The Tucson Atrocity: Joe Zamudio’s Story
A loser with a gun initiates mass murder … and you, with your concealed carry pistol, are nearby.
Citizens who stand up and fight can stop the killing … but anti-gun media may still spin their heroism 180 degrees from the truth.
Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson, Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and some of her staff were holding a small meet-the-voters rally in a mall when a pathetic loser named Jared Loughner opened fire, pumping 9mm bullets into helpless victims 6 to 9 feet away as fast as he could. By the time he was on the ground, restrained, Loughner had downed his primary target, Representative Giffords, with a severe brain injury, wounded a dozen other people and killed six. Half of the murder victims were septuagenarian retirees: Dorothy Morris, 76; Phyllis Scheck, 79 and Dorwan Stoddard, 76. Chief (Federal court) Judge John Roll also lay dead, as did 30-year-old Giffords staffer, Gabe Zimmerman. Most tragic was the youngest of the slain, Christina-Taylor Green, who had been born on Sept. 11, 2001.
The takedown of the mass murderer was a study in citizens’ courage. As Loughner attempted to reload after emptying his pistol, one of the intended victims in the crowd reportedly smashed him in the back of the head with a folding metal chair. Retired Colonel Bill Badger, age 74, tackled the killer and brought him to the ground. Already down on the sidewalk herself, Patricia Maisch, 61, ripped a fresh magazine out of Loughner’s hand. Roger Sulzgeber separated him from his gun, and he and Joseph Zamudio held him down, immobile, until the first responding Tucson PD officer arrived at the scene.
This is being written early in second quarter 2011, with the prosecution of Loughner still in its early stages and much pertinent information not yet released. One not-completely-answered question is, how many law-abiding armed citizens were present? Representative Giffords herself was known to not only own but sometimes carry a Glock 19 pistol; it has not officially been made known whether or not her gun was within her reach when she was shot. Judge Roll was licensed to carry and known to do so regularly. Some insist he was armed at the time, but was shot by surprise before he could deploy his weapon; others say that, because he came to the rally from a church event, he was not carrying a gun at the time of the shooting. It has been said another Giffords aide present regularly carried and may have been armed when it happened; at this writing, that has not been confirmed or denied, either.
We do know one of the heroic first responders was indeed armed: Joe Zamudio, age 24. The following is drawn from his account of the incident from his perspective, shared with the rest of the class when he subsequently attended a Massad Ayoob Group program in nearby Sierra Vista, hosted by decorated combat vet Dan Southard of Gator Farm Tactical. This, lightly edited for space considerations, is his story.
“It was Saturday,” Joe began. “I didn’t have to work, so I went to have breakfast with my mom. On the way back, I went to Walgreen’s. Walking up to the door, I saw a crowd of people (at the rally), and went in to get cigarettes before seeing what was going on. As I was asking the lady behind the counter for a pack of Camels, I heard one shot, then a chain of shots real fast, before she could hand me the cigarettes. It sounded like fireworks. I just responded and ran out door. As I cleared the door, a man in front of me who had been wounded in the leg said, ‘Shooter! Shooter! Get down!’”
Zamudio had long kept a gun in his car. The previous August, when buying a Ruger P95 9mm, he had learned from the gun dealer that Arizona had legalized permit-less carry, and from that day on had worn the Ruger constantly. Left-handed, he was carrying it that day, butt forward in the inside right breast pocket of his jacket, fully loaded with 16 rounds.
Zamudio continued, “I reached into my pocket, put my hand on my pistol, took the safety off, and ran down the sidewalk (toward the shooting scene). That’s when I saw a group of people wrestling with (Loughner). The first thing I focused on was the man closest to me. His back was to me. He raised up with a Glock in his hand, open, magazine sticking out. In that second I decided that because the gun was open, I didn’t have to shoot him. I immediately grabbed him by the wrist, turned the gun in toward him, told him to drop the weapon. He did.
“Even as he was dropping the gun, everyone yelled, ‘It’s not him, it’s not him!’ I said, ‘Put it down.’ I was hearing people yell, ‘I’ll kill you, you motherf***er, I’ll kill you.’ When the man dropped the gun I said, ‘Put your foot on it, make us all feel safe,’ and he did. This turned out to be Roger Sulzgeber, one of my personal heroes. He and Bill Badger had grabbed Loughner and pulled him to the ground. Apparently the gun had jammed, either misfired or didn’t feed, and Loughner was trying to reload again when they grabbed him. There was an empty mag on ground, a full one that mis-fed in the gun, and another full magazine Patricia Maisch got away from him.”
