One of the scariest things affecting the lives of people across the U.S. today is the prospect of getting caught up in a mass-shooting incident. Raising difficult questions about gun control and the right to bear arms, random shootings are a fear embedded deep inside the American psyche.
As people sat drinking coffee in Cincinnati’s Fountain Square one Thursday morning, they weren’t prepared for what was about to happen in this usually peaceful setting. When the shooting stopped, and the dust settled, the lives of many people would be changed forever.
Fountain Square is one of the main features for the good people of Cincinnati and is a symbol of the city. Featuring coffee shops selling fresh donuts and great pastries, Fountain Square is a place where locals and tourists alike gather for their morning coffee. The square dates all the way back to 1871 when it replaced a butcher’s market.
The Genius of Water
Having been founded in 1871, then renovated twice in 1971 and 2005, Fountain Square features shops, restaurants, and hotels and is usually bustling with people. Originally named “The Genius of Water,” a reference to its magnificent water fountain, the plaza has been expanded over the years and is a place many tourists visit in the city.
People were enjoying their routine morning coffee in the busy square, but this Thursday would be very different from all others for all the wrong reasons. A young man wearing a white buttoned-down shirt and dark pants had a black work bag slung over his shoulder as he ordered himself a coffee from Starbucks.
The young man, Omar Santa Perez, blended in perfectly with the array of bankers, lawyers and other professionals who frequented the square. Nothing about Perez looked suspicious. What was about to happen couldn’t be predicted by anyone.
In the Bag
It’s not clear what was in Perez’s mind that morning, but inside of his black bag, he had a secret. As it turned out, that bag contained a 9mm handgun along with 250 bullets. Perez spoke to no one as he sipped his takeout coffee, sitting quietly at a table near to the entrance of the lobby of Fifth Third Center.
Just Past Nine
At precisely 9:06 a.m., Perez got up from his seat having finished his coffee and calmly walked into the lobby with the black bag still over his shoulder. When he took his gun out of the bag and started shooting at random, everyone scrambled for safety.
Hit the Ground
Just as Eboni Ginyard was brewing some fresh coffee behind the counter at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, she heard the first shot. As the sound was unfamiliar to her, she thought it might have come from the construction site, but she was wrong. When her customers jumped to the ground, she knew a shooter was out there and feared for her life.
Ginyard could smell the gunpowder and heard people screaming words she couldn’t quite make out. As she laid as flat on the ground as she could, she dared not even lift her head to get a better look. Her life flashed before her eyes as she laid there hoping it wouldn’t be her turn next.
Just across the way on Walnut Street, a worker from the construction site noticed a commotion. Roger Higginbotham was used to loud noises because of his job, but he knew gunfire when he heard it. He knew it was a bad idea, but his curiosity got the better of him. He made his way over to the center as a homeless man on the street nearby informed him: “Somebody’s shooting a gun!”
With all the pandemonium and the fact that it all happened so quickly, it was hard for anyone to retain any form of composure. A woman named Bella, having realized what was going on, pulled out her cell phone as she sat in a bathroom at Graeter’s just across the street. Bella was petrified but tried to remain calm.
Help on the Way
“What’s going on?” the operator asked, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t know,” Bella said. “We’re hearing what kind of sounded like gunshots.” Bella’s voice quivered as she listened to the operator. “Alright, sweetheart,” the operator said calmly, “I want you to stay where you are.” The dispatch center had already received hundreds of calls.
The police response was rapid as officers were already present on Walnut Street near the square. Officers Jennifer Chilton, Gregory Toyeas, Antonio Etter and Eric Kaminsky rushed to the scene, guns drawn at the ready. The four officers took cover at strategic points near to the shooter, waiting to make their move and put an end to this incident.
Shooting at Random
Often the worst part of mass-shootings is the random way in which people are wounded and killed. The crazed gunman fired at people as they dove underneath desks. He also shot at them while they ran and sprayed bullets into an elevator door as it closed. The shooter hit his target at least five times, and the blood began to flow.
Whitney Austin was on a conference call as she entered the lobby through the revolving doors. As soon as she was inside a bullet hit her. Perez then fired another 11 bullets in her direction. She was lucky to escape with her life, but other people weren’t so lucky.
While it could have been a lot worse, mass-shootings never end well. Richard Newcomer, 64, lost his life in the incident, as did Prudhvi Raj Kandepi, 25, and Luis Calderon, 48, who only moved to Cincinnati a year prior to work at a bank there. But the shooter was cold-blooded as he continued to shoot at anything that moved.
Caught on Camera
As people watched in horror from an office building just across the way, one man took out his phone and started recording. He posted his footage to Facebook with the caption: “The police converging on the building. People running from the square. The sound of distant gunshots.” The man added: “It’s crazy,” at the end of the post as people felt helpless and scared.
Take Him Down
As officer Chilton moved carefully towards the shooter with her colleagues, she screamed: “Shots, shots, shots!” as she stepped out bravely from behind a wall and tackled the shooter. The shots smashed through the window of the lobby as the other officers discharged their weapons.
The officers, who were all well-trained when it came to firearms, had struck Perez, bringing him to the ground like a sack of potatoes. It was a stroke of luck that his gun jammed at the time, giving officers valuable seconds to compose themselves and put an end to this heinous and senseless mass-shooting.
According to CBS affiliate WKRC-TV, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley spoke in the highest terms about the brave officers who put an end to the shooting. He noted that “If he had gotten on the elevator, gone up to a floor, if he had been there earlier or a little bit longer, many more people would have been killed.”
As another mass-shooting in America sinks in, the people of Cincinnati mourn the loss of innocent citizens who shouldn’t have been killed that day. At least 300 people gathered to carry out a vigil in Fountain Square, just a few meters from the shooting. People there offered messages of hope, comfort, and support for the deceased as well as for their families.