Editor’s Note: The Rant’s Billy Liggett wrote this piece for Campbell University’s Campbell Magazine (spring 2015 edition). Click the link at the bottom of this introduction for the full story …
The sound of two shots fired — even from just a few hundred yards away — gives Lt. John Arroyo a moment’s pause as he gets out of his car at 4 p.m. on April 2, 2014, at Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, Texas.
These are common sounds at any hour of the day for a military base, and on this day, Arroyo is more focused on getting to his battalion headquarters to finish a project (he’s 13 hours into another 15-hour work day) than he is on trying to figure out two quasi-irregular gunshots.
His eyes set on the doors of his building, Arroyo also pays little attention to the car approaching him at a faster-than-normal speed for parking lot traffic. Within moments, Arroyo hears a third shot, and before the echo leaves his ear, he feels a searing pain in the front of his neck and in his right shoulder.
His reflex is to reach for the pain — and the sudden gush of blood — with both hands, but his right arm isn’t responding to instinct. His eyes water. The wind has been knocked out of him. The car is no longer visible.
Arroyo knows he’s been shot, and despite the fact that he’s still (surprisingly) alert and able to breath, fear starts setting in.
He stumbles back to his car and collapses next to it. Still clutching his throat, Arroyo’s mind starts racing. “Is this it? Is this how I’m going to die?” He thinks about his wife and his children.
Alone, Arroyo starts closing his eyes. A sense of calm comes over him, until he’s jarred awake by a clear, loud voice.
His eyes flash open. “Did I say that?” he wonders. “Did someone yell at me? Did I hear God?”
Arroyo finds the strength to stand up — left hand clutching his throat — and he starts walking toward the building again. He sees a man walking toward him, and in desperation, Arroyo tries to call out to him for help. But he can’t muster even a whisper. He then notices the man in front of him — barely 10 feet away — is holding what could be a weapon and moving erratically.
It’s the man who just shot him. And he doesn’t even notice Arroyo standing there.
The man gets to the building first, and Arroyo hears more gunshots. Then he hears loud voices from behind him.
“Are you OK? What happened?”
The soldiers calling out to Arroyo will later tell him they thought he was wearing a red scarf that was flapping in the wind, his neck so covered in blood that it’s soaking his shirt. Arroyo, who couldn’t call out to the shooter moments before, answers the soldiers.
“I’ve been shot. There’s a shooter.”
The soldiers load Arroyo into the back of a truck and speed toward the emergency room — only a few miles away. He is surprised he can still breathe — his only problem is the soldiers’ hands grabbing his throat to stop the bleeding are actually choking him in the process.
He focuses on that breathing as trees and buildings speed by him from above. He’s handed over to ER medics and rushed inside a chaotic emergency room. Lying on a stretcher, Arroyo, for the first time in a 15-minute span that will change his life forever, feels safe.
He closes his eyes, and finally lets go.