“I’ve Walked Through This Kind of Firestorm”

Eight police officers sat across from me in a fluorescent-lit conference room. They looked exhausted, shell-shocked. Beside me sat a fellow member of the Southwest Ohio Critical Incident Stress Management Team. We’re a group of police officers, firefighters, paramedics chaplains and mental health professionals who help first responders deal with trauma.

It was four in the morning, August 4, 2019. We were in the headquarters of the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department. Hours earlier, these officers had been on routine patrol in Dayton’s popular and crowded Oregon District. A lone gunman wearing body armor and carrying a high-powered rifle waded into the crowd and shot 26 people in 32 seconds.

The officers reacted quickly, shooting and killing the gunman less than a minute after his rampage started. Even so, nine victims died, including the gunman’s sibling.

Encouraged by my CISM team colleague and me, the officers tried to put what they’d seen into words.

“It all happened so fast.”

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