TEOTWAWKI: The Long Walk Home, Ch.12 “Food Fight”
BANG BANG BANG!..BANG BANG!
POP POP!…POP POP!…POP POP!
The gunfire from up ahead startled us, rousing us from the mind numbing cold; the three of us immediately squatted down behind the nearest stalled cars for cover.
John scurried up to me, saying, “What the #@%^ is going on up there?”
The gunfire continued intermittently, with a couple of other guns joining in. I heard pistols of at least three different calibers, and a shotgun.
“I don’t know, but it sounds like a pretty good firefight. I know that the housing area up ahead comes right down to the road and that it’s all middle to upper-middle class. It seems like a really nice neighborhood in Hurst. There is a Tom Thumb grocery store up there. Maybe the food riots have started?”
“You’re not thinking of going through the middle of that mess are you Ryan?” asked my partner, Liz.
“Not if there is still shooting going on! We can continue along HWY 36 for a bit, and see if we can get an idea of what’s going on. But no, we can take a detour through this housing area and still get to Precinct Line. There is no need to get involved in whatever mess has started up there. My whole idea of traveling at night was to avoid the herd, avoid trouble, and not be seen. From what little contact we have had tonight, when people see us, they get worried because I am carrying this SKS carbine and both John and I have pistols. We get too close to some scared folks and they might just shoot us for no reason.”
“OK, let’s spread out a bit more and change our formation. John, you move up to second in the order but walk on the north side of the road and stay just a bit behind me. Liz, stay a bit behind John and get in the left lane. Let’s be careful to use the stalled vehicles as cover and concealment. From this point on we are not just walking down the center of the road, we have to be very careful. But neither are we going to crouch and scurry from cover to cover. We have to balance being careful without being too suspicious.”
We continued down the highway toward the sound of the gunfire and the shouting. I had not reconned an alternative route through the neighborhood but I generally knew that one of these side streets would take us south to link up with the next major East-West road and get us to Precinct Line. Perhaps I was being foolish for wanting to get a little bit closer to the commotion, but I wanted to get some idea of the problem thinking it would be helpful to know what was going on.
I began to see some movement up ahead; it looked like people running across the road from right to left. No more gun shots for a while, just the sound of a crowd- lots of yelling and screaming. We went one block more before we came up on somebody behind a car. It looked like a cop!
“Excuse me officer,” I said, after carefully slinging my carbine, “can you tell me what’s going on?”
He kind of jumped as he turned around to see us, and he did have his pistol out, which was now pointed at me.
“Who are you and why are you out here with that rifle?” he asked with a stern, strained sound in his voice.
“I am security officer Ryan Waller, of ————-Security and this is my patrol officer Liz. This is our friend John from the client company we were guarding. We are simply trying to get home after the attack today and I just happened to have this carbine and backpack in my car. I have a CHL, and so does John, and I have a hunting license, and John and I are both veterans. Is there anything we can do to help you?”
The officer slowly turned his gun in another direction and said, “OK. I’m officer Kurowski from the Hurst PD. I’m on my way in to the PD to see what is going on. I was at home on my day off when the bomb or whatever went off. I have had nothing but one disaster after another to deal with since about noon. I helped deliver a baby a few hours ago. With no communications it is real hard to get a grip on the situation, you know.”
“We were all at work close to DFW, right on the flight path to the West runway, and planes started dropping out of the sky. I counted four jets that crashed right around us. We have seen a lot of death since noon yesterday,” I told him.
“I was coming down the highway and heard the shooting, now I am trying to figure out what to do next,” the officer said.
“To me it looks like the foot traffic up ahead is coming from the area by the Tom Thumb grocery store, which would make sense. People are probably realizing how bad the situation is now and the looting is starting,” I added.
“Yeah, that is probably right” the officer agreed.
(for a glimpse of how bad it can get, read this article on the food riots in Haiti after the Great Earthquake of January 2010)
“You don’t have a partner?”
“No, all by myself.”
“You just have your pistol?”
“No, I have my AR right down here.”
Then I saw that in the darkness he had his AR-15 lying beside him.
