The First Five Chapters of
I’d never drawn my gun in public before. Everything about it felt wrong, scary even, but it had to be done.
He had barreled through the front door, cursing and shooting wildly. “Everyone down on the floor! Now!”
Screams pierced the air as people dove for the floor. I ducked behind a kiosk with deposit and withdrawal slips, just as a light fixture exploded above my head. A few feet away, an old woman cowered behind a customer service desk. She closed her eyes and crossed herself. I could see her lips move as she prayed silently.
A small girl clung to her mother. “I don’t want to die,” I heard her say, and her mother squeezed her tightly, shielding her.
The gunman jumped onto the first desk he saw, a crazed look in his eyes. He hurled a small duffel bag at the tellers. It flew over my head, landing just behind me.
“Money in the fucking bag! Now!” he shouted. Dust and debris rained down on us as more bullets shredded the ceiling tiles. “Move it!”
How many shots did he fire? If I’d been thinking clearly, maybe I would have counted. But I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was terrified.
My palms were sweaty and my stomach churned. His gun boomed like a cannon, echoing off the walls. I jumped with every shot.
I have to get out of here. I didn’t want to wait for whatever happened next, but he was between me and the exit. I didn’t dare make a run for it. I had no idea what kind of shot this guy was, and I wasn’t about to find out.
My thoughts quickly turned to my family. Will I ever see them again? Will I ever play with my kids again? Will I ever kiss my wife again?
Is this guy going to kill someone?
Is he going to kill me?
I tried to consider my options, but I couldn’t think clearly between the fear and the deafening gunfire.
Nothing prepares you for a situation like this.
My eyes darted in all directions. People cowered in corners, women screamed with every shot fired, babies cried. The tellers scrambled to gather as much cash as they could, frantically shoving it into the duffel bag.
How long until he kills someone?
Seconds passed like hours.
I knew what I had to do.
“Hurry up!” the gunman shouted. He fired more shots, and screams echoed again.
My pistol rested in the holster inside my waistband near the small of my back. I carried it with me everywhere, never really believing I’d actually need it. Hoping I’d never need it. I’d met police officers twenty years on the force who’d never fired their weapons in the line of duty.
Nervously, I reached back and slowly slid the gun from its holster, keeping it behind me. It was a P30SK 9mm made by Heckler & Koch. It had ten rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. I’d fired it hundreds of times, but never at another human being.
Crouched behind the counter, hidden from his view, I slowly brought the pistol around in front of me. My hands shook from fear and nerves. I closed my eyes and took a breath.
Is this really happening?!
I took another quick look around. One of the tellers locked eyes with me. She saw what I was doing. She shook her head, and with a look, begged me not to do it.
More yelling, another shot, and we all jumped.
I peered out from behind the table. He was about twenty feet away, still up on the desk, waving his gun and shouting commands.
I dipped back behind the kiosk, closed my eyes again and took a deep breath.
It didn’t feel real, almost like I was watching from the outside.
I got down up one knee, and slowly leaned out just far enough to get my pistol around the edge of my hiding place. His elevated position meant my background was clear. No one would be hit if I missed.
Raising my pistol, I prayed he wouldn’t see me before I could fire. My hands shook as I took aim.
I tried to remember my training, but fear wiped my mind blank. I was going to have to rely on muscle memory and luck.
The pistol felt heavier than usual in my hands.
My head was spinning with a thousand thoughts and questions.
This is crazy!
Am I really about to shoot at this guy? What if I miss?
What if he shoots me?
What if I don’t do it? No, I have to do it.
I’d practiced with my weapon hundreds of times, but now it was for real. Now it counted.
I leaned against the edge of the table and steadied myself the best I could. As my hands shook, I attempted to align the sights on his chest.
I took a slow, deep breath.
Oh my god…
I slowly pressed the trigger. POP! The sound was deafening.
The bullet struck him in the chest, just below his right collarbone. His eyes opened wide from shock as the impact knocked him backwards. He teetered at the edge of the desk but managed to regain his balance.
