Mayor Mike Rawlings had gotten home from burying his mother-in-law in East Texas and was eating a tuna sandwich while watching the Texas Rangers baseball game around 10 p.m. Thursday when his assistant called with news of officers shot in downtown Dallas. Rawlings changed out of his shorts and T-shirt, put on slacks and a button-down. An officer in his detail picked him up in a black Suburban. With lights flashing, they headed to downtown Dallas. They doubled his security from two to four officers.
Rawlings met Dallas Police Chief David Brown in the emergency operations center, on the bottom floor of Dallas City Hall. There were about 40 people — officers, firefighters, city personnel — sitting in the large operations room, television screens broadcasting the news and social media feeds. People kept arriving, and the number grew to roughly 100. It was chaos, bits and pieces of information trailing in, as Rawlings and Brown moved around the room, talking and gathering information.
“It was a big jigsaw puzzle of information coming in, and we were trying to fit together all the pieces.”
“Hard part early on was not knowing what we didn’t know,” Rawlings said.
Rawlings was told three officers had been shot; others were being treated at local hospitals. And although the mayor knew their injuries were serious, they were optimistic that everyone else would survive. Then sometime before 11 p.m., Brown walked over and told him a fourth officer had died. The entire room seemed to deflate with the news. Three had been bad. Four seemed impossible.
“My God,” Rawlings said.
Brown was managing the operation, getting reports from officers trying to talk to the suspect. He got word that the suspect was not cooperating – he was shooting at officers – so officers began discussing plans to use a robot to detonate a bomb. That would give the suspect only two options: Leave or get blown up.
“He [Brown] told me that they had a methodology where they bring in a robot with an explosive. When somebody is trapped in a room, you come out, or you get blown up,” Rawlings said.
Brown walked to the front of the operations room to address the group. He said, “Alright, we’ve got this guy and we’ve been trying to talk to him, but he’s swearing at us and he wants to kill us and he’s not being cooperative,” according to the mayor. “So I’ve asked for options to take him out.”
But the suspect had said he had surrounded his lair with bombs. So they were worried if they set off a bomb, they would activate others, too. They had to proceed carefully.
“There was a real nervousness, about bombs in general,” Rawlings said.
“No one was heartbroken that he wouldn’t come out,” he said later.
The chief slipped into a car, followed by the mayor in his, to head to the hospital. He told the mayor he had authorized his troops to use deadly force. And then the men waited. Rawlings was impatient, hoping for word. Every time a phone call came in, they thought it would be news.
Brown and Rawlings walked through Parkland Hospital, going from room to room, on different floors, visiting wounded officers and going into bereavement rooms for those who had died.
They saw an officer who had been shot through the triceps and the calf. They walked into a room and met the family of a fallen officer. It was a large family, and they talked about how much the officer loved his job. “They were just so sad,” Rawlings said.
“But then we went to a second room,” Rawlings said. “It was a mother and two teenage daughters. You could feel it in the room, the loneliness of those three. You could see that the mother felt the entire world was on her shoulders. And she greeted us with such class and grace. It was just heartbreaking.”
“I told those girls how proud we all were of their father, and that we were going to take care of these families,” Rawlings said.
Brown hugged the families and spoke to them. The mayor was more formal; he told them how important the officers were, how the citizens of Dallas would never forget them.
Between visit with families, Brown got word that a fifth officer had died at Baylor, another hospital across town. They were still trying to contact the officer’s relatives. They couldn’t believe it.
“We were thinking, when is it going to stop? Five officers killed – this just doesn’t happen in the United States of America.”
Shortly after, Brown got word from his officers that the bomb had detonated.
“The suspect is down,” he told Rawlings.
“Is he dead?” Rawlings asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Brown replied.
Then they went into a waiting room at Parkland. It was filled with officers, some of them wounded. Nurses and doctors. Family and friends. As Rawlings looked around the room he was struck by its diversity – black, white, Hispanic, young, old, men, women. Trouble with diversity was what had landed them all here, Rawlings thought.
“Somehow, it was just really uplifting to look around that room,” he said. “It felt like a family – a big, diverse family – coming together.”
“It wasn’t just officers standing in a row in their uniforms, looking picture perfect. It was more out of ‘Hill Street Blues.’ Real people.”
The chief stepped in front of the room. Nothing is going to tear us apart, he said, according to the mayor. We’re going to get through this together.
Then he announced to the room that they had gotten the suspect. It seemed one of the only high points of the night.
“There were no high fives,” Rawlings said. “No one cheered. But there were some slight smiles. Like, alright. We got this son of a bitch.”