“My friends and I were just going to try to take a detour around this problem. We are headed to Loop 820 where we will try to camp out during daylight hours. You’re not going to try to stop this riot by yourself are you?”
“Well, something needs to be done, but one cop in this armed crowd is not going to accomplish much,” he said.
At this point I began shivering and shaking almost uncontrollably. Crouching down in this cold and being still after walking for the past couple of miles and now I was Very Cold. I needed to either put my coat on or get moving. I hated the cold.
“Look, the route we are taking would go close by the Hurst PD. Why don’t you join us for the rest of this leg of our walk” I offered. “I am a bit unfamiliar with anything other than the highway and Precinct Line. Maybe you could guide us in?”
POP, POP, POP….POP, POP went a 9mm.
BOOM! BOOM! answered the shotgun.
More yelling and screaming.
The officer leaned toward the sound of the guns.
“Hey, I know you want to go help, officer, but you are likely outnumbered.”
“Well, I’ve got do something!”
“Well crap!” I said, “I am not going to let you go into that mess by yourself. Let me drop my ruck here and pull out my jacket and badge and I can help you.”
“John, you and Liz don’t have to do anything here but I am going with officer Kurowski here to see about helping the situation up ahead.”
“Hey, I’ll go with you,” John said. “One more gun won’t hurt.”
“I’m not staying here by myself,” added Liz, “and my uniform and badge might help even if I don’t have a gun.”
“OK, then, we’re all in. John, let me give you my extra badge from off my belt. Just pin it on the left side of your jacket there. That will make you look somewhat official. ”
I carefully looked around at which car we were by and where it was on the road. I tested the door and it was open, so I off loaded my gear into the car and shut the door. The others followed suit. I donned my jacket which did not fit well at all over my web gear and bandolier of ammo. But it was better than nothing and the badge would show. I pulled the bayonet out and snapped it into place on my SKS.
“Sweet!” said Officer Kurowski, “I wish I had one for my AR!”
“Well, technically it’s illegal to have this bayonet on the weapon, but right now it seems to be a real good idea,” I responded.
I thought that what we were doing was both right and yet incredibly foolish. I would likely die here tonight. This wasn’t our fight, we were just trying to get home. But walking away from this brave police officer, and letting him face the mob alone, was unconscionable. Sometimes the right thing just slaps you in the face and says, “Listen to me!” And you have to listen. Even when it is costly and doesn’t make sense. We had walked away from a dying woman earlier tonight, because we had no means of helping her. We tried to help another one, trapped in her car beneath the plane wreckage. She died while we watched. Our co-worker had died in agony in the parking lot, impaled by a piece of the jet that went down across the street. We could not do a thing to help him.
This time, maybe, perhaps, we could do something to help. Or get ourselves killed.
Officer Kurowski led the way and I was to his left about one step behind. John was to Kurowski’s right and about three steps back. Liz brought up the rear in the center. As we approached the Tom Thumb we saw a lot of people milling around in the dark and some loud, angry shouting coming from the front door. Two guys came toward us dragging a woman on a coat, bleeding heavily.
“What’s going on up there,” the officer asked.
“Oh thank the Lord, the police are finally here!” said one of the men. “Everyone just kind of started showing up at the store and with the power off they couldn’t operate their cash registers so it turned into kind of a mob scene. Then some young, tough guys with guns showed up, and started taking over. Somebody started shooting and then it all got so chaotic….”
“Yeah,” said the younger of the two, “this lady got shot so we are dragging her out of here.”
“OK, slow down, slow down!” said Officer Kurowski. “How many guys were there?”
“Four. No five…wait a minute…I’m not sure. Either 4 or 5”.
“What kind of guns were they armed with?
“They all had pistols and one had a shotgun.”
“I don’t think so.”
“What did they look like?”
“I kind of think they were either teenagers or early twenties, from the sound of their voices they were white I think, they were wearing ski masks but they sounded white. They were all kind of average height, athletic maybe…it’s hard to tell when they were wearing coats and ski masks. One guy was pretty tall though, maybe 6’4″. ”
“Where do you think they are?”
