COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — As the community remembers the Collierville Kroger mass shooting one year ago, the Collierville area first responders are being honored as the brave men and women who rushed into danger as customers and workers scrambled to escape the terror through any available exit.
Two firefighters who were sent to different parts of the store spoke to ABC24 about their lasting images and the lessons learned.
On the afternoon of Sept. 23, 2021, an ordinary day changed for Collierville firefighters Skylar Hunt and Daniel Laplant when they heard about a disturbance at the Kroger on New Byhalia Road.
"We pretty much immediately started heading to the truck,” said Laplant. “It's one of those things, we don't have to look up the address. We know where the Kroger is in this town."
Those same moments across town, at Station Two just three-tenths of a mile from that Kroger, Hunt and other firefighters witnessed fear from their fellow citizens.
“We just heard people screaming, running into the bay of the fire station, yelling, ‘they're shooting, they're shooting,’” said Hunt. “First thing I thought was, that can't happen in Collierville."
Any doubts were dashed as the firefighters arrived at the most intense and significant crime scene in the town's more than 200-year history.
"As soon as we got there, there was a gentleman shot in the parking lot,” said Laplant.
First responders found more than a dozen people shot and didn't know if the active shooter acted alone or was still firing.
"We are trained to do it. We rely on our training and we just trusted our skills,” said Hunt.
Hunt tended to several people hurt in the back of the Kroger, including a worker who was shot in the chest and head but conscious.
"What really just threw me off about it was the guy never stopped talking, never had breathing problems, and all he would say is, ‘I want my mom. Get me my momma. I want my momma,’” said Hunt.
Laplant entered through the front of the store and witnessed the carnage firsthand.
"Went in, there was immediately a lady shot in the deli. We went over to her and about the time we got to her, another crew was coming in behind us, so we left her with them, and we started clearing down the front aisle of the store,” said Laplant.
The firefighters prioritized the more seriously hurt victims first, and benefited by the extra ambulances arriving from other Memphis area agencies.
"We were able to stop bleeding, you know, start IV"s on people, get ‘em loaded, get ‘em out quickly. So the care got to those individuals much faster than it would have,” said Laplant.
"When they see you, they know that help is there. And I'm not going to say the fear went away but you could see the fear kind of subside a little bit,” said Hunt.
Collierville Fire Chief John Selberg served as Germantown Fire Chief that day, and to this day marvels at the heroism of the first responders who assisted first.
"These guys went in without knowing that the shooter wasn't coming after them,” said Chief Selberg. “They still went in because they know that was the only way they were going to save lives."
And because of those first responders' bravery and quick action, Chief Selberg is confident they prevented an awful day from becoming even worse.
"The level of injuries that some of those people had, would have had a lot more deaths if those guys hadn't done what they did,” he said.
Now one year after the mass shooting, Hunt and Laplant are humble about their efforts that day, but also reflective.
"I'm just thankful for the guys. Reflect back to everyone who was there that day. It took teamwork. Everyone did great,” said Hunt.
"I think it was good to show that it could be done. It could be done as safely as possible. We had the equipment that we felt protected,” said Laplant.
The work of the Collierville firefighters last September continues to be studied and used as a model of how to quickly respond but also calmly carry out treatment of mass shooting victims.
The department will present what went right and lessons learned at a Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association meeting in East Tennessee in October.