Editorial: Courage Under Fire

May’s active shooter attacks could have been even worse if a retired officer and Border Patrol agents had not taken decisive action against the gunmen.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Editor’s Note: Much was learned about the Uvalde Massacre after I wrote and published this editorial. So I debated whether to post it to PoliceMag.com. The revelations about leadership at Robb Elementary School and the inaction of officers on the scene do not diminish the courage of the BORTAC agents who went into the classroom and killed the shooter. And they certainly do not diminish the courage of retired Buffalo officer Aaron Salter Jr., so I decided to post it. I have corrected or deleted portions of the original article that have been proven to be false.

Right before this issue of POLICE went to press, I learned about the horrific school shooting in Texas that killed 19 children. This was about a week and a half after another mass shooting in a Buffalo grocery store. Both of these shootings saw trained law enforcement officers responding with great courage.

On the afternoon of May 14, an 18-year-old walked into a Buffalo supermarket with a semi-automatic rifle and began shooting people for no other reason than they were in the store and happened to be black, police say.

The security guard in that grocery store was a retired Buffalo police officer named Aaron Salter Jr. He drew his pistol and opened fire on the accused killer. And he hit his target.

But unfortunately for Officer Salter, his target reportedly wore body armor and a military-style helmet, was not wounded, and shot back. Salter died at the scene.

He was one of 10 people killed in the attack. Three other people were wounded. The accused gunman was taken into custody outside the store.

Officer Salter retired in 2018, but he was well-remembered by fellow officers. “I had the pleasure of knowing him, great guy, well respected, well-liked. This is just horrific. It’s tragic,” Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans told WIVB-TV.

Salter’s attempt to stop the killer ultimately failed. But Buffalo officials believe his actions saved lives and bought time for responding officers to arrive on scene.

The Buffalo Police Department has treated his murder as a duty death, even though he was retired. Immediately after the attack, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said, “We are going to see him off for his family with every honor this police department and the city can give him.”

Which is exactly what happened. Officer Aaron Salter Jr. was buried May 25 in Getzville, NY, with full line-of-duty honors from the Buffalo PD. He was posthumously promoted to lieutenant.

The day before Lt. Salter was buried in that small town outside of Buffalo, a Customs and Border Patrol agent also engaged an active shooter. This one targeted an elementary school.

On the morning of May 24, an 18-year-old high school dropout in Uvalde, TX—a town 80 miles west of San Antonio—shot and critically wounded his grandmother.

The teenager then reportedly moved on to another target. At around 11:30 a.m., police say he crashed his grandmother’s truck in a ditch outside of Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. Dressed in all black clothing and in a plate carrier that did not have armor plates, the suspect took a rifle and a handgun and headed toward the building.

Once inside the school, the shooter went into a classroom. Police say he then opened fire on the teachers and the children.

The incident ended when local officers and Border Patrol agents went into the school and engaged the suspect. One or more of them was a member of the elite Border Patrol unit Border Tactical (BORTAC). This agent is credited with eliminating the threat by killing the suspected gunman. He was wounded in the engagement, hit in the leg, but was expected to recover.

The name of the BORTAC hero had not been released at press time. Because of the nature of BORTAC’s operations against drug operations, it may never be released. Which would be a shame. Because he deserves all the praise of the public and his colleagues in law enforcement.

The BORTAC hero’s name has not been publicized, but the names of the Buffalo suspect and the name of the Uvalde suspect are well known. Which is disgusting and dangerous. Notoriety is one of the well-known motivators for copycat active shooters. They want to be famous.

If the Buffalo shooter is convicted, we would all be better off if he was tossed into the coldest, toughest prison in New York and forgotten. The Uvalde shooter’s remains should be cremated and his name never spoken again except for official reasons. Americans need to honor the memory of Officer Salter and the BORTAC agents and erase the memory of the Buffalo and Uvalde killers.

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David Griffith 2017 Headshot
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