“The world went into slow motion,” Joe continued. “I assessed the situation. Bill had Loughner by the neck on the ground. Roger stood on the gun and leaned over and grabbed Loughner’s shoulder, holding him down. Patricia had been on the ground when she grabbed the loaded magazine away from him, and she shimmied over his legs. Loughner began to struggle, and Patricia asked me to take her place. I got down onto the back of his knee and put a hand on his hip. A fourth gentleman put a foot on his back, he wasn’t going anywhere. I tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through, tried three times. The police showed up in about four minutes. All Loughner ever said during that time was, ‘Ow. You’re breaking my arm.’”
Joe adds, “Bill Badger was bleeding profusely from his head. He told me as Loughner was shooting everyone, (Loughner approached him and) pointed the gun at Bill’s head. Bill reflexively turned his head away, and when Loughner fired, the bullet took skin off down to the skull but did no real damage. Bill went down. When the gun stopped firing, Bill raised back up and Loughner was right in front of him. That was when the wrestling started. Bill Badger was bleeding, the first real blood I saw, and it hit me that this had really happened, all these people got shot. The enormity of it set in.
“I looked to my right, and saw a sea of wounded people. Between them and their loved ones and everyone else trying to help, there were just so many people. Many people were screaming different things at once. ‘Call the police!’ ‘Oh, my God!’ ‘Where’s the ambulance?’ People say crazy things to deal with the trauma. One person yelled, ‘Take a picture of his face!’”
The Cavalry Arrives
Zamudio remembers, “The lady from Walgreen’s came out and did CPR on one victim. There were four different doctors at or near the scene who were able to provide immediate care. The first law enforcement to show up was a uniformed officer, a minute ahead of everyone else, and he got out of his car with gun in hand, looking at us. People were shouting ‘He’s right here, he’s right here.’ A lady tried to give the officer the empty magazine.
“Instead, he went straight to Loughner, cuffed him, and when the second officer arrived, they searched him. I watched them take two regular magazines, a Ziplock baggie with cash, and a folding knife from him. No phone, no ID, no keys. At that point I couldn’t believe he had a knife the whole time. If he’d gotten to it, it would have been another set of problems.”
Joe was prepared to stop the killer with gunfire if he had to. He says today, “I was just truly blessed I didn’t have to pull my firearm. I didn’t have to go to that place. The guy who had the gun was the wrong guy, and I’m glad I didn’t pull a gun on him. I’m glad the people took him down when they did. He was heading in my direction, toward the Walgreen’s, coming my way; when I stepped out the door I might have been the next victim, or would have had to shoot him.”
He adds, “It was the most intense five minutes of my life, hands down. You can’t be prepared to see the dead bodies and the wounded people. Some of the dead lay there for the two hours the police kept us there, covered with shirts and jackets. Some they worked on and took away. There were many people with superficial wounds: ‘My arm’s bleeding,’ ‘My back is bleeding.’”
Joe found the police response to him very reasonable when they learned he was armed at the scene. He relates, “Starting that day, (it’s been) crazy ever since. I never thought about it. I take my gun with me because I might need it to protect myself. I had never thought about the other things that might be involved. The police were very cool. The investigating officer took me aside, and we went through what had happened three or four times. When it was over he said, ‘Thank you, have a nice day,’ and let me get in my car and drive away.” Joe’s gun was never taken, never came out. He explains, “I told the first policeman that I didn’t want to scare anyone, but I was carrying a gun, in my coat pocket. Did he want it? He said no, tell the investigator. Another officer asked me to stand separately, that was it. When the investigator asked to see my gun, I opened my coat and showed him where it was, and he said okay. That was it.”
More horrifying to Zamudio than anything else was the realization the monster he helped subdue had shot a little girl. The thought he might have stopped the killing if he’d gone over to see what the crowd was there for, instead of entering the drugstore to make his purchase, haunted Joe. “I had thought about going over there before going into the Walgreen’s,” he says, “and I’ve second-guessed myself ever since. What if I’d been standing next to that little girl and had been able to stop him in time to save her? You feel responsible. That was unbelievably hard for me. What if I was meant to go down there? You still feel like you failed. It was hard to have been so close, and not been able to stop him.”
The anger hit at the same moment as the outrage in the moments after Loughner was subdued, but Zamudio controlled it. Revenge is a natural human emotion, but Joe instantly put it aside. “We had him. I don’t have to look his mom in the eye and say I killed your kid. It’s not my road to walk.”
Being involved in something like this changes your identity in the eyes of many who know you.
