Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Unexpected Events

             I wrote this last night. I was having a difficult time sleeping so I figured it would be best to get my thoughts out.

             The day started off so well. Like every day when I arrived back into Portland I woken up by the familiar sound of my dog Tuaca barging through my bedroom door to jump up on the bed to give my face a good lick. After wiping the slobber from my face I threw on my MLB Fan Cave sweater which was lying at the foot of my bed. Despite it raining the previous night, it was especially cold as I headed into the kitchen to destroy a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as Tuaca sat patiently, waiting to see if I would give her some. My parents had all ready gone to work and it was one of the first times since I temporarily moved back in that my mother didn’t wake me up before she left. At the time I really didn’t think much of it, so I carried on my day.

            The internet connection in my bedroom had been a bit shoddy for the last couple of days so I took my Samsung Galaxy Note and computer into the living room for a better reception. Over the last couple of weeks since the Major League Baseball season ended I have been posting photos from my time in New York, during my Fan Cave days, to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, as I have left them sitting in my memory without sharing. There has been no consistent pattern to my posts, rather just a scroll and point sort of system like blindly finding a phone number in a phone book to crank call. I came upon the photos from when Baltimore Orioles stars Adam Jones and Robert Andino had stopped by for their “Puttin’ Birds on Things” sketch, which is still arguably one of the funniest things produced and put on the Fan Cave Web site. The first one I post was of Jones and Andino walking through the streets with a giant Oriole logo as the production crew rolled behind. One of the more amusing things about this shoot is that I was the only Cave Dweller allowed to be out for their shenanigans as Jones had asked me to come along since I was wearing Orioles gear. The second photo I posted was a shot of the three of us which I had taken for my friend Scott Landis, an avid Orioles fan, for his birthday which was a month away from that date. When I posted I was being rather goofy and said something to the tune of, .@SimplyAJ10, Andino and me. Clearly the best looking guys in the @MLBFanCave. 

            It was a bit of a joke as I was rather brutish looking at the time. What I didn’t expect was for Jones to not only retweet the photo, but to start following me on Twitter. I was pretty shocked. We chatted for a little bit about Andino being traded to Seattle and I assured him I would look after him. He thanked me and said he was one of the best teammates he had had. With good things in the bag, I got ready for my 9 hour shift at Just Sports at the Clackamas Town Center Mall with a little bit jollier step in my walk.

            I arrived about 15 minutes early and checked my online activity on my phone at the Starbucks at the southwestern side of the mall, as that was the best spot for me to get internet access. Before I left my house I had posted my 4-step New Era photo of me taking of the stickers, creasing the bill and marking the hat with jersey numbers for one of my newer Orioles hats. I had gotten a few likes, which I was satisfied with and headed in a little early to see if any new freight had come in. There had, but only about 4 new boxes, nothing terrible. I clocked in and dove in to try and get caught up on the previous freight. We had gotten in a load of NFL, Oregon Ducks and NBA jersey restock as well as a lot of popular sweatshirts. My co-assistant manager Clayton and I stuck to the freight whilst the other employees: Adam, Connor, Justin and Kevin helped the customers. Every now-and-then I popped out onto the floor to help someone, but for the most part I stuck to getting the product out. I had quickly knocked out one of the boxes. Since a lot of the product required sensor tags, I first put out all of the stuff that didn’t need them: Portland Timbers gear. We had about 5 adult and youth jersey to throw on our 50% off rounder so I finessed them in, along with about 7 hooded sweatshirts. I walked back to grab the last two shirts when I heard a loud bang.

            I have heard in moments like this that time stands still. A few of the customers around me and I exchanged glances and all had puzzled looks. Somewhere in a matter of a fraction of a second we all came to the conclusion, mentally at least, that the sound was probably a large box that had fallen to the ground and made the commotion. As I turn to hang up the last two shirts it started… BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!!! Having fired off an array of hand guns, assault rifles and sniper ripples with my stepfather, I knew what I was hearing. Everyone in the store, roughly 12 people including myself, had stopped in their tracks. I on the other hand sprinted to the door to close and lock them. I remember yelling, “Get out!” to everyone as I ran, but still no one moved. I saw dozens of people running eastward as I got to the door and told and grabbed as many people as I could into the store before no one else was within my grasp. I closed the doors, hit the deck and locked the massive glass doors as quickly as I could. One kid in particular was standing next to me doing nothing. I yelled, “Get the fuck to the back of the store!” He froze. I then pushed and yelled at everyone else to go out the back door. Clayton and the rest of my co-workers to notice and began rushing everyone out. I had never been in a situation like this before, by a sense of leadership overcame me. As soon as I saw everyone clear out the back I quickly closed the door completely and ducked behind the sales counter, waiting to see if anyone would walk by. After a few moments I walked toward the front to see if there was anyone else out there. Sure enough there were patrons casually walking through the mall on their cell phones. I unlocked one of the doors and called for them to come in. Once they cleared the threshold I locked it again, explained what had happened and got them out. I then moved back to the counter area and got on twitter to post that there had been a shooting. I’m still not sure why, but I momentarily went back about my business as the phone rang from other stores in our company looking for product. I told them all that there had been a shooting and their attitude quickly changed, making sure I was OK. I said yes, asked what they were looking for and gave them an answer. In between calls I continued to tweet what I was seeing.

