CARSON CITY, Nev. (CBS/AP) – One was an Iraq War veteran who loved military history. Another was an Afghanistan war vet and fitness buff. Still another would bring in cupcakes for colleagues when they got promotions.
All of them were National Guard members and they were sitting at a table at a Nevada IHOP when a gunman burst in and began shooting. All three died in the attack, a death toll that matched the total number of Nevada guardsmen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade. A patron was also killed.
“This is unquestionably the most devastating attack in Carson City’s history,” Sheriff Kenny Furlong said on Wednesday. “Yesterday our town was shocked to the core.”
Exactly what set gunman Eduardo Sencion, 32, off—and whether the grocery store employee had some kind of grudge against the military—remained unclear. He killed himself after the shooting.
Family members told police that Sencion was mentally troubled, but he did not have a criminal history.
South Lake Tahoe police said the department took Sencion into protective health custody during a mental health commitment in April 2000 and that he fought with officers. He was not charged.
The Lake Tahoe News first reported the incident.
No court order was involved, said Lt. David Stevenson told The Associated Press. He said officers have the authority under state law to take individuals into protective custody if the officers determine that the person poses a danger to themselves or others.
No weapon was involved either in the incident, said Stevenson, who declined to release any other details because the Carson City shooting investigation remains active.
Authorities on Wednesday released the 911 calls made from in and around the IHOP. They helped paint a picture of a frantic scene, as witnesses described the gunman firing his gun.
“There’s a shooting in the IHOP! Get there right now!” yelled caller Ralph Swagler, owner of Local’s BBQ next door, as shots rang out in the background.
“Now he’s coming back out. He’s shooting people in the parking lot! He’s shooting at us now!”
A female caller instructed the dispatcher to bring “several” ambulances.
Kathy Chaney, of Dayton, Nev., was inside the IHOP, just feet away from the National Guard members.
Chaney was sitting with five relatives and a child she was caring for when she heard “the biggest and loudest pops that I’ve ever heard in my whole life.”
Chaney said she put her hands to her ears and got under the table as the gunman rapidly fired dozens of shots, shattering a window that separated her family from the soldiers who were killed.
“If it had not been for that glass, we would have all been shot in the head,” she said.
“I heard screaming. I heard glass shattering. I heard a woman moaning and when I was on the floor,” she said. “… When I looked up I just saw debris flying, it was almost like in slow motion—like confetti.”
Chaney said that, as she huddled beneath the table, three men who work for a cable company took charge and started yelling for those inside to get out of the restaurant through an emergency exit.
“We could tell that the gunshots were getting closer. And so I had no idea where it was coming from or where he was, and I thought for sure I was going to get shot,” she said.
She knocked over a high chair where the 2 ½-year-old girl she was caring for was sitting, then carried her out of the restaurant while still crouching. As she left the building, “I was still hearing gunfire,” she said.
“It really is just such a miracle, by the grace of God, that we’re alive today,” Chaney said.
The four killed in the attack were:
- Maj. Heath Kelly, 35, of Reno. Brig. Gen. William R. Burks said Kelly was a decorated officer and avid student of military history who was known for his dry sense of humor. Kelly was married with two kids.
Kelly’s stepmother, Noretta Kelly of Terrytown, La., said Kelly lived for his two children, a 5-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son, and always wanted to be a soldier.
“We’re just heartbroken,” she said.
Kelly said she felt like his death was “unreal,” given that he had survived a tour in Iraq, a childhood in the New Orleans area and had moved to a safer place.
“It’s just kind of like—it wasn’t right.”
- Sgt. 1st Class Christian Riege, 38, of Carson City.
Burks said Riege was a fitness buff and father of four who had also been in the Navy. Riege’s military occupation was armor crewman, and he served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010.
- Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney, 31, of Reno. McElhiney was an administrative sergeant who had been in the Guard for 13 years. She baked birthday, wedding and graduation cakes for anyone who asked.
McElhiney was “a fireball. She told you how it was. She didn’t hold anything back,” said Kaylee Rutledge, who recently graduated from high school.
McElhiney was helping her navigate her way through the male-centric Guard. “She wasn’t going to let any of the boys stop her,” Rutledge said. “Whenever you needed her she would always be there.”
- The patron killed was Florence Donovan-Gunderson, 67, of South Lake Tahoe. Donovan-Gunderson was married to a retired U.S. Marine Corps member.
Mary Synder lived next door to Donovan-Gunderson for 30 years.
They were close friends.
Synder said her friend worked as a secretary at the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino until recently.
Her husband Wally Gunderson was also shot during the restaurant massacre. His status was unclear. Wally has multiple sclerosis and depended on Donovan-Gunderson to get around.
They were at the IHOP because Donovan-Gunderson had a dentist appointment in Carson City Tuesday.
Synder was supposed to have dinner with Donovan-Gunderson tonight. They often played card games, especially Rummy 500. “I’m going to be strong until I don’t want to be anymore,” Synder said.
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