: [00:07:39] So, the way that we train is, when I’m getting close to the fire, I call dispatch. When I call dispatch, it means everybody else be quiet, because I’m about to say what I’m seeing, what’s going on. So, I call dispatch, dispatch answers back, and I begin to give my size up.
Yeardley: [00:07:55] That’s an assessment, yes?
Craig: [00:07:56] That’s my assessment of what we have and what I’m looking at, that we have a residential fire. It’s working. We’re going to be offensive, meaning, we’re coming off the rig, grabbing hoses, we’re going in the front door, and we’re going to be fighting fire.[in radio] [00:08:09] We have a working fire. Engine 5 will be offensive. We’ll be offensive. Stretching [unintelligible] three quarter.
[00:08:17] Johnny, driving for me as we train will give me three sides of the structure, because before we go in, I try to quickly go all the way around the structure, we call it a 360, so I can look to see what our dangers are, is there a basement, do I have people hanging out?
Johnny: [00:08:32] We’re still in the truck. We’re moving. I pull past just a little bit. And what he means by giving him three sides is, as I pull up, I’ll give him one side, then I’ll pass the front just a little bit, so he can see down the other side of the house. So, basically, he’s seen three sides of the house trying to give his 360. I think about where the hydrant is, which side of the engine we’re going to pull lines from, and try to give Craig the best view he can.
Craig: [00:08:58] So, I’m giving my size up as we are passing the house. And other crews are listening, because depending on what I see, they know what their jobs are going to be. There’s a car on the street, so we have to be away from the curb little ways. As we’re passing the house, all of a sudden, glass explodes through the cab and something hit me hard in the left chest. And it was this mist of glass. It felt like somebody threw a brick through the window. Because my window was down, it was a warm night. So, with my side window down, you can hear on my size up, I immediately turn to Johnny, who’s driving and I say, “What was that?” And Johnny says, “Fuck, I don’t know.”
Yeardley: [00:09:37] [laughs]
Johnny: [00:09:38] Quite surprising.[in radio]
Craig: [00:09:40] What was that?
Johnny: [00:09:41] I don’t know.
Craig: [00:09:42] I was just asleep 30 seconds ago. So, my brain is trying to put this together, because when we pull up, this is my job. My brain is on fire. It’s not on anything else. And the firefighter in the back, Brian says, “It’s just a fire, you pussy.”
Yeardley: [00:09:54] [laughs]
Craig: [00:09:55] So, my brain went back to fire.
Yeardley: [00:09:57] That’s a tough room.
Craig: [00:09:58] Right.
Brian: [00:09:58] Where I was sitting out and how it felt, it was like rattling through your chest. You could feel it everywhere.
Johnny: [00:10:04] I’ll never forget the way it hit that windshield and just that sound was coupled with a percussive chest. Boom.
Brian: [00:10:11] I honestly thought it was from the fire, which is why I made the comment to Craig that I did in the back, that it was the fire. Let’s go to work.
Craig: [00:10:20] Right. My brain said, it must have came from the fire. As I roll back, I look in my lap expecting to see a brick laying in my lap.
Yeardley: [00:10:28] You literally thought it was a brick?
Craig: [00:10:30] I knew something hit me hard and I expected something to be laying in my lap. All of a sudden, glass explodes through the cab again and something hit Johnny. At that point, I remember thinking, we have to get out of this cab. There’s stuff coming in the cab. So, all I know is my chest hurts, glass exposure, we have to get out of the cab, and we got a fire going. As we pull up, I’m looking at the fire, there’s tall flame lengths. There’s 30, 40-foot flame lengths. So, my brain is going through, “Is there survivable space?”
[00:10:57] It’s morning time. There’s a car on the street. There’s somebody possibly inside. We got to make a quick hit on this, we got to get inside. I got Brian is a firefighter, so we’re going to be really aggressive on this. And so, we come off the rig. I don’t have to tell Brian what to do, because we train. He’s coming off the rig, grabbing the hose, go in the front door and then I’m doing my 360, meeting them there, and we’re going in.
[00:11:17] As I come off the rig, I grab my pack and I go to sling my pack, and there’s just this deafening boom. So, my brain is turning. I was just asleep. I usually go right on my 360. I stopped on the sidewalk, because something wasn’t right.
Brian: [00:11:31] I remember, I can close my eyes and see Craig teed up on the mic when it came through the front windshield. Looking down, looking over at John, their interactions, I can see all that from where I’m at. And none of it registered what was going on, which I think was probably one of the hardest things for me to look back on, just not knowing.
Craig: [00:11:51] At that moment, I remember thinking, it’s coming from the house. So, I thought there’s a gun lane in the house that’s cycling and it’s shooting our direction.
Detective Dave: [00:11:58] I’ve been to fires with you guys, where you hear ammo cooking off in a fire, you guys are used to it.
Johnny: [00:12:05] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:12:06] You thought the gun was– because of the heat of the fire was going off on its own.
Craig: [00:12:10] Correct. I thought it was a semi-automatic, and that’s where my brain went at 03:30 in the morning. So, as it would go off and it was putting another shell in and was going off again.
Dave: [00:12:20] So, a semi-automatic will cycle itself. Once the round is ejected, another round goes in.
Craig: [00:12:26] Right.
Detective Dave: [00:12:26] The issue is you got to have someone pulling the trigger. I’m sure on 03:30 in the morning brain.
Craig: [00:12:30] Right. I didn’t think that.
Yeardley: [00:12:32] [laughs] Fair.
Detective Dave: [00:12:34] But at that time, this doesn’t happen around here.
Craig: [00:12:37] No.
Detective Dave: [00:12:38] These things don’t happen in our town. And I’m sure foggy graveyard brain, you’re like, “Who’s going to shoot at firefighters?” Honestly, everyone loves firefighters.
Yeardley: [00:12:48] Right. You always say, people wave to firefighters with five fingers and to the police with one.
Detective Dave: [00:12:54] Right. So, firefighters, they don’t go into a scene like that with the mindset of, “Just be careful, we might start taking fire from somebody.”
Yeardley: [00:13:02] Yeah.
Detective Dave: [00:13:03] So, adding to all this, our house fire is pretty loud.
Craig: [00:13:07] Yes.
Detective Dave: [00:13:08] Like just the actual activity of the fire. So, you couple that with this weird boom that keeps coming off from the west. So, what the hell is that? It just adds to all the chaos.
