Police: Heroic Safeway employee confronted gunman in store

Aug 28, 2022, 9:53 PM | Updated: Aug 29, 2022, 9:42 pm
The Forum Shopping Center in Bend, Ore. remained closed Monday, Aug. 29, 2022 as police investigate...

The Forum Shopping Center in Bend, Ore. remained closed Monday, Aug. 29, 2022 as police investigated a shooting at the Safeway there that left two people and the suspected gunman dead Sunday night. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

(Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Safeway employee who previously served in the U.S. Army for two decades attacked a gunman in the produce section of the Bend, Oregon, supermarket, police said Monday, possibly preventing more casualties from a shooting that left the employee and one other person dead.

Police hailed the employee, 66-year-old Donald Ray Surrett Jr., of Bend, as a hero and said his actions may have saved shoppers at the store in the high-desert city ringed by mountains in the central part of the state. Customer Glenn Edward Bennett, 84, of Bend, was also killed Sunday evening, police spokeswoman Sheila Miller said.

“Mr. Surrett engaged with the shooter, attempted to disarm him and may very well have prevented further deaths. Mr. Surrett acted heroically turning this terrible event,” Miller said at a news conference as she struggled against tears.

Police said Monday the shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound; his body was found by police near an AR-15-style weapon and a shotgun. Police identified the gunman as Ethan Blair Miller, 20, of Bend.

The gunman lived in an apartment complex behind The Forum Shopping Center. Witnesses said he began shooting Sunday evening as soon as he left the complex and continued firing as he entered the shopping complex’s parking lot and then went into the Safeway.

Bennett was killed at the store’s entrance, police said, and the shooter then moved through the aisles “spraying shots” from the assault rifle until Surrett confronted him. The entire incident — from the first 911 calls to officers discovering the suspect dead in the store — unfolded in four minutes, Miller said.

Police entered the supermarket from the front and rear as shots were still being fired.

Debora Jean Surrett, the ex-wife of the Safeway employee killed in the attack, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that Surrett served in the Army for 20 years as a combat engineer.

He wasn’t deployed to active combat zones, but during the 20 years they were married from 1975 to 1995, they were stationed in Germany three times and lived on military bases across the U.S.

“They’re trained to be the first ones to go into war and the last ones to come home,” she told the AP.

Bend Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Broadman said Americans “need to guard against the cynicism of thinking of these attacks on order and peace as regular, unavoidable things. I won’t accept that.”

“We know that in the face of the kind of chaos that we saw last night, we had brave first responders, brave citizens, people willing to stand up for their neighbors,” he added.

Authorities later found three Molotov cocktails and a sawed-off shotgun in the shooter’s car. The Oregon State Police bomb squad was called in to sweep the store, the car and the suspect’s apartment for explosives, authorities said, forcing the evacuation of eight surrounding apartments on Monday morning.

Miller said reports that there was a second shooter were not true.

Authorities are seeking a search warrant to comb through online materials on an unspecified number of digital devices they found at the shooter’s apartment but declined to comment on reports that the suspect posted his plans online in advance. Bend police are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine where the suspect got his weapons and if he did so legally, Miller said.

“We are aware that the shooter may have posted information online regarding his plan. We’re investigating this,” she said. “We have no evidence of previous threats or prior knowledge of the shooter. We received information about the shooter’s writings after the incident had taken place. And the shooter has no criminal history in the area.”

The shooter graduated from Mountain View High School in Bend in 2020, according to online records, and a former classmate remembered him as an extremely combative person who had few friends.

He was a huge fan of mixed martial arts and “tried to fight everyone at Mountain View and kept getting his (expletive) kicked and he just never learned,” said Isaac Thomas, who was suspended for a week as a freshman for fighting with the gunman. The gunman held onto a grudge from that fight and once threatened to shoot him, Thomas told AP.

“At one point he said he was going to shoot me and I was like, ‘Get over yourself’ because I didn’t think he had a gun, but I guess I was wrong,” Thomas said.

Thomas recalled running into the shooter in 2020 in the parking lot of the Safeway, where the gunman was gathering up carts as part of his job. He recognized him and threatened him again although several years had gone by, Thomas said.

“It was kind of crazy when I heard about it,” he said of the shooting. “But it makes sense that he chose Safeway because he worked there and he knew the layout.”

Oregon’s elected leaders reacted to the shooting Monday with pledges to fight for more gun control.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement that the shooting was one of several in Oregon over weekend and that “Oregonians deserve to be safe from gun violence.”

Oregon residents will vote in November on one of the strictest gun-control measures in the nation. If passed, Measure 114 would ban large capacity magazines over 10 rounds — except for current owners, law enforcement and the military — and require a permit to purchase any gun.

To qualify for a permit, an applicant would need to complete an approved firearm safety course, pay a fee, provide personal information, submit to fingerprinting and photographing and pass a criminal background check. The state police would create a firearms database.

Bend is a city of about 97,000 approximately 160 miles (257 kilometers) southeast of Portland, Oregon.

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Associated Press reporters Claire Rush in Portland; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

___

Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Police: Heroic Safeway employee confronted gunman in store