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‘I saw people drop:’ A scene of panic in downtown Dallas as a gunman opened fire at police

The Rev. Jeff Hood
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

The Rev. Jeff Hood had helped helped organize Friday’s protest rally and was feeling a sense of euphoria at how peacefully the event seemed to be unfolding.

Then he heard the crack of gunfire: “Pah, pah, pah-pah-pah,” was how he described it.

Two police officers standing nearby slumped to the ground. The crowd — a mix of protesters, onlookers and law enforcement officers — scattered.

“I saw it. I mean, I saw people drop. I knew,” Hood said.

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Hood grabbed his own shirt, instinctively. For a moment he thought he might have been shot. He had not.

He looked up again and saw a policeman sprinting down the street in the direction of the gunfire.

Hood said he opted to run the other way, shouting to the crowd, “Run, active shooter!”

In the chaotic street scene, he was separated from his wife and feared for her safety. He had a small cross and held it up above the crowd. “That cross very quickly became a shepherd’s crook,” he said, guiding others toward safety.

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Larissa Puro, a 26-year-old University of Southern California communications manager who was on vacation in Dallas for a family reunion, had to hole up in the kitchen of the nearby Omni hotel while the police manhunt was underway.

“We couldn’t enter our hotel, and … police told us to run into the hotel kitchen and said there had been a shooting,” Puro said. “People were crying,” she said. “I feel so awful for all the police officers out there.”

Eniola Aboiye, 26, had stopped by the protest at the invitation of friends on her way home to East Dallas when she saw police cars flying by. She stopped at a gas station on the edge of downtown. In the distance, she heard what sounded like fireworks.

Suddenly a wave of protesters appeared, people running. Some police officers had been shot, someone said.

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“I was definitely worried it was coming my way,” said Aboiye, a singer-songwriter. Then she spotted a young couple who appeared to be in shock.

“I was just feeling I needed to be in solidarity with these people,” she said. Like others, she had been drawn to the downtown protest rally following the fatal shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. There was, she said, “so much unrest in my heart.”

Amanda Mann had joined the beginning of the protest at Belo Garden Park, and said it had unfolded with speakers who were “positive and proactive.”

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The 35-year-old Dallas resident said she was walking to her car when she heard the first barrage of shots, followed by a stampede of protesters trying to flee.

Live updates: Dallas police shooting >>

At one point, Mann lay down with several others on the grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza, a downtown park that is best known as the site of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“It was like nothing I had seen before,” Mann said. “We just kept following what the police told us to do.”

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Blocks away, middle school teacher Danielle Molina, 32, was about to leave home for an evening walk when her husband called from Children’s Hospital, where he works as an emergency-room concierge, helping patients navigate services.

He had heard about the shooting, noticed the ambulances pouring into neighboring Parkland Hospital and called home to check on her.

“I suddenly started hearing sirens, the helicopters. I could see the trains had stopped running. People were kind of trapped,” she said.

Molina called her father, a former Dallas police officer now working on the police force at Methodist Hospital. He had not much to report.

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But her husband did.

He’d stepped outside for some air after the bodies of the five slain police officers were wheeled from the hospital. A throng of police officers and security guards saluted as the grim motorcade passed.

“You could just feel the respect,” he told her.

His wife was impressed to see how brave the officers were, running toward the gunfire. But she was also impressed by the kindness of the crowd, the young black man she watched through her window coming to the aid of an elderly white woman, lifting her walker so she could clear the light rail tracks and get home.

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Many in the crowd were struggling, physically and emotionally. They kept asking the Rev. Hood why. Why had this happened? Why Dallas? Why us?

He told them he wondered the same thing.

“The rest of the night I spent ministering people trying to make some sense of what happened,” he said. He eventually reunited with his wife three hours after the shooting. “At the end of the night I found myself alone, in tears, simply asking how does something so beautiful — hundreds of people nonviolently expressing their grievances — turn into something so evil so quickly?”

Hood stood outside City Hall on Friday with other organizers and said they did not recognize gunman Micah Johnson or his name, had never seen him at a protest.

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“Never in our wildest dreams would we think our efforts to save lives would take lives,” said Dominique Alexander of the Next Generation Action Network. Hood nodded. Like many leaders here who had been up all night, he was exhausted. When a fire truck passed, he flinched. “All I know is, 40 hours ago we organized a peaceful protest, and it turned into a nightmare.”

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Dallas and Kaleem reported from Los Angeles.

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