Whether they treat you as a hero or something else, it changes your sense of self to some degree. Asked if those who knew him treated him differently since, Joe replied, “Some do. A lot of my friends are the same. The person closest to me is my mom. She’s no longer afraid of guns, and now she’s happy I keep them around. Her attitude used to be, why do you carry that chunk of metal?”
Part of the aftermath was dealing with the media. “The press descended on us,” says Joe. “The day after, Sunday, they were beating down the door. By Monday, I’d said to the news that I had a gun, and it kind of turned the story. A lot wanted to know about the gun, but only wanted to ask specific questions and if they didn’t get the responses they wanted, they’d move on, and that would be it. They wanted to hear me say I almost shot the wrong guy. On one show they took a short blip from a long sentence to make it sound that way … I was not taken out of context every time, but often.
“One newspaper lady was very nice, got me when I was by myself, talked for 20 or 30 minutes about wanting to interview me, but didn’t mention the discussion was the interview. She wrote an article for the L.A. Times and sold it to every AP newspaper in the country, it seemed. She was quoting me as saying I almost shot the wrong guy … on the other hand, Charles Heller — the talk show radio guy in Tucson — was the most fair of all the media people. The guy from Geraldo’s show was very nice, and they weren’t too bad in what they played.”
What would he do differently with the media, knowing what he knows now? What Joe says he’s learned since is, “If you’re in a position where you have news, don’t talk to all of them. To do it over again, I’d have one exclusive interview, and the others will leave you alone. Make it for a few days from now so they can plug it and the others get the word and leave you alone. I didn’t know that at the time,” he explains. Joe adds, “I also didn’t know they’ll pay you for exclusive, so I didn’t make any money from the interviews, either.”
The Face Of The Enemy
Because of his involvement in the incident, Joe Zamudio has become something of an expert on the killer, Jared Lee Loughner. “He lived three streets off from where I live,” Zamudio relates. “We had the same favorite gas station. They sold him cigarettes and candy bars and Rockstars every night. He was a loner. Even those he considered his closest friends didn’t call themselves his friends. I believe he was doing a lot of drugs, beyond pot. He would come into the convenience store, loaded at 2 a.m. I understand he might have taken the gun out in the desert a couple of times, but others say he never went to the range. If he did practice, it wasn’t around gun people. I’ve talked to a lot of people who knew him. A good friend who went to school with him said Jared was always That Weird Kid. That seemed to be unanimous.”
No good deed goes unpunished. The gun-banners were out in force as soon as the story hit the newswires, dancing in the blood of the victims. Some in the media turned their sights on the Glock 19 pistol used by the killer, ignoring the fact that Representative Giffords herself owned one and was known to carry it, and the fact the Tucson police responded with drawn Glock 22 .40 calibers, their issue sidearm. Because three of Loughner’s five magazines, including the one in his gun when he opened fire, were extended to 33-round capacity, a ban on magazines holding more than ten rounds became a cause célèbre once again among the anti-gunners. Gary Slider of the immensely useful compendium of gun laws handgunlaw.us was, to my knowledge, the first to point out that the extra-long, awkward magazine is probably what allowed a senior citizen female, Ms. Maisch, enough leverage to get it away from a physically strong young madman before he could reload and cause more carnage.
Similarly, the flow of BS turned toward Zamudio. The anti-gunners tried to say he added to the danger by “almost shooting a rescuer.” Of course, nothing of the kind had happened, and Joe Zamudio himself has the best answer I’ve heard to that ridiculous claim: “By that thinking, when you get in a car you almost get in an accident. Same logic. You control your vehicle, and I controlled my firearm. I never pointed it at anyone, so how could I have almost hurt anyone?”
I watched Joe Zamudio shoot at my class two months after the incident. He handled his P95 with aplomb, and drew it smoothly from a handsome holster crafted for him by Jim March after the incident. There is no doubt in my mind that if fate had led him to confront Loughner in time, he would have swiftly put the mad dog down with the Federal Hydra-Shok hollow point that had been in his chamber, a cartridge Joe has since put aside as a reminder of the incident.
When others fled and played dead, Zamudio literally ran to the sound of the gunfire. He was ready to shoot if he had to, hand on Ruger and safety off, but was careful not to add to the panic. He superbly controlled what could have degenerated into a mistaken identity shooting. In grueling interviews since, some with reporters who had anti-gun agendas, Joe proved himself a powerful spokesman for the right of responsible people to carry guns for the protection of themselves and others.
He was one among many heroes that terrible day in Tucson … but Joe Zamudio was our hero.
By Massad Ayoob
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