How did he not fall?!
It didn’t take him long to realize where the shot had come from. He glared at me and pointed his gun in my direction. I didn’t hear anything as he pulled the trigger. My ears were still ringing from my first shot.
I took aim at his head and fired again.
Between my shaking hands and his wobbly movements, I missed. The vaulted window behind him exploded, and glass rained down on the floor.
He startled as the bullet whizzed by his ear, and then he took aim at me again.
He extended his pistol and fired. Again I heard nothing but the ringing in my ears and the screams all around me.
I couldn’t block it out, so I would have to deal with it. I took another deep breath, hugged the edge of the kiosk, adjusted my sight picture, and fired again. This time the bullet found its mark, exploding his right eye and penetrating his brain cavity. He toppled backwards off the desk, landing hard on the floor, where he lay motionless.
He was dead. That much I knew.
The shootout lasted only a few seconds, though it felt a lot longer.
I remained down on one knee, arms out, pistol up for a while. I started to shake all over as the adrenaline dump kicked in.
Despite the ringing in my ears, all I could hear was my heart pounding. I smelled the smoke of my gun. Everything else faded away.
Moments later, the front doors of the bank burst open as SWAT came crashing through behind a cloud of smoke. They fanned out, guns raised, shouting at everyone to get down, don’t move.
Smoke filled the air and my eyes began to water.
I dropped my gun and raised my hands high over my head.
Someone grabbed me roughly and threw me to the floor. A knee was pressed hard into my back as my hands were bound behind me with zip ties. More than one gun was trained at my head.
Someone asked me to identify myself.
Was I a police officer?
Was I ex-military?
My name is Dr. Simon Spero.
I’m an optometrist.
And I can’t believe what I just did.
One year earlier...
“You’re gonna be gone how long?!”
Sara was busy filling a large duffel bag she’d just pulled out from under our bed.
“Eight weeks,” she replied.
“Eight weeks?” I said, trying to look shocked and dismayed. “And the boys?”
“’Only seven?’” I marched around the room, pretending to be upset. “And what am I supposed to do while you’re gone?”
“Work. You have your practice to keep you busy,” she said.
I’d been an optometrist for eighteen years, and owned my own practice for fifteen. Sara knew how much I hated being away from the office for very long, but she was certainly taking some liberty with that fact right now.
She stopped what she was doing and looked at me.
“Simon, what are you complaining about? You’re going to have two months of peace and quiet around here. You’re gonna love it.”
Damn straight, I thought.
With that, she returned to packing.
“Besides,” she continued, “Mandy will be here to keep you company.”
Mandy was our two-year-old Wheaten Terrier we’d adopted as a puppy. Mandy’s mom was rescued from a terrible situation, but when the adoption agency learned she was pregnant, her puppies needed a home. We were thrilled when Mandy came to stay.
As if on cue, Mandy jumped up onto the bed to inspect what Sara was doing. She was wagging her tail, walking all over the piles Sara had been building, and sticking her nose in everything.
“And where exactly is this camp?” I asked.
It felt like I should keep the act going a little longer.
“Maine?! Could you pick one a little farther away next time?!”
“I could. We could always go to Seattle,” she teased. “It’ll be fine, Simon. You’ll come and visit.”
“You sure about that?” I quipped.
She looked up at me as she folded a pair of pants and smiled.
“It’ll be fine,” she said again. That was Sara’s favorite thing to say when she was trying to be reassuring. ‘It’ll be fine.’ And it was usually directed at me. “Besides, the boys are gonna love it.”
That was probably true. An all-boys sports camp did sound pretty great. Jordan and Brock had sprinted to their rooms when they heard the news, and had already begun packing. From the sounds of it, they were taking everything they owned.
I placed my hands on the bed and looked across at Sara, who was still folding away, and let out a sigh. With as much phony bravado as I could muster I said, “I suppose I can hold down the fort while you’re gone.”
Mandy licked my face in agreement, and jumped down from the bed.
