Aug. 30 (UPI) — One of two victims killed during Sunday night’s shooting at a shopping center in the small Oregon city of Bend had attacked the gunman in an attempt to unarm him of his AR-15-style rifle, potentially preventing further bloodshed, police said Monday.
During a press conference, authorities from Bend, a city of some 100,000 people in central Oregon, identified the victims from Sunday’s shooting as 84-year-old Safeway customer Glenn Edward Bennett and 66-year-old Donald Ray Surrett Jr., the employee who attempted to fight the gunman.
“Surrett engaged with the shooter, attempted to disarm him and may very well have prevented further deaths. Mr. Surrett acted heroically during this terrible incident,” Bend Police Department spokeswoman Sheila Miller said while choking back tears.
The shooting began at about 7 p.m. Sunday with the suspected shooter, identified Monday as 20-year-old Bend resident Ethan Blair Miller, exiting his unit in the Fox Hollow Apartments behind the Forum Shopping Center in northeast Bend.
Police said he began firing shots after he left his apartment and made his way through the parking lot before entering the west entrance of Safeway in the shopping complex where inside the entrance he shot Bennett who was transported to a local hospital but died of his injuries.
Miller is accused of continuing to fire off rounds as he moved to the back of the store near the produce section where he was confronted by Surrett whom he shot and was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Within minutes of receiving a call about a shooter at the center, police entered the Safeway to the sound of shots being fired and found the body of the suspected gunman with an AR-15-style rifle and a shotgun by his side.
Miller’s death is considered by authorities to be the result of a self-inflected gunshot wound.
“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,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a Monday statement.
“In the face of senseless violence, they acted with selfless bravery. Their courage saved lives.”
Much about the shooting was still under investigation Monday including how many shots were fired, the connection between Miller and the Safeway and a potential motive.
Authorities said that a search warrant was executed on the suspect’s residence and car, which produced three Molotov cocktails, a sawed-off shotgun, additional ammunition and digital devices.
Due to the potential of explosives at the residence, prior to the search warrants being executed, the Oregon State Police Bomb Squad first cleared the apartment and eight nearby units were asked to voluntarily evacuate.
Police chief Mike Krantz said they are aware of posts allegedly made online by the suspected shooter concerning plans to attack a local high school, but that was still under investigation.
Miller confirmed that they became aware of the posts following the incident.
“We are aware that the shooter may have posted information online regarding his plan,” Miller also said. “We’re investigating this.”
The shooter was not known to police who did not have evidence of previous threats and did not have a police record, Miller said, adding that they are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine the legality of the weapons used.
Krantz told reporters that they were also unsure of how many people were in the store during the shooting, but that the area was busy and that witnesses they spoke to told them that they had sheltered in place in the Safeway and other stores.
Mayor Pro Tempore Anthony Broadman told residents that they need to “guard against the cynicism” that such attacks are unavoidable.
“I won’t’ accept that. I know the community of Bend won’t accept that,” he said. “We have to stand together, we will, we will stand together, including tonight, and we will mourn the people who lost their lives last night, and we’ll do that because we know in the face of the kind of chaos we saw last night, we had brave first responders, brave citizens, people willing to stand up for their neighbors and nothing illustrates Bend and Central Oregon more than that.”