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Collateral Damage

When Life Is Defined By Its Final Few Seconds

     To the casual observer, the grey-haired old man didn’t look like much.  Much of what a life and death battle with cancer had left unclaimed, father time had not.  Yet quietly hidden beneath life’s well weathered façade there remained a firm resolve resonating through the old man’s gaze, stride and handshake.

   Most folks likely barely noticed any of that as he eased his forest green pickup truck into a vacant slot, away from the bustle in a remote corner of the lot, turned off his ignition and exited his truck.  That was just fine with him. That was the way the old man liked it.   He slid a ring full of tarnished keys into his faded blue jeans front pocket and began working his way across the busy Walmart parking lot.

     Walmart was bustling that Saturday morning, but no busier than usual. People were pulling in and out, dragging kids, pushing packed shopping carts.  The old man was there that morning on a mission. May had turned to June, north country spring was now summer, the sun’s rays were hot. The old man had come to Walmart seeking a child’s swimming pool for his one-year-old granddaughter.

     A somewhat disheveled, sweatpants clad woman wearing flip flops and sunglasses pushed a shopping cart filled with groceries towards the old man as he neared Walmart’s entrance.  The dark-haired young woman uttered a long string of something in Spanish as she tried to calm a screaming toddler seated in the front of her cart while simultaneously herding two rambunctious young boys across parking lot traffic towards her car.

     Suddenly, one of the boys darted from his mother’s grasp, chasing after some wind- blown checkout counter toy that his younger brother had just dropped.  The boy bent down to retrieve his prize just as a rusty blue minivan with a mangled rear bumper’s brake lights came on as it started backing out.

     The disheveled sweatpants clad young Hispanic woman in flip flops and sunglasses was still busy negotiating with her toddler in Spanish. She never noticed the unfolding peril. The old man did. He scooted forward and scooped up the boy. The blue minivan’s rear bumper grazed his left thigh in the process. The old man stumbled forward and winced. The boy yelled out for his mother.  The blue minivan never slowed down, braked or stopped. It’s driver likely never even noticed. The vehicle’s driver simply finished backing out and drove off as the young mother, finally hearing her son’s scream over her toddler’s, looked up and gasped.

     None the worse for wear, the old man released the young boy back to his mother.  She swatted and scolded in Spanish as the boy clutched her leg and began crying. Then she turned, raised her sunglasses with one hand and smiled gratefully at the old man as he dusted himself off and prepared to continue on his way.

     Suddenly, out of nowhere, somewhere off through the parking lot to their right:

POP! POP! POP! In rapid succession.

The weathered old man had heard that sound before.  GUNFIRE! He reacted instinctively, pushing the woman, her children, and the cart deep into the empty parking spot the blue minivan had just vacated.

     The woman screamed, startled.  The old man grabbed the two boys and crouched down. They were masked by a dusty black SUV on one side, a small, rusted out greyish two door car with its driver’s side taillight light taped over on the other, and the shiny new grill of a black Ford F-250 crew cab right in front of them.

            POP! POP POP! – POP! POP! POP!

  The parking lot descended into mayhem. People all around them were running and screaming. Engines were racing, tires were squealing.

     The old man pulled the toddler from the cart, handed her to the momentarily paralyzed young woman and pulled them both to the ground against the rear wheel well of the black SUV as her two young sons clutched her legs.

     He gripped the young woman firmly by the shoulders and looked her in the eye.  ”Stay down and stay here!  Don’t move!”  Stunned and crying, grasping her children, she nodded.

     The old man gingerly peered up and out across the lot. He saw nothing but panicked weekend Walmart shoppers making a mad dash for their cars.


The sound of gunfire continued. It was coming from somewhere in front of him, to his left, between where he was and the store’s entrance, several car rows away.

     Without further hesitation the old man stood up and peered into the woman’s grocery filled shopping cart. He quickly rummaged through one of the bags with both hands. Each hand firmly gripped something firm, smooth, round and solid.  He was now fully armed. Without any further words, the old man slowly worked his way down through the parking lot mayhem maze wielding two cans of corn.

     The old man negotiated his way through his first three rows of cars.


      The shooter was targeting the store’s entrance. The old man glanced over that way as he moved towards the sound of the gun. He could see people running and screaming, blood splattered shattered storefront glass, and a growing trail of downed bodies.

      The old man peered up from between two parked cars as he caught his breath. “Where is that damned shooter?!” he thought, as he scanned the rows of cars just ahead.

     He glanced down at the ammo gripped firm in each hand.   “GREAT VALUE WHOLE KERNEL CORN”, read the label on each can.