Brian: [00:13:19] Right. I just want to go put the fire out. That’s what we’re trained to do, right? I get around the side of the truck, and I go to the line. And Craig, when he got off the truck, he had the door open and I heard everything skiff down the side of the truck and down the doors. It was just like this [mimicking bullets] There’s 200ft of line that I’m trying to shag around and deal with, because the fire is still continuing to grow. If we’re going to make a stop on it, we’re going to get after it quick. I’m thinking, “Am I going to go right? Am I going to go left?” And I got to look at this holistically, because the way you lay that hose line out, we have a few saying, it’s in the beginning saves you minutes at the end.
[00:14:01] So, I had about 50ft left on my shoulder and I was getting ready to drop that right in front of the structure and call for water. You talk about trying to wake yourself up. And that task objective mentality, it’s so ingrained in us. I looked around, and I remember scanning everything, and looking at the cars and the things around, and nothing really registered to be off, per se. People were out. They were all standing around. You get that on all the calls we go on. They got a cell phone in their hand, they’re watching you. So, nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for this consistent booming sound. It didn’t make sense to me.
[00:14:37] Craig was yelling something about, “Is that a gun?” I’m still thinking, it’s the fire. And then the next words were, “It’s a gun. Run.” As I turn and look to my left down the sidewalk, the suspect was advancing on me at 20 yards and then the light bulb went on.
Yeardley: [00:14:54] That’s the first solid confirmation, “We’re being shot at. This guy is trying to fucking kill us.”
Brian: [00:14:59] Right.
Craig: [00:14:59] Yeah.
Detective Dave: [00:15:00] So, this guy’s name is Clay. Clay is shooting at you, guys?
Brian: [00:15:05] Yes. He actually shot us at 30 yards. He must have decided, it wasn’t working, because here he come. I remember seeing the look on his face, he had his glasses on, he had the shotgun in his hands, and it was just emotionless. He had no emotion in his face whatsoever. It was really weird, because I never saw a face because the big bank of smoke rolled down and it was all blacked out. I could see him, but all I saw was a dark hole where his face was, and I threw my hose and ran.
Detective Dave: [00:15:34] Is this just a casual, normal walking pace stroll that the suspects on?
Brian: [00:15:39] Yep.
Detective Dave: [00:15:39] Like eerie?
Brian: [00:15:39] Yeah.
Detective Dave: [00:15:40] This is like the old horror film, where you’re trying to get away from guy and Jason walks faster than anyone can sprint, right?[laughter]
Brian: [00:15:49] Right.
Detective Dave: [00:15:49] He comes around the corner and you’re like, “Oh, shit.”
Brian: [00:15:52] Here he comes.
Detective Dave: [00:15:53] “Here we go again.”
Yeardley: [00:15:53] [laughs]
Johnny: [00:15:54] So, he had it, whether it was tactical or not, he ambushed us really well. We were looking north, and he was shooting from west. So, we’re all looking out Craig’s window, thinking, things are coming through that window, bouncing off the cab, hitting us in the chest. That’s where our Brian was at, because, like you said, we don’t normally get ambushed.
Brian: [00:16:14] Right.
Yeardley: [00:16:15] Bob, what were you doing?
Bob: [00:16:16] I started scanning out in front of the ambulance. And he had parked his Prius in the neighbor’s house and he was standing around the corner. Before he came out of the shadows, I saw the muzzle flash from the end of the shotgun. I jumped into the rig, grabbed the mic, and broadcast, “We have shots fired, shots fired, shots fired. We need police.”[in radio] “We have shots fired, shots fired, shots fired, shots fired, shots fired. We need [beep] ASAP.
Female Officer: [00:16:42] Shots fired.
Bob: [00:16:44] We’ve got a white male about three houses on the [crosstalk] side of the road [unintelligible] 86 west. Heavy white male, approximately 60 years old with a shotgun.
Female Officer: [00:16:56] Heavy male, white male with a shotgun, three houses to the west.
Detective Dave: [00:16:59] And he’s not shooting at his neighbors?
Brian: [00:17:01] No. When I saw him on the sidewalk, he was walking past two people on the grass that were watching him walk past them.
Bob: [00:17:07] He told an older couple that they needed to get back in their house, so they didn’t get hurt.
Detective Dave: [00:17:11] All he cares about is first responders.
Bob: [00:17:13] Yeah.
Brian: [00:17:14] So, we took off and came around the back of the engine and met up with Dave and Johnny was there.
Johnny: [00:17:20] Yep.
Brian: [00:17:20] And I thought, Bob was there also. So, I thought I had my crew. I told everybody, we got to go, we got to go. So, we take off running cross street. As we did, the suspect moved out in the street to get in between the engine and the [unintelligible [00:17:30] and was still firing on us. We still remember them going by our head and skipping off the pavement. We made it two houses and I realized, we didn’t have Bob. So, I said, “Who are we missing?” And Johnny yelled, “We’re missing Bob.”
Johnny: [00:17:47] Immediately, I was like, “One, two, three four, it’s Bob.”
Brian: [00:17:49] So, we’re two houses away, dug in behind a vehicle. And at that point, I got several things going on. We got a working fire, I’m missing a crew member, we have other engines that are coming right on top of us. Usually, those other engines would have been there. So, I got to shut them down and I need police here.[in radio] Brian: [00:18:20] I’ll let you to withdraw from the structure, abandon the structure. Engine 5 abandoned the scenes. Individual with shotgun. He’s shooting at us, of all personnel, stage far away. We’re missing one individual.
Female Officer: [00:18:34] All personnel, stage far away. One of our crew is missing. [crosstalk]
Detective Dave: [00:18:36] To recap, we have firefighters hunkering down for safety, because they’re being shot at by a man who is deliberately targeting you, and one firefighter is apparently missing in action. This, I assume, is when the police officers get called in. Officer Andy, why don’t you begin?
Andy: [00:18:57] I’d snuck home to make a quick cup of coffee and didn’t bother calling out. I’m like, “I’ll just be here for a minute.” Usually, it’s a slower part of the shift, and it just finished brewing, and I hear on the radio, the fire department is requesting assistance. They’re at a house fire up and is shooting at them with a shotgun. The dispatcher was so smooth and nonchalant, and it just seemed like as a shoplifter at Target, something like that.
Yeardley: [00:19:24] [laughs]
Andy: [00:19:24] And it took me a minute.
Craig: [00:19:27] What did she just say, what’s happening?
Yeardley: [00:19:30] So, Detective Justin, how do you get roped into this mess?