Sara put down the hoodie she was folding and walked around to my side of the bed. She placed her hands on my face, got up on her toes, pulled me in and, with quite a bit of sarcasm, said, “My hero.”
She gave me a quick peck on the lips and then returned to her packing.
“I’m only doing this for the boys,” she said. “Believe me, I’d much rather spend my summer reading and relaxing than looking after however many kids they stick me with.”
Sara didn’t know how to relax.
She was a teacher, so she’d become accustomed to working hard. And even though she had summers off, she never spent them reading or relaxing. She’d spent every summer for the last eight years working wherever the boys went to camp. Usually it was a local day camp and we were all together for dinner every night.
But this time she’d gotten an amazing offer from this sleep-away camp in Maine, and it was too good to pass up. Or so she said.
“One of the best camps in the country.”
“An amazing opportunity for the boys.”
“Peace and quiet for you.”
She could have written the brochure.
But it also meant eight weeks away from her. And the boys.
I couldn't deny that I was excited about the time alone, but a part of me was sad.
Since we were married, we’d never been apart more than a few days. A conference here or a guy (or girl) trip there. But now we were talking almost two months.
Sara and I met on a blind date seventeen years ago. It was one of those rare fix ups that actually worked. We had the same dentist who, for some reason, thought we’d hit it off.
He was right.
With her permission, he called me, told me a little about Sara, and gave me her number.
I’d like to say, “And the rest was history,” but it wasn’t that easy.
Me, I knew right away. On our first date. It just felt right.
But Sara was a few years younger, had just finished grad school, and wasn’t thinking about long-term relationships. She was still thinking about where the next party was. She wasn’t ready.
We had a pleasant enough time, but we just weren’t in the same place.
I took her home and Sara was convinced she’d never see me again. I later learned that, upon returning home, her mom told her, “He’s the one.” To which Sara replied, “Not a chance.”
We would date on and off for the next two years before something clicked for Sara and she was ready for more. She was tired of dating assholes, and she realized she had a good thing with me and didn’t want to blow it. Which she almost had.
Patience isn’t my strong suit, but lucky for her, I’m the forgiving sort. And I was nuts about her to boot.
Fifteen years later and we were still happily married.
Now, Sara was racing around the house, checking her list, making sure she didn’t forget to pack anything important.
“What can I do to help?”
Now that I was done pretending to be upset, I could start pretending like I wanted to help.
“I have four days to pack up three people for nearly two months. You wanna help? Stay out of my way.”
That, I can do.
“Are they gone?”
“Yup. Dropped them off at the airport this morning.”
“How you doing? You okay?”
Vera was the sweetest woman I’d ever known. In her sixty-two years on this earth, I don’t think she’d ever put her own needs before the needs of others. She was my office manager, had been since the first week I opened my practice. I was extremely lucky to have her. Patients loved her and many came back year after year because of her.
When I first started out, I went door to door, introducing myself to my fellow tenants and neighbors, hoping to get some referrals and cultivate some new patients.
Vera was working for a grumpy, overweight internal medicine doc in the next building over. His favorite activity, besides eating, was yelling. It didn’t matter who at—staff, patients, whoever was unfortunate enough to be in his line of fire—and Vera had had enough. She was looking for a way out, and within thirty seconds of introducing myself, she asked me if I was hiring. That was fifteen years ago, and she’d been with me ever since.
“I’m okay,” I said. “A little sad, but also a little relieved. It’s been a long week.”
“It’s not easy taking care of two kids by yourself, is it?” she asked. Sara had gone up to camp a week early for trainings, meetings, and team-building activities. I was responsible for the boys for an entire week. Feeding them, shuttling them around, keeping them busy and entertained. I welcomed the break.
“You have no idea,” I said with a laugh. “I have a new respect for single parents,” I went on. “I don’t know how they do it.”
“They start drinking early in the day,” she said with a wink. “Well, at least now you can breathe a little and take some time for yourself.”
I nodded in agreement, excited about the idea.
