Less than five minutes after gunfire erupted in the Fifth Third Center, police had killed the shooter, and their swift actions prevented a mass shooting from becoming even deadlier, officials said Friday.
As a crowd of people ran away from gunshots fired from Omar Enrique Santa Perez, four police officers ran toward the danger. They spotted Santa in the lobby and fired through the plate glass windows and doors as he turned the gun on them.
Lobby surveillance video and body camera footage released by Cincinnati police at a Friday news conference revealed more details of the heroic response to the shooting that killed three and injured two.
“The heroism of these officers is truly remarkable,” Mayor John Cranley said. “Police saved lives, and we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.”
Jeff Crawford, here on business from Cleveland, took cues from the many sprinting away from gunshots. He ran, ducking down and shielding himself outside of McCormick and Schmick’s. He watched several officers emerge onto Fountain Square “from all different angles.”
He heard at least a dozen shots and then calm. “It felt like it was over in no time,” he said.
‘They know they did what they had to do’
Police Chief Eliot Isaac said that from the first shot until officers neutralized the threat, four minutes and 28 seconds elapsed. Officers engaged the shooter within three and a half minutes of the first 911 call.
Four officers fired 11 shots, and the shooter went down.
“You could see in the video … the guy is shooting at the cops,” Cranley said. “(You can see) them not being afraid and engaging and ending it.”
The four officers who fired shots are Jennifer Chilton, on the force since 2008; Antonio Etter, since 2002; Eric Kaminsky, since 1997; and Gregory Toyeas, since 1990.
“Those four are doing as well as can be expected,” Issac said. He has spoken in depth with three of the four officers.
“They know they did what they had to do. They were very resolved that they were there to save lives, they were very committed to that.”
Cranley said a portion of bodycam footage, after the gunfire, shows a woman sheltering.
“The fear you can see in her face is hard to forget, followed by a sense of gratitude that the cavalry arrived,” Cranley said.
Cranley said police, firefighters and 911 dispatchers worked in unison, efficiently stopping the violence and treating its victims.
“This was a team effort to end the violence as quickly as possible and to remove the threat and to save lives,” Cranley said.
‘Think about how many people he would’ve destroyed’
Sgt. Eric Franz with Cincinnati police said that when he joined the force nearly three decades ago, active shooter training didn’t exist.
But after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, Franz said, the Police Department adopted a tactic known as “QuAD,” or quick-action deployment. Before seeking out the shooter, at least four officers had to first converge on a scene.
That’s not the protocol officers used during Thursday’s spree.
In 2012, the Police Department transitioned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency standard, which calls for officers individually or in pairs to charge toward the threat.
Isaac said that earlier this year, all officers in the Police Department completed live-scenario training.
Jeff Butler, a police captain and training section commander, said the training scenarios represent the culmination of years of studying mass shootings around the country. They incorporate lessons from the San Bernardino attack in 2015 that killed 14 and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that claimed 49 lives one year later, among others.
One of the best aspects of Cincinnati police’s active shooter training: its realism, Butler said.
Though he declined to release many details, for fear that they could inform a future shooter, he said officers navigate through a “multi-room laboratory,” firing nonlethal rounds at perceived threats.
“(The officers) know their training provides them the opportunity to resolve a situation successfully,” Butler said. “When they go through that door, it’s never cookie-cutter. We train them to expect the unexpected.”
Butler added that additional training, made possible by funding granted over the years by the Cincinnati City Council, bolster officers’ preparedness.
Whereas the state of Ohio mandates 16 weeks of training for police recruits for certification, Cincinnati police requires 28, Butler said.
The state requires about 30 hours of continuing training for current officers. Cincinnati police requires more than twice as much, he added.
And the Police Department offers a gun range, where officers can shoot in their free time, despite the fact that the state only requires officers fire 25 rounds annually.
“It’s expensive to do that,” Butler said, but it ensures proficiency. “We’ve got some of the finest shooters around, and that’s because we practice, practice, practice.”
Training “definitely played a role” in the decisive response by the four officers on Fountain Square, Franz said.
“Think about if that guy got in the elevator,” Franz said. “It could have been 10 minutes before we got to him. Think about how many people he would’ve destroyed.”
Franz came on the scene about 40 minutes after the carnage. Witnessing the unified effort by first responders — administering aid, evacuating civilians, securing the scene — evoked a feeling of admiration in the 27-year veteran.
“I was never more proud of everybody I worked with,” Franz said.
“I got a Facebook message (from a friend): ‘I’m in the tower looking down at you. Are we safe?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.'”