            Clayton and Adam had started texting me, asking if I was still inside. I told them yes and that I was waiting. At this time they informed that the police had arrived and surrounded the building. When I read that I knew I couldn’t just walk out into safety. Looking the way I do, with my beard and all, I would be greeted by local law enforcement with all guns on me, ready to be taken into custody to be questioned. Obviously I had no involvement, but they don’t know that. I continued to stay behind the counter and kept tweeting. For some reason I took to trying to be a bit more humorous for a few. I remembered reading about Brett Lawrie being in a mall when a shooting had broken out and so I sent out a tweet to the tune of, “I feel a lot like Brett Lawrie right now.” After that I sent, “I'm glad I have shoes on. Last thing I need is broken glass and bare feet like John MacLaine,” an obvious Die Hard reference. Almost immediately after that tweet SWAT had taken siege. I saw three teams of three stroll by the front of the store, all armed with AR-15 rifles and full body gear. After they passed I hit the floor and crept my way across to the front to snap some photos. 

              I finally saw a sheriff’s deputy across the way and signaled to him that I was trapped inside. He motioned for me to get back, so I did. Ben Lacy, a producer at KGW in Portland, and fellow Oregon alum, hit me up on Twitter and asked if they could do a live interview. I sent him a DM with my number and said yes. Five minutes later I was live on the air, taking the reporter step by step as to what had happened. A few minutes in, the police had arrived at the door and motioned for me. The glass isn’t soundproof, so they told me to unlock the door and be ready to stay low and move out. I had forgotten my Note and jacket, but didn’t care. I wanted to get out. As soon as I got the green light, I cleared out. I looked back and noticed that there were six totally officers, all armed to the teeth with .45s, shotguns and rifles. I booked a sharp right and headed out.

            Now, at the time when I made my exit I thought I had an officer tailing behind me as an escort. I didn’t. As soon as I cleared the threshold of the door I was “greeted” by five officers with shotguns and assault rifles all pointed at me.

            “Get your hands up!” I heard someone yell.
            I complied.
            “Get on your knees and drop the phone!” I heard.
            I did
            “Slowly lay down and cross your legs!”
As soon as I did I felt my Orioles hat slip down over my face, but I remained motionless. The last thing I wanted was a bullet entering any part of my body. One of the deputies came around and slapped handcuffs on me, pulled me up and walked me to the left for questioning. I stood up straight and answered everything he asked: Name, business at the mall, etc. He then got on his intercom and asked for a description of the suspect, which luckily I didn’t fit. As I stood there shivering in khaki and pants and a polo shirt in the cold more people began exiting… all of which glared at me as they passed as if I was the shooter. I didn’t let it bother me. I turned my head to the left to get a look at the deputy and listen in on the responses he was getting. He was almost a foot shorter than me with short grey hair and an amazing salt and pepper mustache and glasses. He then slipped his business card into my pocket and told me to call if I had any information to give as he unlocked the steel bracelets. He pointed me toward the left of the parking lot and told me to get out that way. I did what he asked and walked away… for a bit. Around this time I was getting texts and calls from a lot of people making sure I was safe. Since my Note was still inside the store I couldn’t get on Twitter to let everyone know I had made it out. I texted everyone I knew who had Twitter to let them know and to let others know I was fine. Unfortunately, most of the people that I knew who had large followings on Twitter are all on the East Coast. Not until the end of the night did it dawn on me that they had no idea what was going on. Therefore, I got a lot of confused texts back. My friend Kat in Boston, who works for NECN, called me up; made sure I was doing fine and asked if I would do an interview.