“Let me know if you need anything,” she said with a gentle smile. She put a hand on my arm, then retreated to her office in the back.
“Thanks, I will.”
I picked up the day’s schedule from the front desk and walked down the hall to my office. I set my things down, fired up the computer, grabbed a pen, and popped a mint in my mouth.
The phone on my desk buzzed.
It was Alexis, my front desk supervisor. Another incredible find. She had a memory like a steel trap. She could remember a patient’s phone number a year after seeing them.
“Mrs. Owens is in the exam room.”
Let’s do this.
The day flew by, and when all the patients were gone, and the staff was closing down the office, I plopped down in the chair at my desk. I always took a few minutes at the end of each day to unwind before heading home. With nothing but an empty house and a hyperactive puppy waiting for me, I was in no rush.
I had already checked in with Lisa, our dog walker, who had assured me that Mandy had been out several times, ran around like a lunatic, and was resting on her doggie bed when she left.
It was guilty pleasure time for me. I opened up Facebook and began to scroll.
It saved me a ton of time as I got most of my news and information there. Scrolling through my news feed, I could pick and choose what I wanted to read or watch. It was certainly better than being force-fed whatever CNN or FOX was shoveling that day.
Oh man. Another shooting. This time in a movie theater.
June 25th, 2015 - A crazed gunman opened fire in a Boca Raton movie theater last night, killing twenty-two and injuring dozens more. It was the worst mass shooting South Florida has ever seen.
James Henderson was born in 1992 in Delray Beach, Florida. He attended Florida Atlantic University and was about to graduate with a master’s degree in Computer Science. Why he chose to open fire into a crowd of innocent moviegoers remains unknown.
Mr. Henderson bought a ticket for the 9 p.m. showing of Jurassic World at the Cinemark Palace movie theater in Boca Raton. Armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, he entered the theater in darkness and took a seat in the back.
Fifteen minutes into the movie Mr. Henderson was seen on camera leaving the theater to use the restroom. When he returned minutes later, he did not retake his seat. His stood near the back wall of the theater and opened fire into the near-capacity crowd.
Twenty-two people were killed, while dozens more were seriously injured. Mr. Henderson then dropped his weapon, got down on his knees and, with his hands in the air, cried as he waited for authorities to arrive and take him into custody.
Police say the weapon was purchased legally through a local gun shop, and that Mr. Henderson had no history of violent behavior. No motive is currently known and no further information is available at this time.
As terrible as I felt for the victims and their families, there was one selfish thought I just couldn’t shake.
That theater was only a few miles from our house. Sara and I had seen countless movies there. The kids too. We’d sat in those same seats...
Sometimes I hated Facebook.
I’d met Ingo Randall several years ago. He was married to Deya, one of Sara’s best friends. It was a couples’ night out, arranged by the wives.
Ingo and I hit it off instantly.
Whether it was sports, cars, movies, food or politics, we never lacked for things to talk about. And we rarely had a difference of opinion. We saw eye to eye on just about everything.
Not long after the couples’ night, we started getting together on our own. We’d meet for lunch, play poker, hit golf balls, or just grab a beer. We also hung out on game night with the wives and a few other couples. We even did one of those Escape Rooms with a group of friends.
A few months after we met, Deya and the kids returned to her hometown in Australia to take care of her sick mom. At least that was the story they told us. Deya had no plans to return any time soon. Ingo visited when he could, but he had to stay behind to manage his business.
Despite his family situation, Ingo was fun to be around. He had a great sense of humor and told some incredible stories. Originally from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, his background was in stark contrast to my vanilla upbringing, and he loved to point out just how easy I’d had it.
From the late ’60s to the early ’80s, during Ingo’s childhood, Rhodesia was a war zone. Fighting regularly broke out between government soldiers and “terrorists” or “freedom fighters,” as they came to be called. What they really were were poorly trained African soldiers supplied by Russia and Czechoslovakia in exchange for mining rights—diamonds and uranium mainly.
