TUCSON - Some of the first deputies to arrive at the scene of the Jan. 8 shooting rampage here described a scene of "silent chaos" on Friday, and they added that the carnage probably would have been much worse without the help of a $99 first-aid kit that recently became standard-issue.
Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies said they were dispatched to what they believed was a routine shooting. But they arrived, they found a blood-drenched parking lot that looked more like the scene of a plane crash. Sgt. Gilberto Caudillo got on his radio and pleaded, "Send every ambulance you have out here."
"Innocent people looked like they were just massacred," Caudillo said Friday.
He was among about 10 sheriff's deputies who found themselves doing the duties of paramedics rather than police. In the six minutes before paramedics flooded the site, they had to stanch chest wounds, open injured airways, apply tourniquets and try to calm down victims and the blood-covered bystanders who tried to help.
"We told them, 'All the bad stuff is over, you're safe. We'll stay by your side,' " said Deputy Matthew Salmon.
In the end, 13 of those shot survived, while six did not. One of the injured, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was the last person still hospitalized until Friday morning, when she was discharged and transported to a rehabilitation facility in Texas.
Doctors and law enforcement officials told reporters here that the incident would have been much worse without a small brown kit devised by David Kleinman, a SWAT team medic who had become concerned about rising violence.
Kleinman cobbled together the Individual First Aid Kits out of simple items used by combat medics in Iraq and Afghanistan: an emergency bandage pioneered by the Israeli army; a strip of gauze that contains a substance which coagulates blood on contact; a tactical tourniquet; shears that are sturdy and sharp enough to slice off victims' clothing; and sealing material that works especially well on chest wounds.
The items in the kit were each inexpensive; the Israeli bandage, for example, cost only $6, but deputies reached for one "over and over at the scene," Kleinman said.
It is unusual for police officers to carry such medical equipment, but Capt. Byron Gwaltney, who coordinated the sheriff's office's response to the shooting, said it proved crucial in this case because the deputies were the first to arrive.
"It would have been a lot worse" without those tools, Gwaltney said. The deputies were trained to use the kit, in a program the Pima force called "First Five Minutes," six months ago.
The deputies who initially responded said they were not the ones who arrested the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner. Instead, their focus was conducting triage through the parking lot: figuring out who was dead, who was injured and who was simply a helpful person who had jumped in to help.
They used the tourniquets and gauze to stop the bleeding. They used a chest seal, also in the kit, to close bullet wounds. They used the shears in the kit to cut off the victims' clothes.
"When I look back, I don't know if we drowned out the moans to focus or if it was quiet," said Deputy Ryan Inglett, who treated several victims with combat gauze and assisted in CPR. "This is something I will never forget."