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May 19, 1983
It had been, if not a quiet night, at least a normal night for the Springfield Police Department. Cops know that hot weather encourages impromptu parties and triggers family beefs. The SPD log for that twenty-four-hour period lists the expected ration of trouble between a quarter after ten and twenty minutes to eleven Thursday night.
An anonymous caller complained at 10:16 p.m. about a party on North First Street. "RP [reporting party] called to report a loud party in the above area. Unit dispatched. Responsibles contacted. Noise abated. Subjects to depart the area."
"Suspicious conditions" were reported-again anonymously-at 10:22 p.m. "RP reported hearing a small child crying. Unit dispatched. Involved parties contacted, found to be a dispute between children. No crime involved."
At 10:32 the call was a bit more serious. "RP called to report a male/female verbal dispute in the apartment complex on North Seventeenth. Male half reported to be carrying rifle. Units dispatched. Charged with menacing. Lodged Lane County Jail."
At the headquarters of the Lane County Sheriff's Office in Eugene, Sheriff Dave Burks's officers were also pulling a fairly quiet shift. Rob Rutherford was the graveyard shift sergeant; Detective Lieutenant Louis Hince would be on call for anything that might require his detectives; thirty-one-year-old Doug Welch was at home in Springfield with his wife, Tamara, and two young sons. Richard Blaine Tracy (of course, "Dick Tracy") was a year away from retirement after twenty-six years as a cop, and he would be just as happy if nothing heavy came down before he left. Divorced, Tracy was getting ready for bed alone in his Eugene apartment. Kurt Wuest was away at a training seminar that Thursday night. Roy Pond was working days.
Assistant DA Fred Hugi, radio and television turned off, was reveling in the quiet of a perfect spring evening at his lodgelike home set far back in the forest along the McKenzie River. It was a different life out there in the woods, and he was a different man. He wore frayed jeans and battered logging boots as he planted seedlings to thicken even more the forest outside his windows.
Joanne Hugi, co-director of the computer center at the University of Oregon, was lost in concentration in her computer room. It made her husband smile; he, who had degrees in forestry, finance, and law, had been baffled by the single computer course he'd attempted, and he'd challenged Joanne to try it. She had proved to be a natural, understanding terms and concepts that eluded him. Hugi gave up on computers, but Joanne flew with them, higher and higher. He was extremely proud of her. She'd worked her way up at the university from an entrance level job to the top.
The sun set long before 10 p.m., and Hugi paused to look at the filigree of tree branches silhouetted against the last bit of sky before he took his dirt-caked boots off and went inside. The Hugis' two cats sat on the deck, alert, staring at the glowing eyes of something-probably a deer or raccoon-out there in the woods.
The Hugis had come to this perfect spot along the McKenzie after years of living in the kind of apartments students could afford in the city. It was well worth the half-hour commute into Eugene. Sometimes, they could hear logging trucks zooming by far away on the road, but usually they heard only the wind in the trees, or rain, or the cry of a nighthawk.
The bad call came into the Springfield Police Department at 10:40 p.m.: "Employee of McKenzie-Willamette Hospital advises of gunshot victims at that location. Officers dispatched. Arrived 10:48 p.m."
Rosie Martin, RN; Shelby Day, LPN; Judy Patterson, the night receptionist; and Dr. John Mackey, physician in charge, comprised the evening shift in the emergency room at the McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield.
The McKenzie-Willamette ER as it existed in the late spring of 1983 was a little cramped, a little out of date. Paint on walls and baseboards had been scrubbed dull and drab; the waiting room furniture was chrome and peeling vinyl.
Facing the two sets of doors that led to the circular driveway off Mohawk Boulevard, the three treatment rooms were to the right: Day Surgery nearest the street, Minor Treatment in the middle, and the Trauma Room at the back. On the left, Judy Patterson's desk was just behind a small waiting area near the street doors. Five feet or so behind her desk there was a small bathroom and beyond that a larger waiting room.
The floors were hospital-waxed shiny-the forest-green-and-white-swirl asphalt tile popular in the 1950s, patched here and there with odd squares. The rooms smelled old. Old wax, old dust, old disinfectant. Old sorrows, it would seem, with the sharpness of immediate grief dulled by time. The old ER had known decades of pain.
