Valentine's Day wasn't for another two days, but Officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden (Utah) Police Department and his wife, Farita, were celebrating early.
The Ogden couple had driven earlier in the day to Salt Lake and checked into a bed-and-breakfast hotel. As part of the motel's Valentine's Day promotion, the Hammonds received a $50 gift certificate redeemable in any one of five area restaurants. They opted for the familiar confines of one of their favorites, a Brazilian steak house named Rodizio's Grille located on one of the end wings of the Salt Lake Trolley Square.
Farita was well into her first trimester with their first child, and between bites the couple discussed plans for the future. The dinner was proving to be everything Ken had hoped it would be. The Hammonds decided to stick around to share some dessert. That dish of cake and ice cream would prove fateful.
By 7:30, the dessert was done, and it was time to go shopping for the expectant couple's first child. Stepping outside the restaurant ahead of his wife, Hammond took a momentary respite on a wooden bench to clear his head.
Not Construction Noise
Sitting there, Hammond became dully aware of banging emanating from elsewhere in the mall. He thought it odd that mall construction should be taking place at such an hour.
When Farita rejoined him, Hammond rose to his feet and the couple began walking toward the center of the mall. The sporadic reverberations of the bangs continued. At first, Hammond was not alarmed. But as he neared the center of the mall, he looked down to his left from the second-floor walkway.
That's when he saw bloodied bodies lying on the ground below.
Then he saw the reason for the carnage: a trenchcoated man wielding a pump-action shotgun on the opposite side of the downstairs hallway. Hammond momentarily cursed the deceptive acoustics of the mall, as he realized that the bangs he'd heard were those of an active shooter navigating his way through the mall.
Hammond hurriedly pushed his wife back in the direction of the restaurant.
"Go back inside. Lock the doors. Call 911!"
Hammond didn't say anything more. There wasn't time. He comforted himself with the knowledge that Farita, a dispatcher for Weaver Consolidated Dispatch, would do what was right, advising Salt Lake's dispatchers of the active shooter and letting them know that an "off-duty" officer was present.
Hunter and Prey
Hammond knew he had to do something as quickly as possible. He drew the Kimber .45 semi-automatic that he carried as an off-duty gun and quickly inventoried his surroundings.
Several onlookers were staring at him. He could almost read their thoughts: Was he yet another shooter? The wary regard was mutual. Might any of them be part of this problem, Hammond wondered? A lay-off man? Yet another off-duty officer?
No matter. Hammond knew what he had to do. He immediately yelled out who he was, identifying himself as an off-duty officer.
That announcement made Hammond target number one for the shooter. The gunman raised the pump-action shotgun and fired. Hammond fell prostrate on the floor, plastering his cheek against the cold tile as shotgun pellets peppered the scenery about him.
Hammond comforted himself with the thought that if he couldn't see the suspect, the suspect couldn't see him, either. The offset provided him with both cover and concealment.
He was about to get up when-BAROOM!-the suspect cranked off another round in his direction.
Hammond's sense of vulnerability went beyond being off duty and without a vest. He knew he was at an extreme disadvantage. While he'd patronized Rodizio's on previous occasions, his ventures into the mall proper had been few, and he wasn't familiar with the lay of the land. He doubted that the suspect suffered such a liability, and he knew the gunman was better armed. Nonetheless, Hammond was determined to keep the suspect in sight and do everything he could to keep the man from shooting anyone else.
First, he had to get a bead on the man. Hammond slowly rose to his feet and peered over the ledge. The man was nowhere to be seen.
The possibility occurred to Hammond that just as he was trying to get a bearing on the suspect, the suspect might be tracking him as well. He wondered where the stairs or escalators were. He didn't want to risk the blind exit of an elevator, or the possibility of getting trapped therein.
And other factors competed for Hammond's attention. He knew he was committed to taking the suspect out, if possible. But he also knew he'd have to have the presence of mind to continually evaluate the situation for any possible layoff men, potential collateral casualties, and uniform officers arriving on scene who would not know who he was.