'We had a single mission and we were focused on that'

'We had a single mission and we were focused on that'

CLACKAMAS, Ore. - Imagine what it's like to get a call that there is a shooter on the loose in the mall, perhaps even two of them, and it's your job to find them and defuse the situation.

On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Roberts walked into the Clackamas Town Center with an AR-15 rifle and opened fire. As the chaos unfolded, there was a rush of 9-1-1 calls and it didn't take long for law enforcement to arrive.

Deputy John Gibson with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office was one of the first ones to walk through the mall doors as terrified people were running in the opposite direction.

And he didn't know exactly what he would find once he got inside.

"When we first got there we had reports of two different masked people at the mall," he said. "And as it turns out there had been, but they were completely unrelated. But it sounded like we had two masked potential shooters at the mall."

Sgt. Scott Anderson, also with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, said the radios were going crazy and some of the initial reports were not reliable. But he and the others who were first on the scene did not know that at the time.

"When I went in, I had reports that Santa Claus had been shot and there was a child shot in the food court," Anderson said. "Those turned out to be false but those were the kinds of updates we were getting as we were going in."

Now think about how big the mall is - there is over a million square feet of space that had to be searched and cleared.

"That's huge - it's enormous," said Sgt. Robert Wurpes, another first responder. "It's hard to wrap your head around. You are somewhat confident as you are clearing through there, but you know you are missing a lot. There's always that potential for something to sneak up behind you and that was of great concern."

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There also could have been a fire for emergency responders to contend with. When the shots rang out, food workers rushed to hide and left everything turned on, including stoves and ovens.

"There's a small pretzel shop on the first floor and as we were clearing out the mall and clearing out the small stores, there was thick, black smoke billowing out of there," said Anderson. "And I could see it was coming from the oven. They just left so fast they didn't turn off the oven."

"I actually handed my rifle to another cop that was standing there and jumped over the counter," Anderson added. "And I couldn't figure out how to turn off their oven, so I just opened it and pulled all the pretzels out."

Despite the challenges, those who were first on the scene remained calm and did their jobs.

"We had a single mission and we were focused on that," said Anderson. "I was aware of the chaos around me, but it wasn't confusing because we were all super focused on finding the shooter and stopping him - and that was it."

These guys are trained for this type of volatile situation and knew exactly what to do. They've even trained at the Clackamas Town Center for just such an event.

"The same doors that I used for this real mission were the same doors that we had used for the scenarios and mock missions," said Gibson. "So for me, it was deja vu. I'd been here before. I knew what had to happen and it just made sense."

"Our training paid off," Wurpes said. "It makes me take training more seriously. It makes me think about what we can do to prepare better for the next event."

The first responders talked about their experiences on Friday, the same day that a gunman went on a killing spree at a school in Connecticut. Their hearts are going out to that community, which is dealing with a similar, but much worse, situation.

"It's horrible," said Wurpes. "There's just no two ways to say that. It's just horrible. And it's just horrible to think about."

"It angers me," said Gibson. "Especially when we're talking about innocent men, women and children that aren't there to defend themselves or have the ability to defend themselves. Just the cowardness of it. It just angers me. It's senseless."

From left to right - Sgt. Robert Wurpes, Sgt. Scott Anderson and Deputy John Gibson.