That velvet black spring night Dr. Mackey and his staff, working in an almost obsolete ER, would be the first to encounter what was unthinkable for Springfield, what would be unthinkable for even a big city. None of them would have much time to think during the hours they fought to save the injured, their white shoes sliding on floors slick with fresh blood. Only later would terrible musings rush in to destroy all hope of sleep.
Shelby Day is a slender, soft-spoken woman near forty, with six years' experience in the McKenzie-Willamette ER. She wears white slacks and pastel, patterned smocks. When she remembers the night of May 19, 1983, tears well unbidden in her eyes.
"We were working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. We had the usual kind of 'nice day' injuries-lacerations, bumped heads, sprains, and broken bones. We were busy steadily, but there were no real emergencies. Dr. Mackey was finishing up with a patient at a quarter after ten, and Rosie and I were in that little back room doing paperwork. There's always paperwork to catch up with. Judy was out at her desk in the corridor . . ."
Judy Patterson, a smiling strawberry blonde, works two jobs to support her son Brandon, who was nine in 1983. She is the receptionist in Pediatrics at Eugene's Sacred Heart Hospital on the day shift; after five, she puts in another five or six hours as the ER receptionist at McKenzie-Willamette.
Rosie Martin was pregnant in the spring of 1983, into her second trimester. Already her belly had begun to get in her way as she moved swiftly to care for patients. She was tired, but she didn't complain to her co-workers. She and Shelby worked together quietly in the back room.
When Dr. John Austin Mackey had a full beard, his nurses wondered if he ever smiled. When he shaved it off, they saw that he had been smiling all along behind his hirsute facade. Tall, balding, and broad-shouldered, a bear of a man, Mackey inspires confidence. The perfect emergency room doctor; his assessment of patients' needs is deft. In his late thirties, married, and the father of young children, he had worked full-time in the ER for eight years.
Because they were winding down, the others told Judy she could go home a few minutes early. She was scheduled to leave anyway at 10:30, but she grinned gratefully and grabbed her sweater and purse. As she walked toward the ambulance doors, a woman in the hall, a relative waiting for a patient, called to her.
"There's someone out there honking their horn and yelling for help. You'd better check."
Judy whirled and walked back to where Shelby Day and Rosie Martin were shuffling paperwork.
"Someone needs help out there. They're laying on the horn."
Judy ran back then to the ambulance entrance. Rapidly, she propped open both sets of doors to the drive-through.
Rosie Martin grabbed an air-way and an oxygen mask and headed toward the drive-through. Their most'common'crisis was cardiac arrest; that's what she and Shelby Day expected to find. It was strange, though, that they had had no prior warning. Invariably, paramedics and police called to warn that they were coming in with a critical case so that the ER crew could gear up.
The two nurses hurried through the double entry doors into the emergency drive-through. A shiny red foreign car was parked under the rain roof. The fluorescent lighting bounced off the car's glittering paint, casting eerie elongated shadows. It was almost impossible for them to see inside the car.
"What's going on here?" Rosie Martin asked.
"Somebody just shot my kids!"
A slender blonde woman in jeans and a plaid shirt stood next to the car. She was pale, but she was in control. She wasn't crying and she didn't appear to be hysterical. Desperately she implored them to do something. The two nurses and the young woman gazed at each other for a fraction of a second, and then the emergency personnel went into action.
Rosie Martin had reached the car just ahead of Shelby Day. She ducked through the passenger door; she'd seen a child lying across the right rear seat. Rosie emerged, carrying a girl with long brown hair. The child had to be heavy. Dead weight, Shelby Day thought, and then bit her lip. Rosie carried the little girl in maroon corduroy slacks and a bloody multicolored T-shirt as if she had no weight at all, draping the child carefully around her pregnant abdomen.
As Rosie rushed past Judy Patterson's desk, she turned her head slightly. "Judy! Call a code! It's bad!"
A "code" meant Code 4, a page to summon all available personnel to the ER. Judy Patterson called the hospital operator and told her to activate a code.
Back in the drive-through, Shelby Day saw there was another child on the back seat, behind the driver's seat-a yellow-haired little boy, hardly more than a toddler. She ran around the front of the car and leaned over to release the back of the driver's seat. Her fingers numb with shock, she couldn't find the right lever. She heard Dr. Mackey's voice behind her.
