It might seem odd that mothers of teenagers cruelly shot in a random act of angry violence said they feel blessed.
But, they stressed, it could have been much worse, if not for heroic responders.
Police officers are supposed to stand tall and stop crime, but Glendale Officer Destiny Ebersohl was on her knees May 20, desperately stopping blood.
And firefighters/EMTs are supposed to be able to enjoy time off from their stressful jobs as professional life savers.
But Avondale Fire Capt. Chris Spire, out for a quiet family meal, dashed out of a Westgate restaurant into the danger zone after hearing ominous sounds.
“I started hearing what I thought was hammering,” Spire recalled. “I went to the door and pushed it open. We do active-shooter training, and I recognized this was an active shooter.
“I made sure my family was safe then went back out the front door.”
In a Westgate walking area, two teenagers were on the ground, screaming in pain.
Armando Hernandez Jr. of Peoria allegedly had just shot three random victims, including Alfredo Jaime, 19, and Destiny Bain, 16.
Ebersohl was one of the first officers on the scene. After applying a chest bandage to Alfredo’s chest wound and instructing a volunteer to hold it in place, she turned her attention to the girl, who had blood spurting out of her leg.
It may have been destiny that brought the two together.
“I applied a tourniquet to her leg, and she was just screaming, ‘It hurts, it hurts!’” Ebersohl said. “I said, ‘My name’s Destiny, too.’
“She stopped screaming and looked at me and said, ‘With an I or a Y?’”
Spire, meanwhile, worked on Jaime.
“I stayed with the male, who was the more critically injured,” he said.
Spire, a paramedic, noted he was able to call an emergency “back line” to give detailed information to on-duty EMTs who were racing to the scene.
Glendale Police Chief Chris Briggs, Fire Chief Terry Garrison and Mayor Jerry Weiers honored Ebersohl and Spire with “Life Safety” awards at a news conference May 28.
The officer wiped away tears and the firefighter gulped as the soft-spoken mothers of the victims praised their efforts.
“I knew that you were their angels that protected them that day, that God sent you,” said Magdalena Jaime, Alfredo’s mom.
Kathleen Bain, Destiny’s mother, read a text her daughter sent during the news conference:
“When you help because you want to help, God will bless you tenfold because you helped not because you had to but because it came from deep within your heart.”
Kathleen said Destiny called her right after she was shot and she rushed to Westgate. “She kept saying, ‘Nobody’s here and I’m bleeding.’ I said, ‘I’m on my way, I’m on my way,’” Bain said.
She was able to share good news.
“Destiny came back home yesterday,” Kathleen said. “She has a scar from her knee to her ankle. All I could do was hold her. We both cried.
“She said, ‘I’m glad it was me and not any of those little kids that were in the mall.’”
Destiny’s mother took a deep breath to compose herself several times.
“I wasn’t going to come here, but (Destiny) said, ‘Mom, you need to go there. Tell everybody I’m thankful,’” Kathleen said.
Alfredo’s mother said her son was expected to be released from the hospital that day, but a “minor complication” kept him at the hospital.
Others may not have been injured but relive the trauma of witnessing a man roaming through a once-peaceful shopping center with a semi-automatic weapon, as cries of pain and screams of fright mixed with sirens.
“My wife and youngest son and father-in-law were all with me,” Spire said.
“Every day we talk about it. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us. My wife and I talk about it every day. At first she didn’t want to talk about it, but it’s good to open up.”
Spire’s job is also quite a roller coaster. Firefighters/EMTs can be playing cards at the station one moment and rushing to a gruesome car accident the next.
He called his job “very rewarding.”
“I got in the fire service over 20 years ago because I like to help people.
“I love the job I do every day.”
‘I can’t hate him’
The two moms were asked their feelings about the alleged shooter.
“No mother ever thinks their child will grow up like this. I feel sorry for the mom and dad,” Kathleen said.
As for the shooter, she added, “All I can feel is hate. How can I feel anything else when my baby’s crying in pain?”
Magdalena, Alfredo’s mother, felt differently.
“I can’t hate him,” she said of the shooter. “I’m the kind of a person that always looks at the positive, not the negative. … Prayers are what are sustaining me to go forward,” she added.
Hernandez faces more than 30 charges, including attempted murder and aggravated assault.
The 20-year-old from Peoria remains in jail on $1 million bond, with an arraignment scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 4.
Hernandez allegedly told police his gun jammed, stopping him from his plan of shooting 10 people.
According to a police report, he identifies as an “incel,” short for involuntarily celibate, and planned to shoot people at Westgate “to earn respect.”
The ones who seemed to earn respect were the two who helped clean up the mess and stop the carnage caused by the shooter.
“Chris is a tremendous asset to this department,” said Avondale Fire Chief Jeff Case, noting Spire has been with the department for 21 years.
“Chris’ actions on the night of the shooting at Westgate demonstrated his selfless attributes and his willingness to risk his life in a calculated manner to protect and save others.”
Case noted that, after securing his family, Spire put his life at risk to venture out into an active-shooter scenario.
“I’m extremely proud of Chris,” Case said.
“His actions and the courage he demonstrated, and his genuine concern for others, are the qualities we want in a professional firefighter. Chris is a true professional.”
The mothers of the victims struggled to express their emotions.
“I don’t have words,” said Kathleen, looking at the officer and the firefighter.
“God sent you guys to do what you do best. I am beyond grateful.”