Prayer and protest: Nation’s latest mass shooting highlights competing messages
ALLEN, Texas — “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…
ALLEN, Texas — A female in the bushes still felt warm, but she had no pulse.
“There was no face,” Steven Spainhouer told The Christian Chronicle, his voice choking with emotion. “There was nothing left.”
Spainhouer — a longtime member of The Branch Church of Christ in the Dallas area — checked another victim, a male, for a pulse.
A third victim spit up blood.
“I said, ‘Are you OK?’ He said, ‘Yes, but Mama’s hurt. Mama’s hurt.’”
“He expired in front of me,” said Spainhouer, 63, a former military officer and policeman who owns a risk management and safety company.
Next he noticed a child, whom he guessed to be about 4, covered in blood from head to toe. He couldn’t tell if the blood was the child’s or a family member’s.
“I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl,” Spainhouer said. “I said, ‘Are you OK?’ He said, ‘Yes, but Mama’s hurt. Mama’s hurt.’
“The first police officer who showed up, I said, ‘Take the child.’ He said, ‘Is he hurt?’ I said, ‘I have no idea. Just take him. I don’t want him to go into shock.’”
As a U.S. Army captain, Spainhouer trained for combat.
But he never dreamed he’d experience such bloodshed in the bustling shopping center a few miles from his home.
“I never thought I’d see combat-like casualties in a mall in one of the safest cities in the U.S.,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to this suburb of 105,000 people, about 30 miles north of Dallas. “I’m sad.”
His Saturday afternoon ordeal began with a frantic call from his 25-year-old son, Freddie, an H&M clothing store associate at the Allen Premium Outlets.
“Dad, don’t come for lunch,” the University of North Texas graduate told his father. “They’re shooting up the store.”
Rather than stay away, Steven and his wife, Maritza, sped toward the mall.
The couple arrived before most first responders to the scene of the nation’s latest mass shooting.
The massacre lasted less than four minutes but left eight victims dead, including three children, and seven wounded.
As hundreds fled in panic, Spainhouer jumped in to help victims.
He urged his wife, who is legally blind, to stay in the car.
“I stopped about 50 feet from the H&M store,” Spainhouer recalled. “There was a guy standing outside, and he was frantically waving his arms and yelling, ‘I need help.’”
“I could see people on the ground, and I knew I had a bad situation. So my police officer training kicked in.”
He asked the man which direction the shooter headed and relayed that information to a 911 operator.
By that time, the gunman was already dead. But Spainhouer had no way of knowing that.
“I could see people on the ground, and I knew I had a bad situation,” he said. “So my police officer training kicked in.”
His quick response did not surprise Chris Seidman, The Branch’s lead minister and the family’s preacher since December 2000.
In a world of “keyboard warriors,” Seidman said, Spainhouer is a man of strong faith and convictions whose activism extends beyond his social media posts.
“What struck me about this,” the preacher said, “was him heading into a situation that was highly volatile to seek to do what he could to help.”
A video that spread on social media showed a gunman exiting his vehicle and opening fire outside H&M just after 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The assailant, wearing tactical gear, was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, according to a statement by President Joe Biden. In all, the shooter had three firearms on him and five in his vehicle, all legally purchased, authorities said.
Freddie, Spainhouer’s son, said he heard “muffled pops” while on a break at H&M.
“At first I thought it was like a shelf that tumbled over,” he told the Chronicle. “And then there were multiple pops.”
When he and a co-worker realized the pops were gunfire, they helped usher other employees and shoppers — including a woman who had been shot — into a stockroom.
“We started moving totes and boxes and whatever we could find to barricade the doors,” Freddie said.
Meanwhile, a police officer on an unrelated call heard the shots and killed the assailant, identified as Mauricio Garcia, 33.
The officer, whose name has not been released, “distinguished himself in an exemplary manner when he immediately addressed an attacker who was injuring and murdering innocent victims,” Allen Police Chief Brian Harvey said.