Justin: [00:19:33] I was off duty. So, I’m asleep and I’m awakened to a page out for our SWAT team, the text message automated system. I wake up to my phone’s going off with the message, SWAT call out. They give an address on Hillcrest and the details that there were shots fired and three houses on fire.
Andy: [00:19:52] Of course, I rush out to my car and I’m driving there, and all the other units copy up and say, “I copy the call. I’m on my way as well.” And I was like, “Is that it? Is there more? What the hell?”
Yeardley: [00:20:04] Officer Robert, you’re nodding along with what Andy and Justin are saying.
Robert: [00:20:08] Yeah, I was on the east side of town as well. I heard the call similar dispatch that Officer Andy did. What I remembered was that they sent three units to assist the fire department with a structure fire and shots were fired. What caught my attention was, one of the details was that there was a firefighter unaccounted for.
Justin: [00:20:28] I have the radio on in my car. So, I’m getting bits and pieces, but I don’t know exactly what I’m getting into or exactly what’s going on as I’m driving towards Hillcrest. So, our SWAT team is a part time team, and so there’s a handful of detectives on it. We exchanged some phone calls during the car drive and, “Hey, do you know anymore?” “No, do you?” “No.” So, we’re all in the dark as to what exactly was happening.
[00:20:50] House fires aren’t really something that we get called in for. It’s certainly not a SWAT situation. Obviously, the shots being fired. It sounds to me like a domestic dispute, something like that, suicide, set the house on fire. We don’t really know, but your mind is trying to come up with answers as to what you’re going to. We learned that the firefighters have communicated via radio that, “Hey, we’re getting shot at. We need police help now.”
Andy: [00:21:15] So, I was driving there and a fire truck pulled out in front of me. I had my lights and sirens on, and this big fire truck pulls out in front of me, and I’m thinking, “Well, I think I need to get there before him [chuckles] if their guys are getting shot at.”
Yeardley: [00:21:30] [laughs]
Andy: [00:21:31] I wasn’t going to argue with several ton fire truck. So, I followed him in and they were staging several blocks away, other fire units that were in route to the location.
Yeardley: [00:21:43] What does that mean exactly, staged?
Dave: [00:21:46] So, fire sometimes based on different circumstances and details in the calls, they’ll stage a few blocks away until we make the scene safe and secure because fire doesn’t have vests. They don’t have the same protective gear that we do. So, they ask for the police department to come assist and make that scene secured and safe. The structure fire is secondary to their safety.
Andy: [00:22:08] But usually, when we get called to assist with a fire call, usually, it’s traffic control, or blocking off streets, or crowd control, or something along those lines.
Yeardley: [00:22:17] Okay. So, Officer Robert, Andy is now behind a fire truck that just pulled out in front of him. Where are you?
Robert: [00:22:25] As we’re getting there, I radioed to Officer Andy that, “Before you guys go, why don’t you just hold up and we’ll be there shortly, so we can form a team instead of us going individually without a good plan?” Because we didn’t know if there was multiple shooters or just the one shooter. And I noticed that it was fully involved as I got probably within a couple of miles of it. That time of the morning, it’s pitch blackout and you see this glow coming out of the ground. It’s obvious that it’s a fully involved structure fire at that point.
Andy: [00:22:58] I saw the glow like Robert said, and ended up parking quite a bit of ways away just because I wasn’t sure what we’re going into.
Justin: [00:23:03] I still have a 10, 12-minute drive from my residence to this location and it is a mess. The entire street is covered with emergency vehicles from our agency, neighboring agencies, fire trucks. There’s still houses fully engulfed. It’s more akin to a war zone than a street in our small town.
Dan: [00:23:27] So, the police are still on their way. Firefighters, most of you guys are running down the street wearing heavy gear, but it’s nothing to protect you from the bullets. Describe that scene and what’s going through your minds, Brian?
Brian: [00:23:41] It was so chaotic. And we picked up an extra runner when we cleared the engine. And it was a civilian that came running up next to us as we as a pack in full bunkers and air packs are running this 40 yard sprint as hard as we possibly can. This guy, out of nowhere, joins the crowd. He’s like, “Hey, you guys know you’re being shot at?” [laughs] We’re like, “Yeah. Yeah, we do. That’s why we’re running.” We’re encouraging him, “You know, come with us. You got to get out of here too. You’re now sitting in the same position we are. So, you’re a part of us. Let’s go.”
[00:24:15] When we ran in the corner and everybody to regroup there, it took like a millisecond to look around and you realize one of us isn’t there.
Craig: [00:24:22] My brain went to, Bob’s been shot, because the last time I saw the shooter, he was advancing on us.
Yeardley: [00:24:28] So, firefighter Bob, where were you?
Bob: [00:24:31] I went into the radio and the ambulance, which I knew would get out. That was the first thing that went into my mind. I’ve got to stop people from coming in here. This is a bad situation. I don’t want anybody to come in here and get shot or killed. I was able to warn everybody, but it also put me– [crosstalk]
Yeardley: [00:24:48] You’re a sitting duck.
Bob: [00:24:49] Yeah. I didn’t realize these guys were gone. When I went to go from the ambulance to the engine, he had shot at me. I went back behind the ambulance, came around the other side, he shot again. I felt something hit me in the shoulder and I could hear it sounded like pellets hitting the house right next to me. I remember, a chip being taken out of the windshield of the ambulance. I went back behind the ambulance, because I thought, “Okay, if I can keep the ambulance between him and me, I’ve got a pretty good chance here.”
Detective Dave: [00:25:18] Right. It’s like the old game attack, where you’re going around the car.
Bob: [00:25:21] It really was. There was no panic. It was survival. I thought, for sure, he was going to come out and try to kill me. I started doing the firefighting stuff when I was 15 and I’m almost 55. So, I’ve been doing this a long time. Not one time have I ever felt like, “Okay, this might be it.” That was the first time in my entire career that I wasn’t sure, “Okay, am I going to go home or not?” But then all of a sudden, I hear this voice out of nowhere and it’s Captain Craig and he’s go, “Do you have eyes on the shooter?”
[00:25:53] So, I went to look again, and the shooter had his head down, and it looked like he was reloading the shotgun. And the angle he was in the street, it gave me an opportunity to use the ambulance’s cover to get to the corner house just 30, 40 yards from the back of the ambulance.
Yeardley: [00:26:11] Is that where you were, Captain Craig?
Craig: [00:26:13] That’s where I was. I was trying to get him to us. Once we acquire Bob, we take off.
[00:26:18] [unintelligible] driver, I’m pinned behind the ambulance. I’m staying put where I’m at.
