Just before 6:30 p.m. on May 24, a stranger opened fire on patrons at Louie’s Bar and Grill from the parking lot of the Oklahoma City establishment. The 28-year-old man wore ear and eye protection as he fired a handgun at nearly 100 patrons in the eatery. Bullets punctured the bar, shattering glass and sending diners scattering for cover. Two girls present for a birthday party were hit—one was 12 years old, the other was 15. The mother of one of the girls was grazed as she helped the two hide. Another patron sustained a broken arm trying to escape.
Behind the wheel of his Chevrolet Tahoe, Bryan Whittle and his wife, Shannon, were stopped at the nearby intersection, waiting for the light to turn green so they could get on the highway. They were headed to a getaway at the lake when Bryan, an Air National Guard master sergeant, just happened to look over and notice commotion at the restaurant.
“I thought somebody was drowning,” Whittle said in an exclusive interview with America’s 1st Freedom. “I always carry a first-aid kit, and thought I could help.” Bryan changed blinkers, and then lanes. If their timing had been off by even a few seconds, the Whittles might never have stopped.
“There were people running in all directions,” Bryan recalled. “The only place to stop was the parking lot, so I pulled in.”
Shannon says it’s exactly like Bryan to pull over to help someone in need. “He definitely is someone who will stand up for the people that can’t,” she said. “Even if he’s just out to dinner and sees someone being disrespectful. It’s definitely his personality, to help out when people can’t.”
As Bryan parked, a bystander told him there was a girl inside who’d been shot. Bryan began rummaging through his gear for the first-aid kit when the bystander pointed across the lot. “Yeah, and by the way, the shooter’s right there.” Bryan followed the man’s gaze and saw the shooter just 10 yards away, gun still in hand.
“He was probably looking for more people to shoot,” Bryan said in retrospect. “There was nobody around; everyone was running away. I just happened to be driving into the middle of it and didn’t realize it at the time.”
Bryan quickly shouted for Shannon to throw him the bag with his .40-cal. Smith & Wesson M&P in it. She threw him the bag and shouted, “I love you.”
“I don’t think you think at that point,” Shannon said later. “I just kind of did, if that makes any sense. You just think, ‘Holy [expletive], is he really about to go do this?’ It’s surreal, you know?”
"When I made this corner, was it going to be my husband lying on the ground? It wasn't a good thought."Bryan racked the handgun and maneuvered between parked cars aspanicked victims identified him as a good guy and began directing him to the shooter. “They just knew,” he said. Bryan used the cars as cover and concealment until he was in position to draw down on the shooter.
“Get on the ground!” he yelled repeatedly, keeping the pistol trained on the gunman. The gunman didn’t acknowledge him. “All I was focused on was his hands. He wasn’t responding.”
Bryan said he thought the man’s ear protection may have muffled the commands. Wanting to give the man a chance, he took his left hand off the gun to gesture at the man to put the gun down.
“I was only able to do that a few times before he looked right at me, just a blank stare, tilted his head to the side, and then started to raise his pistol.” With his left hand off the gun, Bryan felt unprepared to get a good shot and dove for cover as the perpetrator opened fire.
“I thought, ‘Oh [expletive], he’s shooting at me; he’s trying to kill me!’”
Shannon, moving the truck so other victims could escape, heard the gunfire. She didn’t know who was firing. “It was just overwhelming,” she admitted.“Seeing people scatter and him running toward everything. Not everyone is going to run toward something like that. Most people are going to hide. It was scary to not be sure if you’re going to see your husband after. Do you look or do you not look?”
“I’m not dying here,” Bryan remembered telling himself behind cover. “I need to engage this guy and go find him before he finds me.” He jumped up and rounded the car to confront the shooter from a different angle.
“As soon as I saw him, saw the hand, and the gun, my eyes focused there,” he said. “I knew he was going to see me, so I just continued to shoot until I saw him fall. As soon as I saw him fall, I stopped shooting, but kept walking toward him. I remember kicking the weapon away from him. Then I heard somebody say, ‘I have you covered, clear him.’ That’s the first realization that someone else was helping as well.”
Juan Carlos Nazario had also drawn down on the gunman. As a security guard, he happened to have a pair of handcuffs and worked with Bryan to cuff the gunman just as Oklahoma City police arrived. (Nazario declined our interview request.)
To secure the scene, responding law enforcement officers placed Bryan and Nazario in handcuffs and questioned them until the details were sorted out. The two complied. Bryan even had the presence of mind to ask an officer to check him for gunshot wounds. He couldn’t believe the gunman had missed.