           The shooter kept firing. Bodies kept falling. The old man could hear sirens now, off in the distance. He guessed that any law enforcement response was still at least a good three minutes out.

     He scanned ahead of him once more.  THERE!  He finally spotted the gunman, down near the end of the row of cars two rows away, leaned nonchalantly against the bed of a black pickup truck, scraggly beard, sunglasses, wearing a backwards baseball cap, camouflaged cargo pants, and a t-shirt decked out like a confederate flag. A cigarette dangled from his mouth as he casually pumped rounds from an AR-15 style assault rifle into an early Saturday morning’s Walmart shopping crowd.

     The old man never once hesitated.  He crossed into the open lane beyond the first row of cars. The gunman did not immediately see him. He was focused on the still target rich storefront before him. The old man was still a good thirty yards away. “I’m gonna have to get close,” he thought to himself. “My arm ain’t what it used to be, and this ammo is heavy.”

     The old man stood upright and charged forward, now fully committed.


     Just inside twenty yards and on a dead run, the old man raised his right arm and discharged his first round.

     The first can of corn knocked the gunman forward to one knee as it struck him square in the back of his head. The old man kept running forward as he transferred his remaining can of corn ammo to his throwing hand.

     Stunned and confused by the unexpected assault from the rear, the gunman turned and fired wildly.


     The old man never felt the first round’s impact. But he sure felt the second as it tore through his lower abdomen and exited the small of his back. He stumbled sideways and fell, dropping his remaining can of corn as he rolled instinctively for cover behind a nearby car.

     The old man grimaced, looked down at his abdomen, saw the bloodstained hole in his shirt and the growing pool of his own blood.

     “This is it, Old Man,” he thought to himself.  “No time to waste. You’re gonna bleed out quick. Only a few seconds left.”

He couldn’t hear the police sirens wailing closer now, or the screaming Walmart patrons, or squealing car tires. He could only hear his own gasping breath and blood pumping heart as he lived out his final few seconds. He blocked everything else out. The world around him moved in slow motion as the old man reached deep within to ensure he made those seconds count.

     With whatever he had left the old man rolled back right and willed himself to his feet, grabbing the remaining can of corn in the process. Then, on pure guts and adrenaline, the old man fired off his last round as he finished his final charge forward.

     The gunman had turned his attention back towards the Walmart entrance once the old man went down. The second can of corn caught him square in the left temple, just before the old man’s right shoulder barreled into him midriff, taking them both sprawling hard to the ground. The gunman’s backwards baseball cap went flying, as did his assault rifle. With one last burst of strength the old man grabbed the back of gunman’s head by his hair and smashed his face once, hard, into the blacktop. That was the old man’s final act.

     The police arrived on the scene seconds later. They were too late.

The old man had bled out.

     Sixteen Walmart shoppers lay dead on the pavement, four young mothers, seven children, three senior citizens, and a pair of college students home for the summer who were just out buying smokes.  

     That evening, TV news crews across the country gave the whole incident its duly allotted five minutes of coverage.

     “Seventeen innocent people died this morning in what law enforcement authorities are describing as yet another senseless mass shooting.  According to eyewitnesses and police sources on the scene, if not for the brave intervention of one individual who apparently took down the gunman armed only with two cans of corn, the body count would have been much higher.  That individual died at the scene. The gunman survived and is now in police custody.”

     Politicians nationwide were quick to climb on the bandwagon.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with this community and the victim’s families.”

     Three days later, several of those same politicians were photographed outside an NRA convention.

“We proudly support the 2nd Amendment.”

      They were holding AR-15 Assault rifles and standing in front of an American Flag.

     The old man’s granddaughter never got the swimming pool he went to Walmart to buy her that morning. She never got to spend another day with her grandfather.

Later that year, the granddaughter’s parents bundled her off for her first day of kindergarten.

     Her very first lesson on her very first day of school was not her ABC’s, but how to survive an active shooter at school. 


Author’s Endnote: I am a military veteran, gun owner and hunter, yet a bullet pierces my heart knowing that my children’s children, my grandchildren, will, on their first day of kindergarten, be taught neither their ABC’s, nor sit at their teacher’s feet listening to her read wondrous stories. Instead, their very first lessons on their very first days of school will be active shooter drills.

     My heart bleeds out knowing, that due to our nation’s collective inability to stand strong united, to confront head on as one voice, this fatal nightmare repeatedly unfolding, that tragedy after tragedy, we continue to allow ourselves to be held hostage to an edict written and ratified in 1791 by men who owned muskets.

     At what point will we realize it is time to take action? To act rationally? To demand our politicians update our constitution and laws?

     To stop allowing our children and grandchildren to become nothing more than…

collateral damage.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:

God Bless America