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The five men who drew handguns and faced off with a man who'd stolen an AR-15 were heroic; the fact that such a rifle was left in an unlocked pickup is hard to fathom

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Tony AhernHow crazy lucky we all were.

My wife and daughter were at the fair at the time, coworkers, probably hundreds of people I know and care about. If you're reading this, at least in its printed form, there's a good chance you know people who were at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds last Friday at 5 o'clock.

By all reports, the situation went from a man just out of jail snooping around vehicles to a convicted felon garnishing a loaded AR-15 rifle at the county fair.

Most know the story now, and certainly today's Pioneer well describes it. Can we ever forget it? The entire community, and anyone who cherishes life, can be thankful that one of our community's many good guys, Dan Comingore, happened to notice that man skulking around vehicles at the fairgrounds, in an area used by fair families to camp. Comingore is a longtime Madras resident, ag professional and experienced fair dad. He knew the guy moving about the vehicles was out of place and might be up to no good. So, he watched him, watched him open a random pickup door only to pull out an AR-15 rifle.

The crisis was on.

Looking back on how it all played out, it seemed like two competing narratives on guns in America.

The National Rifle Association's promotions department couldn't have done better than to script five brave local guys with handguns protecting an entire fairgrounds full of families from a parole violator with an AR-15 rifle. You could almost hear the refrain: "A good guy with a gun in the best defense against a bad guy with a gun."

On Friday night at the Jefferson County Fair, that was absolutely right. Those five guys — Comingore, Shane Gomes, Mike Towell, Chris Colton and James Lange — showed great bravery and their quick action was magnificent. They also showed great restraint to not fire a shot, even when the suspect allegedly pointed the gun at them. They seemed to be collectively saying, Dude, I don't know what you're up to but you are NOT going to ransack this fair, this community. While his buddies kept a bead on the suspect, Comingore called 911 and the authorities quickly responded.

These guys are heroes to the community and deserve all the praise they're getting, and then some. We can all be thankful that they had their weapons with them that afternoon and brought them to bear.

But there was just as strong of a pro-gun-laws advertisement that evening. How startling is it that, to some, having an AR-15 rifle is so commonplace now that it can be laid in the cab of an unlocked pickup, with the magazine there for the grab? Had that assault rifle — the type of which was somewhat rare 20 years ago and now there are more than 20 million in our country — not been there for the picking, none of this would have happened.

It's a flat miracle that no one was killed Friday, and how easily things could have turned tragic by that decision to bring that rifle to the fair and leave it in an unlocked pickup. The suspect went from likely looking for something to steal, judging by his history, to finding an AR-15, a hand-held killing machine. He picked it up, loaded it, then likely heard Comingore shout, "He has a gun."

Minutes later, the suspect, Rafael Gomez, slipped through the fence and made his way to the Towne Pump gas station, where he tried to shoot employees and customers. Thank God the gun didn't fire. It did fire, though, when he ran across Highway 97, and began shooting at pursuing officers. The horror raged and potential devastation was pending again when Gomez reached the KFC/A&W and went into the restaurant with the AR-15. Employees hid. What was Gomez's plan? A hostage, random killing? He'd just tried to shoot people at the gas station. It's likely his plans weren't good.

Thank God, again, that Jefferson County Sheriff's Office personnel opened fire on Gomez as he entered the restaurant. Their bullets shattered the glass door but also dropped Gomez and he was apprehended.

Crisis over. The fact that no one was killed at the fairgrounds, the gas station, during the pursuit or at the restaurant is a minor miracle.

Those five local guys standing up and protecting our community, our kids and families, that was inspirational. The thought of our community becoming another victim of one of the ugly American plagues of our times — a troubled person spraying bullets from a loaded automatic weapon, causing unthinkable carnage — is sickening.

The amount of luck, God's grace, or whatever it was we benefitted from Friday evening is mind boggling. Will we have any of that luck left if it happens again?


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