Warnings Unheeded: Lessons from a Man Who Killed an Active Shooter

13Nov16

This was published today on Breach Bang Clear.

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Last week, former Air Force Security Policeman Andy Brown released his book Warnings Unheeded. Brown’s book is an account of his response to the 1994 Fairchild Air Force Base mass shooting, and the story of a B-52 crash at the same base just days later. If you’re a soldier, police officer or armed citizen you should know Brown’s story already; he killed an active shooter with four rounds from a pistol, at what many shooters would consider an impossible range. While many books have been written about mass shootings, I’m not aware of any written by a person who stopped one. That alone makes it worth reading, but Brown’s book is far more than just a memoir of his own actions.

Warnings Unheeded is an extraordinary look into three fascinating stories. The first is about how Airman Dean Mellberg managed to get into the Air Force despite his glaring mental health issues, why the Air Force retained him over the objections of pretty much everyone who interacted with him, and what ultimately happened when all the ignored danger signs came to fruition. The second is about the Air Force’s complete failure to rein in a dangerous and uncontrollable pilot who rammed himself, three others, and a B-52 into the ground in a crash which surprised no one. The third (and to a cop like me, the most interesting) is a detailed account of Mellberg’s assault on Fairchild Air Force Base’s hospital, Andy Brown’s response, and the four shots that ended a massacre.

Most of the book is devoted to Dean Mellberg’s agonizing path from disturbed and perverted teenager to awkward Air Force recruit to failed Airman to deranged mass shooter. What struck me about Brown’s incredibly detailed recounting of Mellberg’s short life was how painful it must have been for Brown to fully humanize the man he killed. While I’ve never shot anyone as a cop, I know many officers who have; every last one seems to view the person they shot as nothing more than an imminent threat that needed to be addressed. Brown, on the other hand, studied Mellberg’s family, his fruitless struggles to be accepted and loved, his many flaws and failures, his mental health diagnoses, and his tortured life’s final collapse. While Brown was completely justified in killing Mellberg that day – if anyone ever needed to be shot repeatedly, it was Dean Mellberg – I still suspect it wasn’t easy to change his perception of Mellberg from “imminent threat/difficult target” to “pitiful and dangerous, but still human.” I know it wouldn’t be easy for me.

Dean Mellberg in 1992

The second story, about the B-52 crash (which you’ve probably seen footage of), was initially hard for me to get into. I saw the crash as coincidental but completely unrelated, and felt it was a distraction from the real story about Brown and Mellberg’s confrontation. But as I got further into the B-52 story I found myself enthralled with it, and eventually understood it is related to the mass shooting. Both tragedies were the end result of a chain of leadership failures, and both could be seen coming light years ahead. As I got deeper into the B-52 crash story, knowing full well what was coming, I kept asking, Why did the Air Force let this guy keep flying? The man who crashed the B-52 had been warned, reprimanded, reported to commanders, and once missed a ridge by only 15 feet while showing off for a reporter. Many others refused to fly with him. Yet there he was four days after the mass shooting, showing off once again, pushing an aged bomber so hard it went straight into the dirt. Maybe that story grabbed me because I’m an amateur aviation nerd, but whatever the reason, I found it fascinating.

But the most important part of the book is Brown’s account of what he heard, saw, and did that day in 1994.

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Read the rest at http://www.breachbangclear.com/warnings-unheeded-lessons-from-a-man-who-killed-an-active-shooter/

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Chris Hernandez is a 22 year police officer, former Marine and recently retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our ResolveLine in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).

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4 Responses to “Warnings Unheeded: Lessons from a Man Who Killed an Active Shooter”

  1. I am going to read that book, thank you!

    • 2 DJMoore

      Excellent review, and I look forward to reading the book.

      One quibble: I initially thought Mellberg had both caused the crash and committed the shooting–obviously I was a bit confused as to the timeline.

      A bit of googling revealed pilot Lt. Col. “Bud” Holland crashed the B-52.

  2. 3 SeldomSeenSmith

    Great book suggestion, Chris.

    For a detailed examination of the B-52 crash, and related human factors, I highly recommend Tony Kern’s engrossing book “Darker Shades of Blue: The Rogue Pilot” (http://northslopepublications.com/).


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