Oregon District: ‘I saw more dead people…than I did anytime in Iraq;’ Retired officer reflects on mass shooting

DAYTON — Editor’s note: This interview is part of News Center 7′s coverage of the one-year anniversary of the Oregon District Shooting. Coverage of the one-year mark continues tonight, starting at 5 p.m.

For the victims of the Oregon District mass shooting, the moments immediately following the tragedy were critical.

With medics not given the all-clear, police officers and citizens worked side-by-side performing CPR and doing what they could to help.

Sinclair College police officer Tom McMurtry, who just retired last month, vividly remembers hearing that urgent radio call as he worked the night shift.

I actually saw more dead people on the night of the mass shooting than I did anytime in Iraq.”

—  - Retired Sinclair Police Officer Tom McMurtry

He knew immediately what it meant. McMurtry jumped in a cruiser and was there within minutes.

“Shots fired, Shots fired. Code 99. Oregon District. It’s officer in trouble, all available units, go,” McMurtry said.

“The amazing Dayton officers who were on scene had already neutralized the threat. Thirty seconds of gunfire and it was over.”

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But the scene in front of him was chaotic.

“Hundreds of people, everybody yelling, sirens still going off,” McMurtry said.

Dozens of officers from departments all over the area swarmed E. Fifth Street, with guns drawn, searching for a possible second shooter. McMurtry decided to keep his gun holstered and use his EMT skills to help the first victim he came across.

“She had collapsed by a food cart right here in front of Blind Bob’s.”

He and three others took turns vigorously performing CPR, trying to save the young woman who was barely alive.

“It was at least eighteen minutes that the only people who were there to help were knowledgeable civilians and police officers. It was a rough patch,” McMurty said.

Other officers applied tourniquets and rushed victims to hospitals without waiting for an ambulance. Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl has said officers took 13 people to hospitals, applied 17 tourniquets, and 16 performed CPR.

While taking a break from the arduous CPR, McMurtry saw other officers in action.

“I looked up and there was a guy, tourniquet across his thigh, blood pouring out of his leg, and he was being carried with a cop on both sides with a hand on the belt, hand on the shoulder, being drug down the street, thrown into a cruiser and driven off.”

Just a few feet away, in the alley next to Blind Bob’s, McMurtry spotted another victim, a man beyond help. He and his partner grabbed two white sheets from a triage unit that had been quickly set up and covered both the middle-aged man and the young woman they’d tried so hard to help.

That was the last thing that we could do for them is to show them the respect of giving them a cover.”

—  - Retired Sinclair Police Officer Tom McMurtry

The pair then worked to control the crowd and secure the scene before returning to Sinclair.

But just before 3 a.m., McMurtry was called back and asked to bring his department’s fingerprint reader. When he arrived, the scene looked very different than it had less than two hours earlier.

The street was now quiet, and the Iraq War veteran was not prepared for what he saw.

“That was the time that I saw more sheets. That was the time when I actually realized how bad this was. I actually saw more dead people on the night of the mass shooting than I did anytime in Iraq.”

McMurtry soon learned his mission was not to identify the victims, but the shooter, who lay dead and handcuffed at the door to Ned Peppers. The effort was unsuccessful because the shooter had no fingerprints on file.

Later that morning, McMurtry went home and told his wife of 46 years what had happened while she slept.

“And she says to me, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you.’ And then stopped and said, “Actually she said, actually, I’m glad it was you.‘”

Since that night and what he calls his “small part” in it, McMurtry admits he has sought professional help.

“You can’t do this and be unaffected. If you think you’re unaffected, you’re lying,” McMurtry said.

Still he returned to the Oregon District three days later and ate lunch on the patio next to Blind Bob’s.

“Because I was not going to let the shooter take any part of this city away from me. I was not going to not come down here because of what happened here.”

Tom McMurtry looks forward to the day a permanent memorial is established in the Oregon District, to remember the victims and all of the heroes who were Dayton Strong when they needed to be.

“We need to remember the hope, not the horror because there was plenty of horror, but if we do it right (it’s) always followed by hope.”