Craig: [00:26:25] [unintelligible [00:26:25] do you have eyes on shooter?
Bob: [00:26:28] Ah, shooter? We shift to the front of the ambulance. I think he’s going to stay where I’m at. I think he went for reload. He’s coming back.
Craig: [00:26:37] Engine 5 run to us, if you can. We at [beep] run.
[00:26:40] So, we crossed the street. As across the street, I attempted to keep up the mic to tell dispatch I have everybody, because I told dispatch I was missing somebody. I knew by doing that, the cops were coming and they were going to be coming hot. So, I had to let dispatch know that I had everybody. And we are fleeing the scene. I keyed up the mic. She answered, and as I turn to my left, I watch Bob and Johnny do a scorpion in the yard of the station.[laughter]
Craig: [00:27:04] Oh, boy.
Detective Dave: [00:27:05] Right. The scorpion, I played baseball in college. The scorpion is, you’re running all out and you eat shit, face first. You come down on your chest and your feet become the scorpion’s tail.
Craig: [00:27:18] They come up over.
Detective Dave: [00:27:18] You come up over. Yeah, and touch the ground like a scorpion sting.
Yeardley: [00:27:21] [laughs]
Craig: [00:27:21] Right. I watched him scorpion in the front yard. Yeah, at the time, it was pretty heart wrenching, but looking back, it was pretty funny watching that go down.
Yeardley: [00:27:28] Sure. Johnny?
Johnny: [00:27:30] As the driver, I didn’t have my pack on, right? And so, as Bob was coming towards us, I went out to get him, because I knew I was a little bit faster without the pack on. So, I went out to assist Bob with getting that pack off. I was trying to get the buckles undone, and Bob was really in just disbelief. I mean, helmet crooked and everything. Just like, “That guy just fucking shot me.” I was like, “I know. I know. Let’s go, buddy.” I’m just trying to get that pack off, so we can cross the street and get out of there.
[00:27:56] I loosened it enough, I threw it in the middle of the street, and we made it to the yard of station five into the grassy area, and Bob just collapsed and I was like, “Ah, quick pat down, you okay, Bob? We got to go, buddy.”
Craig: [00:28:09] I watched Bob go face person in the grass. Johnny went down on top of him and I started yelling, “Get him up. We got to go. We got to go.” When we hit the station, we didn’t go inside the station, because then we can’t see him coming. So, we continued down the side of the station. When we hit the corner of the station, my plan was, I immediately yelled, “Johnny on shooter watch.” And I believe it was Brian start checking Bob for holes, because we’re looking– We know we’re hurting. My chest is hurting, bob’s hurting. Do we have holes in us or what is it?
[00:28:38] So, we’re looking for holes. Johnny’s on shooter watch, because if we saw him, we’re then going to advance to the next corner and then the next one and keep ahead of him until we had reinforcement show up.
Yeardley: [00:28:59] Okay. So, now, we have firefighters leaving the scene for safety and police officers arriving. It’s chaos. Officer Andy, you’re up.
Andy: [00:29:10] As I got out of my car, I grabbed a shotgun and I heard Robert say that he was grabbing a rifle.
Robert: [00:29:17] Once we got there and we teamed up, we’re actually jog to the house towards the fire. As we ran by the fire station, what I recalled that there was maybe eight guys or so standing there in front of the fire station.
Andy: [00:29:32] I saw an officer on foot and he had an AR strap to him. He was running on the opposite side of the street. So, that’s when we were able to take our guard down and really check each other.
Dan: [00:29:42] You guys are used to being in stressful situations similar to police. Firefighters, for the most part, are really inoculated to stress, but this was different.
Detective Dave: [00:29:53] How long between your initial approach and the first time you see a police officer in the area, Brian?
Brian: [00:30:00] That’s a hard one to answer, because in my head, it felt like forever. But I think it was within minutes. Like Craig said, it was a pretty good feeling to watch them come by with their ARs. Whatever the next steps of this outcome were going to be, we were protected at that point.
Andy: [00:30:17] They were running to safety. While I was standing there at this huge fire, I’m thinking, I’m in the wrong gear to do anything about this fire. They have their job that they do, and we have our job that we do, and I fault them not one bit.
Yeardley: [00:30:32] Sure. Once you arrive, you both are in uniform?
Andy: [00:30:36] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:30:37] So, this shooter can identify you as police officers? Does he start shooting at you also?
Robert: [00:30:43] Yes. As we rounded the corner onto Hillcrest, the house that was involved was on the north side of the road. We rounded the corner on the south side. And going along the houses, crouched over trying to stay in the shadows, because we didn’t know where this person was at. I think when were about three houses in from the cross street that we rounded, we’re heading towards an SUV that was parked in a driveway. Directly across the street from that SUV it was the house that was involved and then the fire truck and the ambulance were parked directly in front of that house.
[00:31:15] I don’t know. I would say, we’re 15ft from that SUV. We heard two rapid shots and I distinctly heard pellets hitting the garage door that we’re right in front of. I look up and I see holes starting to appear in the garage door. And then I think I was after the second shot was when I heard the window pop on the SUV that we’re headed to.
Yeardley: [00:31:37] So, this guy’s a pretty good shot. You’re shaking your head, Andy like, “Nah, not that good a shot.”
Andy: [00:31:42] Well, it was a shotgun. I don’t think it’s really fair.
Yeardley: [00:31:45] What do you mean by that?
Dan: [00:31:46] Well, it’s not fair, because with a shotgun, the pellets spread out. So, the further you are away, the more spread you get in these pellets when you fire the gun.
Yeardley: [00:31:57] Oh, so, you can hit more stuff, because your bullets go everywhere.
Andy: [00:32:00] Yeah. There are a lot of pellets in those shotgun shells and you don’t have to be precise with that weapon.
Yeardley: [00:32:08] I see. Okay.
Dan: [00:32:10] But there’s no mistake that he’s aiming for you guys.
Robert: [00:32:12] Oh, yeah.
Dan: [00:32:13] He knows who you are and he knows where you’re coming from.
Robert: [00:32:16] Yeah. He had the advantage of. Now, the fire is spreading. He’s got this huge spotlight that’s basically lighting up the entire south side of the road. So, it’s getting hard to find shadows to hide behind. It was so intense. I could feel the heat from across the street. It was pretty hot.
Yeardley: [00:32:33] Wow.