These freedom fighters would sneak across the border into Rhodesia, attack a farm, rape, kill and pillage, and sneak back across the border with whatever loot they found.
Joining the Rhodesian Army was mandatory after high school. It was supposed to be a two-year term, and then time was spent in the reserves. But reservists were frequently called up and sent back into action.
Ingo began learning about guns when he was nine or ten. Most of his knowledge came from delinquent friends who had nothing better to do. He started with pellet guns before learning how to shoot a .22 caliber rifle.
“In Rhodesia, everyone walks around with a gun,” he’d once said.
He learned to hunt rabbits and impala, got into target shooting, began entering competitions, and started winning them regularly.
By the time he entered the army at eighteen, he was well-versed in firearms and a better shot than most of his instructors. Basic training was three to four months and the emphasis was on how to shoot and, more importantly, how to not get shot. Ingo breezed through.
After basic, soldiers were posted to their particular units. Paratroopers, snipers, Special Forces, artillery, etc. Ingo was assigned to artillery. The big guns.
He told me most days he served in the army, he used a weapon of one sort or another. Not for practice, for real. Less than six months in, Ingo shot and killed an enemy soldier. Still just eighteen, Ingo had taken a life for the first time.
It wouldn’t be the last.
“If you didn’t kill them, they’d kill you or your friends. That’s just the way it was,” he’d said.
After eleven long months in the military, a new government came into power and the Rhodesian Army was disbanded.
Ingo went home, and then to college in South Africa. He’d been shot at for the better part of a year, but now he got to be a kid again. He assimilated to college life after being forced to do terrible things in war.
After graduation, he moved to London for a job, and spent ten years in the United Kingdom before he moved to the U.S. and started his own medical device company.
When I initially contemplated getting a gun, I was reluctant to mention it to Ingo. But who better to go to for help? So the next time we got together, I expressed my concern about the seeming rise in gun violence around the country. The school shootings. The workplace shootings. The public shootings.
In 2014, there were hundreds of mass shootings in the U.S. alone.
And now it had happened just a few miles from my home, at a place I’d been to with my family countless times.
What if I was caught in a situation like that?
What would I do?
How would I protect my family?
As a husband and a father, it was my job to protect them. An antiquated notion perhaps, but that’s how I felt.
He nodded as I spoke. I knew if anyone would understand, it would be him.
I told him I wanted to get a gun, and he laughed. After all, how many liberal Jewish doctors living in Boca owned a gun?
The number had to be pretty low.
But instead of trying to talk me out of it or telling me I was being paranoid, Ingo simply asked, “Are you prepared to kill someone?”
The question caught me off guard. I’d never really thought about it.
“Because if you aren’t,” he went on, “don’t buy a gun.”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
How do you answer a question like that? I thought.
“Well, you’d better figure it out,” he said. “If you draw your weapon, and you’re not willing to use it, you just might get killed with your own gun. Protecting your family is the byproduct, but you need to be willing to take a life in order to do it. Without hesitation.”
I thought about that for a while.
I’d spent nearly twenty years taking care of people. Helping them see better, protecting their eye health, offering advice on wellness and nutrition. Could I really see myself shooting someone? Killing someone?
I started to doubt it, to question my ability to take a life.
But then I thought about my family. How much I loved them, how I would do anything for them. And how powerless I would feel if I was unable to protect them when they needed me most.
The answer didn’t come easily, but once it did, I was absolute in my conviction.
“To protect my family, yes. I would do anything.”
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get started.”
The Sig Sauer P229 was the pistol once used by countless police agencies, several branches of the military, British intelligence, as well as the U.S. Secret Service.
He liked the Sig because of its double-action/single-action configuration. This meant there was no active safety on the pistol, but it took a strong effort to pull the trigger the first time.
The double-action: The hammer goes back then goes forward. After the first shot, the hammer stays back, and it’s much easier to pull the trigger the second time—the single-action. Basically, there’s little to no risk of shooting yourself in the leg, and the gun is ready to fire when needed. No fumbling with a safety in the event you need it quickly.
