A US soldier is being hailed as a hero after he helped rescue children from a Texas shopping mall during a deadly mass shooting.
Private 1st Class Glendon Oakley Jr doesn’t want you to call him a hero.
But the American Army soldier is being hailed as such after putting himself in harm’s way and racing children to safety during the massacre in El Paso, Texas.
Twenty people were killed and another 26 were seriously injured when a gunman opened fire at a shopping centre in the Texas border town on Saturday.
Police said the suspected shooter has been charged with murder offenses that can carry the death penalty, and a federal official said investigators are treating the El Paso shooting as a case of domestic terrorism.
PfC Oakley was off-duty and shopping in a Footlocker when the deadly attack began and initially brushed off a child’s claim there was an active shooter on the loose.
But when he heard the first shots, the soldier, who had recently returned from a deployment in Kuwait, focused on getting nearby children out of danger.
"I see a whole bunch of kids just running around without their parents. So … the only thing I think of is just to pick up as many kids as possible,” the 22-year-old told reporters immediately after the shooting.
It’s unknown how many children he carried to safety, but PfC Oakley credited his military training for drawing the pistol he occasionally carries under Texas’ concealed carry laws and doing something – rather than just fleeing from the shooter.
But PfC Oakley told reporters a day after the shooting that he didn’t want to be labelled a hero for his actions.
“What I did, is what I did… I understand I’m looked at as a hero for what I did – but that wasn’t the reason for it,” he told reporters before breaking into tears.
“I was just focused on the kids and the families. It hurts me, I lost… they were part of me… I didn’t even know the people who died or the kids who I took with me.
“I want to reach out to the families that were lost and the families that lost children – the spotlight shouldn’t be on me, what I did, I get it. What I did was heroic and most people wouldn’t have done it, but I went… I did what I was trained to do, the military trained me to do that.
“But I want the focus to be on the families… to make sure they’re ok.”
The US Army confirmed the 22-year-old native of Killeen, Texas, is an automated logistical specialist assigned to the 504th Composite Supply Company, 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, which is part of the 1st Armoured Division stationed at nearby Fort Bliss.
The PfC was born into a military family – his father, Glendon Oakley Sr served more than 30 years in the Army and retired in 2011 at the rank of sergeant major, according to an Army statement.
His mother, Wendolyn, is also a retired master sergeant and his older sister Glenda was formerly a lieutenant in the US Army.
After the shooting, the first person PfC Oakley called was his dad.
He also thanked his non-commissioned-officers and superiors for teaching him the relevant skills that allowed him to stay calm and save lives under fire.
“That’s what I raised my hand up for,” he told reporters.
“All I thought of is how I’d want another man to (do), if I had a child and I wasn’t around that child.
“I just thought about keeping them as close as I could – times like this, don’t be scared to put others before yourself. That’s the way I was raised.”