Andy: [00:32:34] When we rounded the corner onto Hillcrest, I remember seeing the fire truck in the middle of the street and there was a hose that had been pulled out and was left in the street. There was an ambulance there and the lights were on. It was like an eerie sight, because you don’t expect that. You expect 10 to 15 firemen running around and water being poured on the fire. The fire was big and bright and hot. It was just weird seeing that fire truck in the middle of the street.
Robert: [00:33:02] Nobody around.
Andy: [00:33:03] Totally abandoned.
Dan: [00:33:05] Do you know where the shooter is or do you just get the general idea of where these rounds are coming from?
Robert: [00:33:10] At that point, we didn’t know exactly where he was at. We just have a guess that it’s coming somewhat from the west as we’re coming around the corner there. There was also stuff that was exploding in the garage. I don’t know, if it was propane tanks, but we have all that other background noise as well as trying to figure out where this guy’s at.
Yeardley: [00:33:29] So, how do you proceed? You’re losing your shadow cover, the fire is fucking hot, and you don’t know where this guy is.
Andy: [00:33:37] So, I ran up to the SUV and I got on the radio and said, “We’re being shot at.” I do remember the feeling of the pellets from the shotgun passing my head and hearing an impact on the left side of my head.
Yeardley: [00:33:51] Oh, my God.
Robert: [00:33:53] I remember when Officer Andy called out shots fired, “We’re getting shot at,” I retreated back to the corner of the house that the garage door that got pelted. The other officer came back with me. Andy was up at that SUV. At that point, I heard there was a neighbor to the west of that SUV that was crouched behind their car. They kept pointing across the street yelling, “He’s across the street by this silverish Prius. He’s over there, he’s over there.”
[00:34:22] I remember yelling out to Andy, I said, “Cover me. I’m going to make my way over to those people, because they’re out exposed to this guy.” So, to protect them, I skirted along in front of that SUV and made it over to where that gallon guy were at. They were the only witnesses we had at that point of where this guy might be.
Andy: [00:34:40] The guy that was in front of the car that Robert contacted, he lived several houses down, actually, and he had come out to investigate what was going on, and had actually seen the guy, Clay, shooting at the firefighters as they were getting out of the truck. He told him, “Hey, knock that off.” Clay told them something along the lines of, “You knock it off or you’re next.”
Yeardley: [00:35:01] Oh, dear. Once you now know where Clay is where he’s shooting from across the street, it’s still a little bit like fatal funnel. In order for you to get across the street, you’re fully exposed, either one of you?
Robert: [00:35:14] I was looking and looking, and I could not see him, because I was in a pretty good position where I could take the threat out if it was exposed himself. I could not see him. That whole side of the street to the west of the fires was pitch black. You’re fighting your eyes with this big glow of fire and trying to adjust your eyes back and forth and trying to figure out where this guy’s at, and you’re waiting for the next volley of rounds to come towards you.
Dan: [00:35:40] If you think about it, if you’re in your house at night and you have the lights on in your kitchen and you’re trying to look out the window into your backyard, there are no lights out there. You can’t see a damn thing.
Robert: [00:35:50] No.
Dan: [00:35:51] That’s, basically, what Officer Robert’s trying to do.
Yeardley: [00:35:53] Right.
Andy: [00:35:54] I had a shotgun myself, one of our departments issued shotguns. So, I was trying to light up the area near this silver Prius with the dinky little flashlight on the end of the shotgun. It’s not making a bit of a difference. So, I look back at the fire truck and it had two spotlights above the doors like police cars have. My thought was, get to the fire truck, put the spotlight where the Prius is, so at least, that area is lit up because sometimes, suspects, when you’re on a perimeter, they won’t cross a spotlight because they know they’re going to be exposed.
[00:36:30] So, even if I can’t see them, it’s going to give us maybe of a barrier from him popping out on us. And so, me and the other officer who was with Robert and I run over to the back of the fire truck. And the right side of my head was exposed to the fire and I swear my ear was melting from the heat coming off that fire.
[00:36:52] So, we move up to the driver’s door on the fire truck, and I cover him as he climbs up, turns the light on, points it over to where the Prius is, and then we back away. As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking, “Well, this fire truck will probably stop a bullet or two. This isn’t a horrible place to be.” I had a little better advantage of the house from where I was. And then the other officer decided to crawl up on top of the fire truck like where the hoses are kept. He had a pretty good advantage from up there.
Dan: [00:37:25] What’s the time frame from the time you guys park your patrol cars to when you get up on top of the fire truck? What are we talking here?
Robert: [00:37:32] Five minutes.
Dan: [00:37:33] So, things are happening quick?
Robert: [00:37:35] Yes. About that time, I was providing cover for them, because I had a good view of the Prius, but it was just a bunch of shadows around it. I couldn’t see what was around it. Again, we’re battling the glow of this fire. Once they’d got in their position and got spotlights, I’d heard the other agency from the west of us get up on our channel and said they had armored vehicle available and they would be in route. So, they were coming over from their city where they store their armored vehicle.
Yeardley: [00:38:03] Justin, you’re nodding over there.
Justin: [00:38:05] Yeah. So, fortunately, our small town has a neighboring city that monitors our radio traffic, our call screen, they had heard this go on. They have a couple of their SWAT guys that are working that night. And on their own, dispatch themselves to a location where they keep an armored vehicle that their agency has and are able to retrieve that vehicle and start responding to our scene.
Yeardley: [00:38:28] What does an armored vehicle do?
Robert: [00:38:31] It’s called the BearCat. It’ll take a rifle round. You can almost drive right up to a guy that’s shooting at you. They might shatter the glass, but it’s not going to penetrate the glass itself because it’s bulletproof glass.
Dan: [00:38:42] It’s really allowing them to buy some real estate at this point and pinch this guy in, because you’ve got cover, you’re not exposed.
Robert: [00:38:49] Correct. Yeah.
Andy: [00:38:50] There’s some officers the poke fun at the BearCat, because it’s big bad BearCat, and we don’t have anything like that. We do have armored vehicle now, but there’s been some fun poked at the BearCat.
Yeardley: [00:39:02] Why?
Andy: [00:39:03] I think it’s like a rivalry between agencies. I’m like, “Oh, they got their BearCat out. It must be a big deal,” something along those lines.
Yeardley: [00:39:12] [laughs]
Andy: [00:39:13] I couldn’t hear a whole lot that was going on the radio, because the fire truck, the engine was revved up in order to pump water, I could hear the popping from the fire still. And I look over my shoulder and I see headlights. Then I hear on the radio, “The BearCat has arrived.” They drive by, I’m like, “I love the BearCat. I love the BearCat so much right now.”