Kat and I went to the University of Oregon together and I crashed at her place in Boston during my second trip there over the summer during my MLB stadium tour. I said I’d be more than happy to. As we chatted on the phone I noticed more people leaving the mall… I then hatched a plan. I really wanted my Note back so I could get back on Twitter to give updates so I asked the deputy at the door if he could escort me back to the store so I could lock it up, which is actually true. He said yes and took me back. About halfway there he asked another deputy, the one who handcuffed and questioned me, to take me the rest of the way. He jokingly said yes and followed me in. I quickly ran in and grabbed my jacket, cigarettes, Note and locked the door on my way out. It was during this time that I noticed tables, chairs and product from stores strewn about the walkway of the mall.

 It was a rather eerie feeling, but for some reason I was still calm. I half sprinted back to the original doorway I had exited the mall and passed by a girl crying hysterically and talking to two officers as she had witnessed the shooting. I didn’t gather much as I wanted to get back outside. Once again, as I cleared the door way the same officer was about to yell at me to get down, but realized I was the same guy as before. A slight moment passed and he told me to be on my way. I called Kat back and did the interview with one of their reports and walked across the road where I knew there was a Starbucks with Wi-Fi. I sat down and typed away. Giving updates on Facebook and Twitter what I knew, and what I had overheard. It also gave me time to call my parents and assure everyone that I was safe.

Over the next hour or so I did interviews with KATU in Portland, NECN live in air, the Jeff Sammut Show in Toronto and even Good Morning America. I posted photos and got hit up by FOX and CNN for permission to run the photos and do more interviews. It was a weird feeling. Despite going to the U of O for journalism, I had always wanted to do sports. This was way more important and I gave my clearance on everything as it is my responsibility to relay the information.

Around 5:45 PM PST, over two hours since the shooting had started; I finally got in my car and headed home. Mentally I was burnt out and just wanted to get back into the familiar. Traffic was pretty ridiculous and I called ahead to my mom to let her know. With nothing but the steering in my hands and my thoughts, my brain drifted back to when I was 14-years-old, living in Bakersfield, California. (This part of the story I have never told anyone)

I can’t really remember the date, but I do remember it was spring. I was with a few of my friends at his parents’ house, a few blocks from Centennial High School where we all attended. We had been sitting around, watching TV and gabbing about usual high schooler things. Around 4:30 his older brother walked into the house and sat down with us. As he sat down he pulled out a bad of marijuana and his .45 from the waistband of the back of his pants. What I didn’t know and everyone else did was that he was a drug dealer. At that time I really didn’t like guns too much so I sat away from everyone else as they talked about it and wanted to see it. After about five minutes of that nonsense I had to pee so I got up and went down the hall and around a left turn corner to go. I finished, washed my hands and walked out. As I was about to bank right back into their living room the gun fired. I didn’t realize it at first until I turned my head to the right and noticed the gun pointing at my face. I then turned me head quickly left and noticed a bullet hole in the wall. The bullet had whizzed about 7 inches from my face and by the grace of God had missed. Everyone in the living room froze, except for my friend’s brother who quickly snatched the gun out of the hand of the kid who had fired it. Despite the clip being out of the gun, my friend’s brother forgot to take the one in the chamber out before he handed it off to let the younglings play with it. The last thing I remember was yelling at everyone, crying and running home. I didn’t tell my parents and I stopped talking to the kid who had pulled the trigger for years. That, realistically, is the closest I had ever come to dying as a result of gun-related means.

Throughout my day I had been calm and collective. The shooting at the mall took place about 200 yards away from me, yet I still went into protective mode over everyone else. Perhaps the trauma from my youth made me less scared? I’ll never really know. After seeing my parents, having dinner with them and watching “North by Northwest” with them, the gravity of today’s events didn’t hit me until they went to bed.

What happened when I was a kid was in isolated incident, but what happened today took place on a much larger scale. Three people are dead, including the shooter. Thousands of people will be affected by this for the rest of their lives. As terrible as things got, I am forever grateful that I was there to have a clear head and to help people get to safety. Hero is a word I’ve heard a few times since. Thrown around casually as we do with our sports icons, but I certainly don’t feel like one. I just did what needed to be done. I can only hope that others do the same in a similar situation.


  1. Wow. Vivid stuff. Glad you are okay. Glad you did what you could do. Level heads prevail in wild situations.

    Not sure if North by Northwest was a good choice for a calming affect, as it is incredibly intense for a B/W movie, but probably made you glad you are temporarily located at home with mom and dad. I don't care how old I get, my parents are still a calming/safe environment to be in.

    After all the interviews are done, give yourself a lot of relaxing time. Hot tubs/saunas/messages...your body is going to tense up whether you know it or not. It's a different kind of stress. Take care.

  2. So glad you're doing ok Ben! I was worried something had happened to you since I live in Boston and had no way of contacting you directly besides Facebook or Twitter. Stay strong man!