“They were in the canned goods when the shooting started. Some others had carried their pistols in as well. I don’t know what the fight was about, but it just looked like these young guys were trying to run everybody out. ”
Then, we saw another couple of folks come stumbling out of the store, obviously wounded. They went past us and would not stop when the officer tried to question them.
“Alright, here is what we need to do,” said officer Kurowski. “I don’t think we ought to just charge in and try to find them, let’s let them come to us. We will hide out here at the entrance and get them as they come out. I will confront them as a Police Officer to ascertain if they are hostile or not. We still don’t have all the facts. If they drop their guns, fine, if not, if they start looking like they are going to shoot, we will have to open fire. But you three have to wait for me to confront them, understand?”
“Sounds good to me” said John.
“Yeah, me too!” I said.
I unholstered my Ruger and gave it to Liz. “Here, I know you have fired a pistol before. Do you think you can handle this?”
“Sure! Where’s the safety?”
“Right here on the slide, it is already up so it is ready to fire. The first shot will be double action, which means it will have long hard trigger pull. The other shots after the first one will be single action with a very short and easy trigger pull. DO NOT POINT THIS GUN AT ANYONE YOU DON”T WANT TO KILL. Use two hands, point it at the center of their chest and shoot til they drop. Got it?”
“Uuhhh, yeah, I guess so…”
Officer Kurowski led the way into the store to the right side of the entrance, I took the left. John was behind Kurowski and Liz was behind me about 4 steps. The store’s emergency, battery powered lights were on so there was at least some light in the otherwise darkened land.
Right as we cleared the entrance and approached the check out stations, five masked men came out from the far end of the store, headed our way. The Officer and I and John all immediately squatted down behind the counters, but Liz was caught in the open. We heard a shout, then a shot, and the sound of a bullet hitting the glass at the front of the store. Liz immediately scurried for cover back in the entrance of the store, out of their sight. She gave me a thumbs up sign to indicate she was still with us and ok.
We could hear the gang noisily coming toward the entrance with two shopping carts each talking loudly. I think they may have been drunk. That hasty shot they had taken at Liz let us all know these guys were indeed trouble. They bypassed the check out stations and were now between us and the glass wall beyond which, in the parking lot, there were still people. Great. Any errant shots on our part could hit a bystander.
Suddenly, Officer Kurowski rose up enough to get his AR-15 across the counter and pointed at the gang, and he called out loudly, “Hurst Police! Freeze! Drop your weapons!”
As soon I heard his voice, I stood up too and leveled my SKS at them, bayonet forward. John, in the next aisle also stood, leaning across the counter, pistol aimed.
How long it was between Officer Kurowski’s challenge, our joining him, and the first shot fired by the gang, was probably only about one second, if that, but it all happened in slow motion. It seemed to take forever. I saw the quickest of movements by the last guy, followed by the flash and bang of his pistol. Officer Kurowski’s rifle also went off just a fraction of a second later with several shots. My 2 shots followed as I had the lead guy in my sights. I saw my target crumple. I dimly heard John firing behind me and saw the number two guy fall. I switched to the number three guy and fired two more quick rounds and he was down. The fourth and fifth guys were already down. Total elapsed time may have been 3 seconds. Or three years.
My heart was pounding, my ears ringing, I had difficulty breathing. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Liz standing in the entrance with my gun in her hand pointing at the gang.
Officer Kurowski shouted out, “Five guns down, is everybody alright? Everybody OK?”
We all responded affirmatively and I asked him, “You OK officer?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Keep your eyes open guys, there may have been more than five!” I hollered.
Cautiously the Officer started approaching the five downed bad guys. I eased around the counter to provide cover. Liz stayed at the entrance and started keeping the crowd at bay. Her uniform and badge came in handy. And my Ruger in her hand. John stood as rear security, making sure no one surprised us.
The officer carefully kicked away all the guns on the floor, then started checking for vital signs on the downed gangsters. All five were dead or nearly dead with multiple holes in each. The ambush went better than any of us had hoped. As it turned out, the fact that they saw Liz at the entrance and not us, worked in our favor.