Craig: [00:39:36] [chuckles]
Yeardley: [00:39:37] Craig, you’re chuckling.
Craig: [00:39:39] When the BearCat come around, it was moving, and it was there quick, and I swear it was on two wheels when I come around that corner. It was impressive.
Yeardley: [00:39:45] [laughs]
Detective Dave: [00:39:46] To be driven like it’s a patrol car is pretty impressive. That means, get here yesterday, we are on our way.
Craig: [00:39:54] Actually, with everything happening the way it happened, looking at the response of the police to come help us, there’s no words for it. It just made you feel like they got our back. They know we’re in trouble and here comes the world.
Yeardley: [00:40:06] I love that.
Craig: [00:40:20] So, I saw the BearCat. One of the sergeants inside radios and says, “Officer at the fire truck, we can back up and you can hop in.” I was like, “Yep.” They back up. I jump in the BearCat, best place I could have ever been at that point.
Yeardley: [00:40:34] [laughs]
Craig: [00:40:35] So, I jump in the back, and then we’re driving up in the yard, and out the window that I could see out of on the sidewalk leading up to the house, along the garage, there was a perfect half brain sitting on the concrete there.
Yeardley: [00:40:53] Oh, God.
Craig: [00:40:54] So, we pull up alongside and the body was right down on the ground. I could see the shotgun there. I could see it sticking in the head of the body. It was obvious, Clay was dead. We didn’t really know, if Clay was the only shooter at that time, but it was pretty obvious that he was the one with the shotgun that was shooting. And so, we felt safe enough to get out of the BearCat and investigate closer.
Yeardley: [00:41:22] Did it appear that he was the one who took his own life?
Craig: [00:41:26] That’s what it looked like to me.
Detective Dave: [00:41:28] Did police fire any rounds that day?
Craig: [00:41:31] No.
Detective Dave: [00:41:32] Not one?
Craig: [00:41:32] Not one.
Detective Dave: [00:41:33] Where you find Clay, how many lots west of the fire is he?
Robert: [00:41:40] I think it was a third house to the west of what ultimately we determined was his house, the initial one that was on fire.
Detective Dave: [00:41:47] So, he lit his house on fire, waits for the fire department to get there, opens fire on them, then transfers his anger over to the police department, retreats to the west and shoots himself.
Robert: [00:41:59] Yes. The Prius actually ended up being his as well. He had pulled it out of the driveway and parked it in front of this house where he took up position.
Dan: [00:42:09] Any of the houses involved in the fire occupied?
Robert: [00:42:12] They were all occupied except for his.
Dan: [00:42:14] Were the occupants able to get out safely?
Robert: [00:42:17] Yes.
Detective Dave: [00:42:18] So, you guys go from active shooter mode to– What do you do?
Andy: [00:42:23] Well, I spent a little time with the BearCat, telling much how I appreciated it.
Yeardley: [00:42:27] [laughs]
Andy: [00:42:28] Then it was like, “Oh, there’s a bad guy, he’s down.” And then we turn around like, “Oh, shit, there’s a big fire right there. Somebody should do something about that.”
Detective Dave: [00:42:36] So, in the meantime, which one of you guys grabbed the fire hose first?
Yeardley: [00:42:40] Officer Robert is raising his hand.
Robert: [00:42:42] Yeah. Well, I tell him dispatch that we need fire back. Minute goes by, still nothing. Prior to my law enforcement career as a volunteer firefighter, so I know my way around a pump a little bit. So, I went over to the pump and I figured out what hose line that they had pulled out. And then I went over to the pump and I actually charged the line and revved it up and got pressure going. Another officer and I grabbed the hose and we started fighting the fire.
Andy: [00:43:08] [laughs]
Yeardley: [00:43:08] Officer Robert, this is very impressive.
Brian: [00:43:11] It looks more like you were watering the lawn.[laughter]
Robert: [00:43:15] No, that was the other officer, because he was a little bit intimidated with the pressure. So, he’d only open it, and it was just barely spun. I said, “No, you need to open it all the way in order for it to work.” So, we’re trying to cool down the third house that’s on fire now, so then a fourth house doesn’t catch fire, because the other ones are gone. We’re not going to save them.
Detective Dave: [00:43:34] When does the fire department show back up?
Craig: [00:43:36] We had a radio traffic also, because it went to greater alarms. So, our initial alarm for a residential fire is four engines, a truck, a medic, and two chiefs. So, the minute that it went beyond that, they started hitting multiple alarms, which every alarm added three more engines, another truck, more chiefs, medics, and they’re staged in different positions. I didn’t count how many we had. I bet there was 11, 12 engines coming, multiple trucks, and they’re staged because of fire. We’re watching it grow.
[00:44:07] So, you can still hear the ammunition coming out of the house that we could hear when were there. It sounded like machine gun fire at times coming out of the house and you could still hear the boom of a shotgun. We thought that the police were engaging with them is what we believed. When it was over and it was deemed that the shooter was down, we did not know what we’re going back into, because were the first crew back into the scene. So, we didn’t know if were going into bystanders that were shot. We had a huge fire that didn’t go four houses at this point. So, we were prepared to break up into a crew to take care of down civilians and a crew to attempt to stop the fire from growing.
Detective Dave: [00:44:45] Talk about a mental adjustment. You just had the biggest pucker factor call of your life, and now the shooter is down, and these guys got to come back and potentially do first aid, and treat and evaluate people with medical issues, possibly even the guy that’s shooting at him. And now, you’ve got a whole neighborhood on fire.
Johnny: [00:45:05] When we decided to go back in, I remember standing in the line and Craig was at the end, I could just looked at Craig– when they called scene safe, it’s like, “Well, we’re going to go back, right, Craig?” For me, there was no adjustment. I was like, “My engine is there. We’re ready to fight fire, we’re ready to plug holes.” He looked down the line and he was like, “You guys are good?” “We’re good. Let’s go.”
Brian: [00:45:25] I think I remember the chief say, “You guys are done.”
Craig: [00:45:28] Chief called us done. We could call it a quick meeting, but it was, “Are we ready?” “We’re ready,” and we ran back into the scene.
Detective Dave: [00:45:35] I love that.
Craig: [00:45:37] When we got back in the scene, we saw nobody lay in. So, we went right back to fighting fire. Johnny got back on the pump panel to give us water. Dave and Bob grabbed a hose line and got in between one of the houses that was fully involved and just took the windows of the next one and they made a stop on it.
Yeardley: [00:45:53] What does that mean, made a stop on it?
