As Supervising Probation Officer Nate Scarano drove to work in the early morning of Dec 2, 2015, he felt unsettled. It was a day when he felt something would happen, so when he got to his office he wrote in 1 foot letters on large whiteboard for all the officers to see, “Be Prepared for Sudden Change.” Within a few short hours, life would forever change for every person and every responder at The Inland Regional Center.
Employees at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino California were enjoying a company training with a holiday lunch. Festive Christmas decorations, comradery, holiday spirit in abundance filled the room. Then the door opened and bullets began spraying the attendees: falling, bleeding, and screaming, as a man and a woman dressed in black mercilessly took their lives. Some looked into their faces of hate and recognized one of their own co-workers and his wife, whom only moments ago they had called friend.
Two miles away Nate Scarano was in his office when the call came out for an active shooter at Inland Regional. He grabbed his gear, jumped into his vehicle and raced to the center where in only a few days he was scheduled for training. Arriving in moments, as he exited his vehicle he saw people hiding in the parking lot and between cars. He saw people lying in pools of blood, shot, severely injured, or dead. It was a combat zone and he had not even entered the building yet.
Active Shooter Training dictates that officers stop the threat first and render aid only after the threat has been neutralized. Knowing that other officers were searching for the shooters and hearing no gunfire, Nate looked at the victims outside wounded and needing help. He knew that if he did not help now, there would be no later for many of them. Nate called for officers to bring vehicles and within minutes, he and his officers were loading victims into their trucks and cars and getting them to a nearby triage location. The fear in their eyes, the crying, the severity of the wounds and the pools of blood literally took his breath away.
There was no moment for himself. His mission was to get these people to safety and medical aid.
After clearing the outside area, Nate headed to ground zero, which was the conference room. He was met with a horrific war zone. Workers had sustained serious gunshot wounds and others were dead. There was screaming and moaning. The automatic sprinkler system had engaged due to the smoke from all of the gunfire, and water mixing with blood created a river running out the doors and into the parking lot, splashing on his shoes and covering everyone. The fire alarms were blaring. Water, smoke, fire alarms, smells creating sensory overload, yet…. Nate heard a very soft voice “Help me, I’m going to die”. He looked down at his feet and near the doorway to the conference room lie a young woman with gunshot wounds the size of a baseball. He should never have heard her, but he did.
Again, Nate Struggled between his tactical training and his compassion for life. Should he search for the shooter, or render aid? Hearing no gunfire, Nate looked down at this young woman and said “You’re not going to die today.” He called for all of his officers to meet him there with vehicles stat.
There were no ambulances on scene as they are staged away from the hot zone until the threat is over. Nate and his team began extracting victims and taking them to a triage area outside of the hot zone where medics could render aid and transport to hospitals. Without Nate Scarano’s immediate decision to stop and help the victims outside and inside the Inland Regional Center, many more lives would have been lost.
Some did not live, but many did, including that young woman who had already lost over half her blood. She had moments to live when she whispered her words. Had Nate made the decision to render no aid and instead search for the shooter as training dictated, she would have died. No one would have blamed him. But on that day, Nate Scarano had a split second decision to make. Taking into account everything he knew, and hearing no gunfire, he made the decision to save lives.
Due in great part to what was learned from this incident and Nate’s actions, first responder Active Shooter training has been tailored to take into account and enact rescue mode so officers may render aid and extract victims if there appears to be no active threat rather than waiting until they are sure the threat is neutralized.
The Next Leap Forward
For his heroic courage and for his instantaneous action to save lives, Nate was awarded the Medal of Valor and the San Bernardino County’s Distinguished Service Medal with a Black Heart and deservedly so.
“Be Prepared for Sudden Change”. It was prophetic. If we think about it, we all need to be prepared each and every day. None of us have the insight of knowing what a day will bring; good or bad. Life can change in an instant.
When life moments happen where courage is needed; where our ability to act means life or death for someone else; we need to step up. Nate knew as he drove to that scene that this could be his own last day. Yet he went forward with determination, placing his life in God’s hands without hesitation.
There was no hesitation to assess the scene and see the need of the victims and take immediate action to save lives, not knowing if the shooters were still nearby. To be that man; to demonstrate that courage; to stand on the brink and take the leap defines the term hero.
If and when our turn comes to be that person with heroic courage to go against the unknown; to do the right thing to save another; take that next leap forward.