Shannon was still circling the parking lot in the truck, unsure if her husband had survived the encounter.“When I made this corner, was it going to be my husband lying on the ground? It wasn’t a good thought. I parked the car where I could see him laying on the ground, handcuffed. I yelled his name twice, and didn’t get anything, so then I yelled, ‘Babe!’ Then he looked at me and gave me a thumbs-up. It made me feel a little better. But it’s still hard to see handcuffs on someone.”
Bryan said he couldn’t have asked for better treatment by the police. Once everything was sorted out and the cuffs came off, police treated him well and advised him to take time away for reflection and peace before being thrown into the limelight. Bryan said police have also monitored their home since the episode.
“They stopped an incident that was very bad, and we had no idea what he was going to do after,” Oklahoma City Police Chief Bo Matthews later told reporters. “We’re very blessed that only three people were shot and didn’t lose their lives.”
Less than two weeks after the Louie’s shooting, America’s 1st Freedom contacted Bryan and Shannon to learn more about their story.
A1F: Can you tell us more about yourself and your background with guns?
Bryan:“I grew up in Oklahoma. I got my first Daisy BB gun when I was 4 or 5 years old. I remember being able to go hunt and walk around in the woods. I grew up hunting doves out by the lake. I think I had my first .22 pistol when I was around 13. Hunting, fishing—just your standard country kid, you know?”
A1F: Do you feel like your training prepared you for confronting an active killer?
Bryan:“In my mind consciously, what I can say is that inherently it allowed me to be confident in what I was doing enough to where I didn’t second-guess, I just reacted. If I didn’t have that [training], maybe I would have second-guessed myself. Having that stuff was probably more helpful than if somebody didn’t have it. Teaching you to move, don’t give up, stay alive, engage the target, stop the threat and get out of the situation. But [military training] is a different environment. They’re training for an overseas environment. This was America.”
A1F: What’s your response to critics who say an armed responder could shoot an innocent person, won’t be able to hit the killer, or would get shot by police in the confusion?
Bryan:“You know, I understand someone who would have those worries, but in my experience, things were very obvious. You almost inherently see somebody who’s good, and you see the person who’s bad. Seeing the guy, everybody pointing, he’s holding the gun, he’s wearing head gear, ear protection. All those things aren’t normal. People pointing, telling you that’s the shooter. You just take it all in, you just react. You just know. I just knew. Everything about the guy was saying ‘bad guy.’ There’s chaos around you, but inside you’re calm, or at least trying to stay calm, trying to take the information you can and come up with the best solution you can—within milliseconds. I’ve had a lot of pistol training, with the military and just in general, out in the back yard. I grew up with guns. There’s always a potential for bystanders to get hurt. But you can’t fill yourself with those thoughts. If you stop and think, ‘What if …,’ you may be killed yourself. I didn’t think of all those things. All I knew was, stop the threat.”
A1F: Do you think a civilian could stop a bad guy with a gun?
Bryan:“Of course I do. I think [training] didn’t make me second-guess what I was going to try to do. Inherently it gave me confidence to do what I was trying to do, which was to stop this guy. But I think that anyone, civilian or not, inherently has the want to help and to be a decent human being. I feel like an average guy who had the right tool at the right time to help. And I feel like anybody who had the right tool at the right time would help. But I also think that not everyone has that internal ‘go’ factor with them. They may hesitate, and that’s ok—maybe the ones who hesitate shouldn’t be engaging. But I know a lot of civilians who are way more trained with guns than I am. You know, it’s kind of our heritage to be around guns. At a young age, or being in the military, it just always gives you that confidence being around it. It’s just a normal thing. It’s as normal as people in Massachusetts eating lobster, or people in New York eating a hot dog at a Yankees game.”
A1F:Would either of you have done anything differently in hindsight?
Bryan: “Given the same situation, I would not have done anything differently. Knowing differently, maybe I wouldn’t have driven my wife into the situation.”
Shannon:“It’s hard. If he’d done something differently, what would have happened?”
A1F: People who carry every day pray they don’t have to face what you did, but hope they can do it as well as you if it happens. What would you say to them?
Bryan: “Be committed to your actions, whatever they are. If you’re going to go, then go. That’s what you’re doing. Once you get there, you can’t say ‘time out.’ No matter what you choose, if you choose to go, just know that you’re going to have to answer for your choice, good or bad. You pull your weapon, you’d better be d*** sure it’s for the right reason.”