It was hard to argue with his logic, and I decided double-action/single-action was the way to go. Over the next several weeks, Ingo taught me everything about his P229. He taught me the proper grip, the correct stance, how to find the sight picture, and how to press the trigger without jerking the gun. He taught me about muzzle discipline, practice regimens, and the different types of ammo. He made sure I knew exactly how a gun worked, how it felt to shoot, and how to use it safely.
Before I made any decisions, and certainly before I bought anything, Ingo suggested I try on a number of different pistols to see which one fit. He suggested I spend the next few weeks shooting all the double-action/single-action pistols I could find.
I did just that.
Ingo was there to let me know what he liked and didn’t like about each. And while he loved and recommended his Sig P229, I found it too big and too heavy. With its metal frame, steel slide, and fifteen-round steel magazine, I couldn’t imagine carrying it around. I wanted something I could have with me at all times, but something that wouldn't weigh my pants down in the process.
Then I discovered the H&K P30SK. It was smaller (SK stood for subcompact), lighter (it had a polymer frame, not metal), and only held ten rounds in the magazine. I rented one and spent an hour with it on the range. Ingo explained the features of it and instructed me as I shot it.
This was the one, I was sure of it. Compared to the other pistols I’d fired, it felt natural in my hands. The weight, the balance, the accuracy… I was sold.
As I was filling out the necessary paperwork, Ingo asked me the question I had been hoping to avoid.
“What is Sara gonna say about this?”
Sara was not a fan of guns. That was putting it mildly. She hated them. She attributed much of the violence in the world to guns and often railed at how easy it was to get one. But I had two things going for me that I was counting on for all future arguments.
One, her father had a gun in the house while she was growing up. Still did.
And two, I was doing this for her. For them. It wasn’t for fun or for sport. It wasn’t because it was cool or popular. It was to protect them if the day ever came where our lives were in danger.
If I could make her understand that, she’d get on board.
Once all the paperwork was complete, the waiting began. Florida had a mandatory three-day waiting period for handguns. Some counties, it’s as many as five.
During that time, they ran a background check to make sure I wasn’t a psycho with a history of violence or a criminal record.
It was also sometimes referred to as a “cooling down” period, for anyone thinking about buying a gun out of anger, ready to do something stupid.
When the time came to pick up my new purchase from the gun shop, I was both excited and nervous.
“Now you just need to learn how to use it,” Ingo said.
And learn I did.
Ingo brought me to the range twice a week for the next few weeks, showing me everything I needed to know. He re-trained me on grip, stance, sight picture, and trigger press. After we left the range, we went back to his house and he taught me how to disassemble and clean my weapon. He stressed the importance of keeping it clean, and told me to look at my pistol the same way I would scuba gear. “If it fails you, you’re dead.”
Once he felt like I had a good grasp on things, he set me loose and I was on my own. I continued to visit the range at least once a week, often twice. But it wasn’t enough. I still wasn't comfortable. I was afraid to carry it with me, and that was not a good feeling. I needed more.
I started taking courses taught by licensed professionals. Instructors who trained the police, and were former cops or military themselves. I started with beginner handgun courses, then worked my way up to tactical pistol courses, and even real-life simulation courses.
I learned how to shoot from the hip, literally, in the event of a close quarter confrontation, then from the high-inside ready position with elbows bent and the pistol close to my chest, and then fully punched out with arms extended, elbows locked, in an aggressive stance.
In the simulations, I learned how to evaluate a real threat from a bogus one, how to avoid escalating a situation into a deadly one, and how to respond with deadly force when the simulation called for it.
My skills improved as time went on and I became more and more comfortable with my weapon. I continued to practice and meet with Ingo whenever our schedules would permit. I committed to learn whatever I could that would make me a more responsible gun owner and prepare me in the event I ever needed to draw my weapon.
I winced at the thought and prayed that day would never come.
Excerpted from Shot Down by Steven Sheiner. Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.