CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — One was an Iraq War veteran who loved military history. Another was an Afghanistan war vet and fitness buff. Still another would bring in cupcakes for colleagues when they got promotions.
All of them were National Guard members and they were sitting at a table at a Nevada IHOP when a gunman burst in and began shooting. All three died in the attack, a death toll that matched the total number of Nevada guardsmen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade. A patron was also killed.
“This is unquestionably the most devastating attack in Carson City’s history,” Sheriff Kenny Furlong said on Wednesday. “Yesterday our town was shocked to the core.”
Exactly what set gunman Eduardo Sencion, 32, off — and whether the grocery store employee had some kind of grudge against the military — remained unclear. He killed himself after the shooting.
Family members told police that Sencion was mentally troubled, but he did not have a criminal history.
South Lake Tahoe police said the department took Sencion into protective custody during a mental health commitment in April 2000 and that he fought with officers. He was not charged.
The Lake Tahoe News first reported the incident.
No court order was involved, Lt. David Stevenson told The Associated Press. He said officers have the authority under state law to take individuals into protective custody if they determine the person poses a danger to themselves or others.
No weapon was involved in the incident, said Stevenson, who declined to release any other details because the Carson City shooting investigation remains active.
Art Panchal runs a South Lake Tahoe motel near the small Mexican market where Sencion worked, which is owned by Sencion’s family.
Panchal visits the market to buy jalapenos, tortillas and fish, and saw Sencion on those shopping trips.
“He was a happy guy. He was always smiling,” Panchal said. “He would help people out.”
When Panchal heard media reports about the shooting, “I was shocked.”
“I was totally surprised,” said Panchal, who has operated the National 9 Inn for six years. “I don’t know why he freaked out.”
Authorities on Wednesday released the 911 calls made from in and around the IHOP. They painted a picture of a frantic scene, as witnesses described the gunman firing his gun.
“There’s a shooting in the IHOP! Get there right now!” yelled caller Ralph Swagler, owner of Local’s BBQ next door, as shots rang out in the background.
“Now he’s coming back out. He’s shooting people in the parking lot! He’s shooting at us now!”
A female caller instructed the dispatcher to bring “several” ambulances.
Kathy Chaney, of Dayton, Nev., was inside the IHOP, just feet away from the National Guard members.
Chaney was sitting with five relatives and a child she was caring for when she heard the “biggest and loudest pops that I’ve ever heard in my whole life.”
Chaney said she put her hands to her ears and got under the table as the gunman rapidly fired dozens of shots, shattering a glass partition that separated her family from the soldiers who were killed.
“If it had not been for that glass, we would have all been shot in the head,” she said.
“I heard screaming. I heard glass shattering. I heard a woman moaning, and when I was on the floor I just kind of looked up,” she said. “… I just saw debris flying, it was almost like in slow motion — like confetti.”
Chaney said that as she huddled beneath the table, three men who work for a cable company took charge and started yelling for those inside to leave the restaurant through an emergency exit.
“We could tell that the gunshots were getting closer. And so I had no idea where it was coming from or where he was, and I thought for sure I was going to get shot,” she said.
She knocked over a high chair where the 2 1/2-year-old girl she was caring for was sitting, then carried the girl out of the restaurant while crouching. As she left the building, “I was still hearing gunfire,” Chaney said.
“It really is just such a miracle, by the grace of God, that we’re alive today,” Chaney said.
Seven people were wounded in the attack. Their names were not released, but authorities said three of them were released from the Carson-Tahoe Hospital on Wednesday.
Maj. April Conway of the Nevada National Guard said one of the three released was a Guard member. That leaves one Guard member still hospitalized, along with three civilians.
The four killed in the attack were:
— Maj. Heath Kelly, 35, of Reno. Brig. Gen. William R. Burks said Kelly was a decorated officer and avid student of military history who was known for his dry sense of humor. Kelly was married with two kids.
Kelly’s stepmother, Noretta Kelly of Terrytown, La., said Kelly lived for his two children, a 5-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son, and always wanted to be a soldier.
“We’re just heartbroken,” she said.
Noretta Kelly said she felt like his death was “unreal,” given that he had survived a tour in Iraq and a childhood in the New Orleans area, and had moved to a safer place.
“It’s just kind of like — it wasn’t right.”
— Sgt. 1st Class Christian Riege, 38, of Carson City.
Burks said Riege was a fitness buff and father of four who had also been in the Navy. Riege’s military occupation was armor crewman, and he served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010.
— Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney, 31, of Reno. McElhiney was an administrative sergeant who had been in the Guard for 13 years. She baked birthday, wedding and graduation cakes for anyone who asked.
McElhiney was a “fireball,” said Kaylee Rutledge, who recently graduated from high school. “She told you how it was. She didn’t hold anything back.”
McElhiney was helping Rutledge navigate her way through the male-centric Guard. “She wasn’t going to let any of the boys stop her,” Rutledge said. “Whenever you needed her, she would always be there.”
— The patron killed was Florence Donovan-Gunderson, 67, of South Lake Tahoe. Donovan-Gunderson was married to a retired U.S. Marine Corps member.
Donovan-Gunderson worked in the credit department of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino for 10 years before she retired in 1999, casino spokesman John Packer said.
Her husband, Wally Gunderson, was a security guard at the casino until 1998, Packer said.
Wally Gunderson also was shot during the restaurant massacre. His status was unclear.
Mary Synder lived next door to Donovan-Gunderson for 30 years. They were close friends.
Wally Gunderson had an illness and depended on Donovan-Gunderson to get around.
The couple was at the IHOP because Donovan-Gunderson had a dentist appointment in Carson City Tuesday, Synder said.
Synder was supposed to have dinner with Donovan-Gunderson on Wednesday night. They often played card games, especially Rummy 500.
“I’m going to be strong until I don’t want to be anymore,” Synder said.
Associated Press writers Michelle Rindels, Ken Ritter and Cristina Silva in Las Vegas and Martin Griffith and Scott Sonner in Carson City contributed to this report. Garcia reported from Las Vegas.
Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.
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