Those who died were Cho Kyu Song, 37; Kang Shin Young, 35; James Cho, 3; Daniela Mendoza, 11; Sofia Mendoza, 8; Christian LaCour, 20; Elio Cumana-Rivas, 32; and Aishwarya Thatikonda, 26.
The killer was kicked out of the Army during basic training in 2008, said Hank Sibley, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s North Texas regional director. Mental health issues were the reason for his dismissal, according to The Associated Press.
“The big question we’re dealing with right now is: What’s his motive? Why did he do this?” Sibley said. “We do know that he had neo-Nazi ideation. He had patches. He had tattoos.”
But the DPS official said, “To me, it looks like he targeted people based on the location rather than a specific group of people. He was very random in the people he killed. It didn’t matter the age, race or sex. He just shot people, which is horrific in itself.”
“I only saw suffering and tried to stop it, saw despair and tried to comfort, hopelessness and tried to give hope. Anyone can do that. Everyone should.”
Spainhouer said he does not consider himself a hero.
Rather, he describes his son as a hero.
“He saved lives,” the father said on Twitter. “I’m very proud of him.”
In another tweet, he identified the heroes as “the 911 operators, the store employees who took immediate actions to save lives of shoppers, the police officer who took out the shooter & those who responded to assist in trying to save lives.”
Later, he wrote: “I only saw suffering and tried to stop it, saw despair and tried to comfort, hopelessness and tried to give hope. Anyone can do that. Everyone should.”
As happens after every mass shooting, the Allen massacre reignited the debate on gun control.
In the wake of Saturday’s attack, Biden, a Democrat, reiterated his call for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as enacting universal background checks, requiring safe storage of weapons and ending immunity for gun manufacturers.
But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, rejected the need for gun control and instead emphasized the importance of mental health funding, the Dallas Morning News noted.
After what he witnessed, Spainhouer has a strong opinion about the prevalence of what he calls “people-killer weapons.”
“I firmly believe in our Second Amendment,” he said. “I have guns. They’re locked up. They’re secure. I’ve trained people on how to use guns. I have no problem with sporting rifles, collectibles, people who want to wear a pistol.
Related: Have we had enough?
Related: Have we had enough?
“But I think if we could limit access to some of the high-capacity weapons that are designed for nothing more than people-killing … I just don’t think those weapons … belong on any of our streets in the United States,” he added. “And I wish we could put some curbs on people having access to those things.”
All the mental health funding in the world won’t make a difference, in his opinion, “if we allow people to have access to these killer weapons.”
After what they saw and experienced, both Spainhouer and his son intend to seek crisis counseling.
And each plans to lean on Jesus.
“The only thing I’m doing right now is to move forward,” Freddie said, “because if I constantly live in fear, I know for a fact that the terrorists — or even worse yet, the devil — will win. And I’m pretty sure that God does not want that.”
Freddie said he’s praying for healing, recovery and peace — for himself and everyone touched by the Allen shooting.
For this family, faith in God is more than a mantra.
It’s the way they live their lives.
Given Maritza’s visual impairment, the family sits close to the front at worship. That allows her to “at least make out the outlines of people,” Seidman said. (She did not want to be interviewed as she deals with her trauma from Saturday’s shooting.)
“It’s very easy to see what they’re made of by the adversity they’ve walked through in their lives,” the minister said. “And their lives have been … tilted toward hope and, I would say, a joy that is very durable.”
Long-term challenges make some people bitter.
Related: ‘God, we come with broken hearts’
Related: ‘God, we come with broken hearts’
“But that’s not them,” Seidman said. “And they’re people of prayer. They are often found down front seeking prayer from our prayer teams following the services, and they have really modeled what it is to lean on the Lord.”
Steven Spainhouer’s roots in Churches of Christ go back multiple generations.
The former military officer, who served 14 years in the Army, said his father taught him the importance of living by faith — in good times and bad.
“Bad things will happen over which you have no control,” he said he learned as a boy, long before the Allen shooting.
“But as long as you’re centered in your faith — and you know that you’ve got a Lord and a Savior who will equip you with the tools to get through whatever you have in life — that’s the best counseling ever.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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