Johnny: [00:45:55] Just save what you can.
Craig: [00:45:56] They got in between the two houses, the one that was fully involved, and the house that had just popped the windows on it and was attempting to try to catch it on fire and they made a stop on it at that point. Brian and I grabbed the other hose and went the other way and made a stop on the fire from consuming houses as it traveled to the east. We just ran out of water when the next rig pulled in.
Yeardley: [00:46:19] When Officers Robert and Andy picked up the hoses before you guys came back, did that do much to help?
Johnny: [00:46:25] They wasted some of our water. Yes.
Craig: [00:46:26] They did waste some of our water.
Johnny: [00:46:28] We could have used that water. [laughs]
Craig: [00:46:30] The rumor they like saying is they fought fire. Well, they actually, instead of 650 gallons, we only had 500 gallons to do our job with.
Johnny: [00:46:36] Yeah.
Detective Dave: [00:46:37] Well, every cop wants their firefighter badge.
Craig: [00:46:39] They do.
Detective Dave: [00:46:40] “Hey, I’m here and the equipment is here and the firefighters aren’t.”
Yeardley: [00:46:44] How hard could it be?
Detective Dave: [00:46:46] [crosstalk]
Craig: [00:46:47] Here we go.[laughter]
Johnny: [00:46:48] I love it.
Yeardley: [00:46:50] So, Detective Justin, do we know if Clay set the fire on purpose to lure the firefighters to him?
Justin: [00:46:59] We obviously don’t know for sure. We weren’t able to talk to him. But the indication is that the fire was absolutely set as bait. He had dozens and dozens of rounds of shotgun ammunition with him. It’s not like he just grabbed the shotgun and bailed out of the house. He had a belt with pouches on it. He was equipped for a gun battle. If he would have just had one weapon and the shooting occurred after the fire started, for whatever reason, that would be one thing. But I think his plan was to be one sided. That’s why the fire was set, because firefighters are softer targets than police. Firefighters come running to your door to help you versus anticipating getting shot at.
Yeardley: [00:47:36] Did he have any prior history with police?
Justin: [00:47:38] He wasn’t a long-time concern of ours. He was relatively, historically, kind of a pro police guy. He wasn’t an unknown name in the community. He was kind of an average guy until he had some physical health ailments that plagued him. And then he quickly, quickly spiraled. He was in his late 50s, 60. He’s kind of your average neighbor. It was one of those things that no one we contacted saw something like this coming. We were able to find some recent social media posts that he made indicating of hardship in his life that he was having a hard enough time, at least, to post on social media for folks to see.
Yeardley: [00:48:14] How did his house catch on fire?
Justin: [00:48:15] Looking at it after getting through the call and the investigation that ensued, which took days and days and days, fire marshal handles the fireside and determined it looked like the gas line to the residence itself had been tampered with. And then the fire had started in that location of Clay’s house. So, he’d done something to the gas line to try to accelerate the fire. It didn’t look like it had the result he wanted it to have. There’s no explosion or anything like that, but it looked like that’s where the fire was started.
Yeardley: [00:48:43] Wow.
Dan: [00:48:44] His residence is about 200 yards from the street that this fire station is on. This fire station is about 50 yards from the intersection down the street from Clay’s house. So, he knows where the firefighters are coming from. That’s the closest one. I mean, God, it’s in his backyard, basically.
Detective Dave: [00:49:01] He would have seen the reflection of the lights coming down the street. Even if they didn’t have their sirens on, he knows they’re coming.
Dan: [00:49:07] They start taking rounds right as they make the corner. So, he was waiting for them. He had a plan. He was trying to hurt people.
Detective Dave: [00:49:15] Right. So, all three of you were hit?
Craig: [00:49:17] He shot all five of us.
Justin: [00:49:18] At some point, yeah.
Detective Dave: [00:49:19] Okay.
Craig: [00:49:20] I don’t have an explanation for it. You can believe in God, not believing God, behind us the same distance, there’s holes in metal and sighting of house, but there’s no holes in us. Brian got shot in the leg and it was through and through through his turnouts and did not touch meat. We were shot where it actually hit us hard and it did not penetrate our turnouts. So, I believe in God, don’t believe in God, somebody was watching out for us that night.
Yeardley: [00:49:47] That’s amazing. Bob, you’re the one who was in the line of fire the longest, because you stopped to use the radio in your ambulance to call for help. What kind of marks did you have on you when you finally got to safety?
Bob: [00:50:03] When he actually shot and hit me, I was about 20 yards from him. I had three marks in my chest and my shoulder from the rounds hitting. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I was shot or what– I just knew that I had pain in my shoulder, in my chest wall. It wasn’t until I got home and went and take a shower and I took my shirt off, my wife goes, “What the hell?” My shoulders all starting to turn all bruised and I’ve got three distinctive marks in my shoulder and chest wall.
Detective Dave: [00:50:33] So, just lucky that he’s far enough away that it doesn’t break the skin, you can feel it.
Brian: [00:50:39] The windshield slowed it down enough.
Detective Dave: [00:50:40] So, he’s closer, you guys are potentially mortally wounded.
Brian: [00:50:45] Yeah.
Andy: [00:50:46] We walked through his burned-out structure a couple of different times and dug around in there. This is like weeks later. There was AR 15s that the receivers melted on them. There was an AR 10 and the we found a bunch of three weight mags that looked like they were from thous.
Yeardley: [00:51:07] What’s that?
Andy: [00:51:08] A specific type of military rifle and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Craig: [00:51:15] So, he had a pistol on his side also from what I understand, a one in a bag and he chose the shotgun.
Detective Dave: [00:51:21] Thank God, he’s using a shotgun and not the AR
Brian: [00:51:25] Right. Not only shotgun, but he was shooting bird shot or a lighter weight shot and had a bunch of buckshot with him, but it just wasn’t what was in the gun. And not just five or six rounds, he had 20, 30 extra shotgun rounds that he taken with him. Had he been shooting buckshot or a rifle, we would have dead firefighters.
Detective Dave: [00:51:43] They would have suffered serious injuries.
Brian: [00:51:45] No doubt. He had two different handguns with him, both loaded, ready to go. Either one of those would have been far more devastating than the birdshot. We just got lucky.
Dan: [00:51:56] I think it was probably an oversight on his part. I think he just looked to see if the gun was loaded, didn’t check to see what load was in there and off he went.
Yeardley: [00:52:06] So lucky for you.
Brian: [00:52:07] Right. That’s what I said is, he chose the correct weapon. So, had he chose the two-two-three, we probably wouldn’t be able to be talking to you right now.