"What's going on, Shelby?" he asked.
"These kids have been shot," she said softly.
"Oh, Jesus Christ," the doctor murmured.
It was not an oath; it was a prayer. Only two words had registered in Mackey's mind: "kids" and fishot." He could see over Shelby's shoulder to the tiny child who was gasping for air and crying weakly.
The blonde woman murmured that the seat lever was on the side. Shelby's hand reached the right spot, clicked the catch free. Before she could straighten up, Dr. Mackey had reached past her, scooped the little boy up in powerful arms, and'disappeared'into the hospital. He had seen what the nurses hadn't noticed yet. When he leaned in to get the little boy, he'd glimpsed yet another figure crumpled on the floor in front, and thought, My God! There's a third one! What are we going to do?
Mackey was sure Shelby Day had seen the third child a moment after he had. But in the shadows, in her shock, she hadn't.
The quick look he'd had at the first two injured youngsters told Mackey they were dealing with chest wounds. Short of a direct head shot, there is nothing more cataclysmic than gunshot wounds into the chests of little children. Mackey too shouted at Judy Patterson. The command was short, but Judy understood.
Dr. Steven Wilhite is a thoracic surgeon. To crack a chest, to break the sternum and reach with gloved, artist's hands into the heart and lungs of a human being, takes skill that few surgeons possess. Wilhite is one of the few board-certified thoracic surgeons in the Springfield-Eugene area. His presence in the ER was something devoutly to be wished.
Wilhite was just pulling into his own driveway when his beeper picked up the code call at the hospital, followed by a specific request for his presence. Children had been shot. He shifted into reverse and turned back toward McKenzie-Willamette. The drive normally took him twenty minutes. Driving eighty miles an hour, he cut his time to eight minutes.
Shelby Day turned to follow Mackey into the ER.
"No-" the blonde woman said urgently. "Cher . . . Cheri!"
Shelby stopped, puzzled. "What?"
The woman pointed toward the floor area of the passenger seat in front. "Cheryl's on the floor. She hasn't moved at all."
Shelby peered into the shadowy car. There was another child! A dark sweater had been draped over a little girl who lay facedown on the carpet. The slender nurse had to sit the youngster up to get a good grip on her. Then, with one fluid movement, she had her free of the car and was running toward the ER. This child was as heavy as a stone in her arms. When she felt not even a faint independent support of muscle from her burden, Shelby feared that this victim was gone. Still, she ran. Shelby felt a heartbeat bumping crazily, but it was only her own.
She laid her burden gently on the bed at the left rear of the trauma room. She could see doctors and nurses working frantically on the other two youngsters. She could hear the hospital's PA system droning out the Code 4 over and over. Already, the ER was beginning to fill with personnel, all of them working efficiently with at least surface calm.
Jan Goldberg Temple, a registered nurse assigned to the intensive care unit, hurried to the ER. She joined Shelby Day at the bedside of the third child. Carleen Elbridge, an X-ray technician, was there and Ruth Freeman, the supervising nurse on duty, and Sue Sogn, an RN from the third floor. Two respiratory therapists-Bob Gulley and Demetria "D.J." Forester-rushed in. Joe "Tony" Curtis, the maintenance man, worked along with the medical team, running for blood units, propping doors open, doing whatever was needed.
It was sheer luck that so many physicians were available to help this late on a weekday evening.
Dr. David Scott Miller is a pediatrician, a fine-boned man with a moustache and glasses, a gentle man meant to be a children's specialist. Ordinarily, his hospital rounds would have ended hours before, but on this night one delay after another had kept him at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. He was walking toward the hospital parking lot when he heard a commotion and deciphered electrifying phrases in the words cutting through the night air. He heard "children" and fishooting."
He turned and sprinted for the ER, all his fatigue forgotten.
Judy Patterson reached Dr. George Foster, a pediatric surgeon on staff at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, and he too raced to McKenzie-Willamette.
Four of them had arrived in the red Nissan Pulsar. Shelby Day had noted how the young woman-the mother?-had stood so woodenly next to the car. Shock. The layman is never prepared for the gore and suddenness of traumatic injury. Shelby turned to see that the blonde woman had followed her into the trauma room. Stark white but dry-eyed, she stood mutely and glanced from bed to bed to bed.