In hindsight, this story is a familiar trail of glaring red flags. The suspect had a troubled history as a child, including being abused as a minor, and a juvenile arrest for assaulting his mother. He had been reported to the police after posting dozens of fliers around the city claiming demons were inhabiting the cloned bodies of transsexuals. He was also reported twice to the FBI for disturbing online videos, which included thoughts of suicide, appliances possessed by the devil, cloned humans, demonic attack, paranoia and—in apparently saner moments—literal cries for help. His family believed he was suicidal and in need of professional help.
Complicating matters, the shooter had successfully passed a laundry list of qualifications that, if made prerequisite to buying or owning a gun, would be a dream come true for gun-ban activists. He was licensed to work as a security guard, and had cleared both 72 hours of training for employment and a lengthy 500-plus-question mental health questionnaire designed to help identify underlying psychological problems. None of these rigorous screenings prevented his attempted massacre that day, which makes a compelling argument that no such measures are absolute in preventing active shooters.
“I feel bad for the guy not getting help,” Bryan acknowledged. “But he chose to hurt other people, and that was his choice, not mine. At that point, he’d punched his ticket.”
Bryan’s great-uncle, Bobby Cleveland, is an Oklahoma state representative. He heard about the shooting, but didn’t know about the family connection until the next day.
“Bryan is very laid back,” Cleveland told A1F. “The ‘I’m no hero, I just do whatever anyone would have done’ type. But as the police and owner told me, he was a hero; he saved lives. He doesn’t want it to turn out to be a political situation, but this is a good example of what could have happened if he hadn’t been there. I was real pleased with him for what he did. Bryan’s a very unique young man. The whole family’s very proud of him.”
Bryan himself was hesitant to go on the record at first, concerned he’d be cast as the “gun-toting crazy Republican” (his words) often portrayed by the media. But at the same time, he’s optimistic that he’s not alone.
“I feel like every American would be that way, hopefully,” he said. “That’s just the right thing to do. That’s how I was broughtup. God, family, country. That’s all I’ve ever known. It’s just human decency to help somebody. Or it should be, anyway. I was a decent human. And now I guess I happen to be a ‘good guy with a gun.’ But I truly don’t want to come off as happy about this incident, because I’m not. It sucks.”
In a bid to salvage the gun control agenda in the face of such a compelling “good guy with a gun” story, gun-ban advocate Shannon Watts, head of Moms Demand Action, claimed that the attacker was finished shooting, and that the men who responded were “not average citizens.”
This combination of Monday-morning admonishment and backseat showboating isn’t new, and it certainly reveals a rather unfortunate underestimation of the millions of law-abiding men and women, including NRA members, who have trained for emergencies. They may not be average inside the anti-gun lobbyist bubble, but the research begs to differ. Not only do official government reports estimate civilians useguns for self-defense roughly 185 times a day, but a report released by the FBI just days prior to this incident in Oklahoma City noted that civilians either confronted or thwarted one-fifth of documented active shooter incidents in recent years, including at least six where armed bystanders helped end the sprees. (Private research on armed civilian engagement of active shooters suggest the number is twice as high.)
Additional training and preparation is always a good idea, which is why the NRA and its affiliates train hundreds of thousands of Americans every year through their many programs—efforts which critics reward by calling the NRA a “domestic terror organization.”
But “lack of training” is itself a red herring: When asked, gun prohibitionists still oppose even highly trained combat veterans having the right to carry concealed firearms, or coaches or principals being allowed to be armed at school, or professors and faculty being armed on college campuses—even if their training requirements rival or exceed that of U.S. Navy seals.
The same critics also brand spree killers as a uniquely American problem, even though just weeks before this incident, nine children were killed and 10 more injured during a mass stabbing in China, while so-called “gun-free” Australia experienced one of its worst mass shootings in years.
Despite the jaundiced accusations of entrenched partisan activists, citizens from all walks of life continue to intervene and prevent shootings, whether it’s an unarmed hero at a Tennessee Waffle House, a barefoot Texan with an AR-15, or armed heroes like Bryan Whittle and Juan Carlos Nazario.
As NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox said at this year’s NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits, NRAmembers are the best of the best. And if a deranged monster starts murdering innocent people, your best bet is still an NRA member with a gun.
David Burnett is a critical care registered nurse based in Lexington, Ky., the former president of Students for Concealed Carry, and a frequent contributor to America’s 1st Freedom.