Yeardley: [00:52:15] What about your families? How did this incident in particular affect you and your families, if it did? We’ll start with you, Johnny.
Johnny: [00:52:24] Well, I have two little boys at home, six and ten, and my wife. The Hillcrest incident brings it home that one day I might not come home. But unfortunately for fire family kids, they grew up pretty fast knowing that there are bad guys out there. So, I’m able to be a little more candid with them. If I was telling a story to a classroom, I ease back on some details. But my boys, they know what’s up and like, “What did you do? Did you go on that car accident?” “Yeah.” “Did somebody die?” I was like, “Yeah, buddy. It was bad.” So, it’s tough with the little boys. And then my wife, I can tell her anything I want to, which is amazing, to be able to get that off your chest. This is the kind of shift I had and it was awful.
Yeardley: [00:53:06] I should think that would be essential.
Johnny: [00:53:08] Yes. But also, I try to not burden her with the calls we go to. They don’t need that, you know?
Yeardley: [00:53:16] Right. Brian?
Brian: [00:53:18] My wife was there waiting and said, “So, what happened?” I explained it to her, and her reaction was pretty priceless. It was just, “Well, the outcome is the outcome. You’re here. They’re home. Everyone’s safe. Bad guy’s gone.” So, my daughter is a senior. She was pretty upset. We went and had lunch with her. My boys are young enough that they didn’t– I don’t know, if they quite got the gravity of what occurred. They knew it was bad but they didn’t quite understand. So, that was pretty easy to deal with in that respect. Nobody was ready for me to go back to work, if that counts.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:53:56] Firefighter Dave.
Dave: [00:53:58] So, I initially told my wife and she was in shock, he’s coming home today. Must have actually been a pretty big event. It was still sinking in with her and stuff. We have three little ones, three, five, and seven-year-old at home. I thought it’d best not to really tell them what was going on, but eventually, they found out–
Yeardley: [00:54:21] Because they find out at school?
Dave: [00:54:22] Yeah, because people kept coming up and going, “Is your husband okay? Getting shot at and hit?” I have my three-year-old asking, “Dad, I don’t want you to go to work, because the bad guys will shoot at you.”
Yeardley: [00:54:34] Ah.
Detective Dave: [00:54:36] Isn’t it amazing what other people that aren’t first responder families will come up to a first responder wife or husband and say?
Dave: [00:54:44] Yeah. My wife was right by my side, pretty solid and stuff. We’re talking about the events. We left all our turnouts at the station. I used to have my helmet with me and my boots, and I was cleaning that out of the rig because it’s like, I’m going to be off work for a while. So, I’ll just throw this aside. As I’m getting my helmet out, I see a ricochet where one of the pellets had struck my helmet. And then it sunk in a little deeper. It was like, “Oh, shit.”
Detective Dave: [00:55:12] That’s why I’d ask about the mask. The timing of that is so lucky nobody took shotgun pellets to the face. It is. It’s like somebody was looking out for all of you guys.
Dave: [00:55:25] Definitely.
Yeardley: [00:55:27] Bob?
Bob: [00:55:27] I have a lot of family in law enforcement. I have a stepson that is also a firefighter paramedic for our department. This shooting has taken a huge toll on my wife. And she’d asks probably more now how my day was than she has ever. She was ready for me to retire, but I still like going to work and one asshole is not going to ruin that for me.
Yeardley: [00:55:50] Captain Craig?
Craig: [00:55:52] Anything you can think of, one of us has been on it and seen it and had to help the person that it affected. It does change you. It’s always funny, because when you meet people that don’t know police or fire, they’ll always ask you, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?” I’ve developed the response of, “Let’s just say my dreams are different than yours.”
Yeardley: [00:56:13] Oh, wow.
Craig: [00:56:14] We see people that they’re worse and we want to genuinely help people. And you cannot help everybody. When it goes to what we risk, we risk nothing for what’s already lost, but we risk a lot for what can be saved. And that goes with equipment, lives, everything. We all plan on going home tomorrow and that is our goal. We are not going to risk our lives, but we’re going to really try to take care of somebody and that may have cost us our lives.
Yeardley: [00:56:45] That was incredibly eloquent and beautiful, and I’m deeply grateful to you all for your candor and it’s an amazing story, and thank you all for joining us. Thank you.
Johnny: [00:56:56] Thank you. I appreciate this.
Craig: [00:56:57] Thank you.
Brian: [00:56:57] Thank you.
Detective Dave: [00:56:58] Appreciate it.
Dan: [00:56:59] I’ll say this. I don’t want your guys’ egos to inflate too much. So, Dave and I, our cousin, he’s a firefighter. I remember when I was a kid, we’re, what, five or six years old and we were down there and my dad got to go on a ride along with the fire department. They would stand on the back of the fire truck like back in the–
Craig: [00:57:19] Yeah. Riding tailboard. I missed that.
Bob: [00:57:20] Yeah.
Craig: [00:57:21] I love tailboard.
Dan: [00:57:22] I got to watch that. I was like, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I think that was what lit the fire for me to get into some first responder career. I’ve got a ton of respect for you guys. I see what you guys do and what you guys deal with. I’m so glad you guys made it out of this. I’m glad that you guys came down and so grateful that you guys shared this experience with us.
Bob: [00:57:43] Thank you.
Craig: [00:57:43] Thanks for having us.
Bob: [00:57:44] Thank you. I truly have respect for police. I call you my brothers, no matter what side of the city we’re on, because you guys do amazing job too.
Detective Dave: [00:57:54] That’s how we feel. We get these calls that fire is asking for code three cover at this address and I’m like, “Woo-hoo, let’s go.”
Yeardley: [00:58:03] [laughs]
Craig: [00:58:04] Whenever you guys get an altercation, you notice we always pile in.[laughter]
Detective Dave: [00:58:07] Yeah, we love that. These guys have been working out all day. They should be helping me. Can I tag in? Yeah, come on.
Craig: [00:58:13] Especially, if you’re one on one, there is no question we are in the fight.
Yeardley: [00:58:17] I love this. This is amazing. So good. Thank you.[Small Town Dicks theme playing]
[00:58:28] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor, and the Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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Yeardley: [00:59:24] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country-
Dan: [00:59:30] In search of the finest-
Detective Dave: [00:59:31] Rare.
Dan: [00:59:32] True crime cases told, as always, by the detectives who investigated them.
Detective Dave: [00:59:37] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley: [00:59:39] Nobody’s better than you.
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