Kurowski checked the vital signs on all five. Three were dead outright, two others were out and barely breathing, gasping and gurgling sounds coming from their chest wounds, with 3-5 wounds in the torso of each. The Hurst Police Officer then checked for ID on each of the hoodlums. After finding wallets on four of the five and getting their licenses, he began the task of pulling off their ski masks to visually confirm their IDs. All four matched, but the tall kid had no ID. One kid was 16, one 17, two were 18.
“Hey, should I make a quick trip around the store looking for any other victims?” I asked.
“Yeah, better do that. You and John go ahead, I will stay here with Liz and keep the crowd at bay.”
John came over and asked, “Would you mind if I took the shotgun, Officer? All I have is my pistol and I could use a bit more firepower.”
“Go ahead. He won’t be needing it,” he responded.
John bent down and picked up the 12 gauge and checked it. It was empty and safe. Then he rifled the pockets of the dead kid. He found a total of 12 rounds of #4 shot, loaded three into the gun, chambered one round and put it on safe.
“How about getting one of the pistols for Liz to carry so I can have my Ruger back?” I asked Kurowski.
“Sure, I’ll take care of that while you guys search the store.” Then he started pulling the holster from a guy that had carried a Glock 19.
“OK, John, you go left and I will go right, looking down the aisles, at the end, turn around and wave at me, then we will go down the length of the store to that middle aisle and come in and meet in the middle, then do it again in the back of the store. Got it?”
“Rodger that Ryan!”
John and I split up and started going slowly through the aisles one at a time , looking for victims. It didn’t take long.
I found two dead and one seriously wounded in the bread aisle, John hollered out that he had a couple of wounded and one dead at his end of the store. Officer Kurowski spoke to the gathering crowd and asked for volunteers to come in and assist with the wounded and dead. A handful of folks responded.
After thoroughly searching the store we found a group of eight employees in the back hiding. We let them know it was safe to come out. We found a total of five dead and seven wounded scattered throughout the store.
The store had already been pretty much trashed and the shelves were about half empty. On the way back from the back of the store John and I both stuffed some small items in our pockets and down our shirts.
Once we rejoined Officer Kurowski at the front we led the litter teams to where the victims were. One of the guys on the crowd was an off duty Hurst Fireman; he began treating the wounded.
It looked like things were settling down now, the crowd was backing off instead of rushing in to loot because we had stacked the dead right at the entrance to the store.
With things seemingly under control now, I felt like it was time to leave Officer Kurowski and continue our journey. It was now about 6:00am, and we were far from where I wanted to be camped. I was worn out physically and emotionally.
“Officer, it looks like you have everything under control here now. I would really like to continue our journey. I wanted to be in our camping spot before sunrise, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.”
“Ryan, you guys probably saved my life here tonight, and the lives of others. I would like to make an offer to you. If you can stay for just a while longer, we can all go on together to the PD. I would like you all to make your statements there. An added benefit would be that you could probably spend the day there and sleep inside instead of making a camp. You might pick up some valuable information as well.”
“Well, I hadn’t really thought of that. As beat as I am, knowing the PD is much closer than where I was intending to set up camp, that sounds pretty good to me.”
“You guys ok with that?” I asked Liz and John.
They both consented. They looked as beat as I felt.
“OK, look, we left our stuff back in one of those cars. WE have to go get all that and then we will be right back.”
“Alright, see you in a few.”
We headed through the crowd into the dark and hoped we could find the right car that had our packs. After just a little bit of searching we found the car, retrieved our packs (thank God they weren’t stolen), place our few goods from the store into our packs and returned to the store. Officer Kurowski was letting people into the store with the employees acting as referees. Controlled looting was better than what had been taking place.
Kurowski told the Fireman that we would go by the Fire Station on Precinct Line Rd. and tell them where he was and how many victims. Then we set off into the dark. It was 0630 Wednesday morning, November 7th, 2012. I had killed two teenagers in a gun battle and seen lots of death in the last 18 hours. I felt some of the adrenaline rush effects still, but my legs were getting weak and wobbly. I desperately wanted to get home to be with my wife and son. If they were even home. The scenes of shooting those kids kept replaying in my mind. Welcome to the end of the world as we know it.
Or, back to the beginning: