On Sunday morning, David George, pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Oakville, Wash., delivered his sermon as he does every Sunday. The subject, on Father’s Day, was “The Value of MENtoring,” about how much difference a person can make in the lives of others.
He concluded with a passionate prayer: “Lord,” he said to his congregation in the town of about 700 people, “don’t let us be content as men to just let life go by, to see the world around us burn. God, instead, help us to get involved.”
A few hours later, George, 46, drove about 27 miles with his wife, daughter and granddaughter to a Walmart in Tumwater to make an exchange. While they were in a checkout line to buy additional items, George heard loud bangs from the back of the store. He knew immediately that they were gunshots.
As witnesses and police would later report, a crime rampage was unfolding. A man was firing a handgun at the store’s locked ammunition case to grab more bullets. He had already carjacked a vehicle that day and attempted to hijack another one, firing shots and wounding people along the way, Tumwater police say. Now he was stocking up on ammunition.
As customers fled in fear, the shooter also exited the store and tried to carjack a vehicle in the parking lot. When the driver did not comply, the gunman shot him twice. He then went after a second car at the Walmart, barging into the vehicle.
At that point, Tumwater police said, a civilian confronted the shooter, drawing his handgun, firing and killing the gunman. That same armed civilian then administered medical aid to the carjacking victim until help arrived.
The dead carjacker, later identified by police as Tim Day, 44, wasn’t supposed to have a gun. He was a felon who had served several prison sentences for violent crimes. His criminal history, according to the Seattle Times, included domestic violence, felony assault and making death threats. “He appeared to have maybe some mental-health and drug issues and was acting somewhat paranoid,” Laura Wohl, spokeswoman for the Tumwater Police Department, told the Times.
But, police said, he had taken a weapon from his fiancee. He was clearly prepared to shoot more people, police and bystanders would later report.
The civilian who killed Day was not identified until Wednesday, when he stood in the doorway of the Oakville Assembly of God Church and revealed himself. It was George, who hours earlier had delivered the sermon about getting involved.
His words of prayer were in an entirely different context, helping others find a path to God, not the road to a Walmart where the lives of frightened people were on the line.
But in hindsight, they seem prophetic, a true case of a clergyman practicing what he preached and getting involved.
And if there was a miracle to be had that Sunday, it was that fate dropped into such a hazardous position — with lives at stake — a man so well prepared to save them.
David George, as it happens, is no ordinary pastor. He is also an Oakville volunteer firefighter and EMT who is licensed to carry a concealed firearm and is specifically trained to use it against a gun-wielding criminal. A credentialed firing-range safety officer, George said he had received active-shooter training.
On Wednesday, at times near tears, his voice quavering with emotion, he told the story of what happened Sunday night in a statement he read to reporters. He had previously chosen to stay out of the news, remaining anonymous.
George’s training kicked in when he heard the shots.
“I was sure it was gunshots I heard,” he said, “and I was familiar with how I should respond, while considering mine and the public’s safety in the setting of this large store.”
The first thing he did was make sure his family was safe.
“I was concerned for my own family and sought to find them and exit the building. My daughter, recognizing gunshots, also gathered her daughter and moved quickly to exit the building. I did not see my wife,” he said, “and continued to look for her as people began to realize the situation and run out of the building. At no time did I draw my firearm in the building.”
As he stood there, gun holstered, he said the gunman ran past him, “waving and pointing his gun” as he left the store.
“I followed carefully,” George said, “along with another citizen carrying a firearm,” who was later identified as Jesse Zamora.
George watched as the gunman attempted to carjack the first vehicle, screaming at the driver and then shooting him twice.
“When the driver did not or could not respond to his threats,” George said, “he began to travel in the direction that I thought my family to be. At this point, I left cover and moved to intercept the gunman.”
When the gunman then headed to another vehicle and began threatening the driver, George got into position to have “a safe shot.” At that point, the gunman entered the car he had been attempting to carjack.
Sensing “an even bigger threat” of loss of life, George fired.
The gunman, wounded, tried to get out of the car but fell to the ground as he did.
The pastor yelled at him “to drop the gun and show me his hands.” He got no response. The man was apparently by then dead or dying and “incapacitated,” George said.
George heard a woman yelling for help. Her husband had been shot. George instructed Zamora, the other armed civilian, to stay with Day.
George then rushed to his vehicle, got his first-aid kit, and “responded as my duty and training instructed.” That victim was ultimately flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, about 60 miles northeast of Tumwater, where he remains in critical condition, according to the Seattle Times.
“I acted on Sunday to protect my family and others from the gunman and his display of deadly intent,” George said. “This is in accordance with both my training as an emergency responder and calling as a pastor, husband, father and grandfather.”
George stayed silent until Wednesday for a variety of reasons: to let police investigate and to give him and his family time to “process the events, ensure one another’s well-being and just love each other. . . . This was a traumatic experience for us and all of those involved.”
“The events of last Sunday evening were tragic and shocking from all points of view,” he said. “. . . You need to know that it was not out of shame or regret that I wanted to maintain a small level of anonymity. My intention was and is to maintain the dignity and integrity of my ministry here in Oakville. I did not wish those actions to overshadow the ministry of the church and my service to the community that I love.”