To Jason Hendrix and his fiancée, March 30, 1996, seemed a perfect day to go shopping for appliances for their new home. It was a beautiful, warm Saturday-"postcard weather"-and pulling into the Circuit City parking lot in Palm Desert, Calif., the couple found plenty of similarly disposed customers inaugurating the first day of Spring Break with their own various shopping sprees.
What the off-duty San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office deputy couldn't have known was that he'd soon confront a man with a very different kind of spree in mind.
Hendrix parked and exited his truck and entered the Circuit City store with his bride-to-be. Passing through the doors, Hendrix noticed a heated discussion taking place at a customer service counter. Figuring it was just another business dispute and none of his business, he continued to the rear of the store where the appliances were located.
For the better part of a half hour, Hendrix and his fiancée priced washers and dryers as a store employee dutifully went over the relative merits of each model. Hendrix tried to be respectful of the employee's time, but repeatedly found his attention drawn to the front of the store. With each passing minute, the disturbance escalated, the voices of those involved grew louder, and their choice of words became more blunt and profane. The argument came to a head with a woman's sudden scream.
"He's got a gun!"
Come On, Cavalry
Now, Hendrix's whole attention was fixed at the front of the store. The disturbing party was a male about 30 in jeans and a shirt. But Hendrix didn't know what to make of the situation, none of the dynamics thus far suggested a robbery. Still, it was enough for Hendrix to know that it involved a firearm.
Retrieving his own revolver from his fiancée's purse, Hendrix shoved it in his back pocket then showed his badge to the store employee who'd been helping them.
"Do you have any armed security inside or outside the store?" Hendrix asked.
But the talkative employee had suddenly become mute, stupefied by what was unfolding.
At least he isn't panicking like the others, Hendrix thought.
Chaos had broken out in the store as customers and employees trampled over displays and one another to get away from the threat. Still, Hendrix wished that the employee hadn't vapor-locked. It would be up to Hendrix to somehow ensure that neither he nor anyone else who stood to interject themselves into the situation would become a victim of friendly fire. Hopefully, he wouldn't have to get involved at all.
Telling his fiancée to call 9-1-1, Hendricks started to make his way to the front of the store.
"Come on, cavalry," Hendrix said to himself.
Out of the Store and Into Trouble
The disturbing party exited the front doors. He was prodding a second male forward while dragging a woman by her neck.
As Hendrix followed the trio out, employees told him that the guy with the woman in a headlock had a gun.
Hendrix moved within 15 feet of the trio and tried to blend in with the rest of the people populating the parking lot. His game plan was to simply keep a vigil on what was happening. Off in the distance, he could hear the blessed sirens of responding Riverside Sheriff's Department deputies.
Good. Maybe I won't have to be anything other than a good witness, he thought.
Hendrix's desire to be nothing more than an observer ended very suddenly. The suspect produced a Glock 17 and jammed it under the front male's chin and said to the woman, "I'm going to blow his head off!"
Hendrix now knew that if he didn't do something there and then, these two individuals were going to be killed in front of him.