When an active shooter started spraying bullets at random from an AR-15 rifle at the Westgate mall in Glendale, Arizona, last May, Tech. Sgt. Michael Walker, an aviation resource manager for the 309th Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, was maybe a dozen feet away.
Walker, who was having dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant, heard the shots ring out and saw people scattering to find places to hide in the outdoor mall. He ran to the front of the restaurant to barricade the door and saw the shooter straight ahead, with his back turned toward him.
The assailant's proximity didn't scare him, he said.
"All I could think about was locking the doors and getting people safely inside," Walker said in a news release published last week.
The tech sergeant is credited with saving the lives of 28 people during the attack. For his actions, he was presented the 2021 Air Force Sergeants Association William H. Pitsenbarger Heroism Award on March 17, the release states.
Recalling the events of that night, Walker, who has four deployments under his belt and has taken part in multiple active-shooter training exercises, said he told restaurant patrons and staff to hide in the kitchen, barricading the door in such a way that it could be opened only from the inside.
Walker grabbed the restaurant keys from the manager, walked out and locked the doors behind him. He closed three more garage-style doors to thwart the shooter -- risking himself as he stood outside the restaurant.
"You could still hear people yelling and running," Walker said in the release. "I didn't really think about me; I thought about saving others. In that moment, you have to decide: Flight or fight. I chose fight."
"It was not a surprise that he jumped into action in the midst of a dangerous [and] deadly situation to help others," Master Sgt. Ashley McGee, 310th Fighter Squadron superintendent and Walker's previous supervisor, said in the release. "He was not thinking of his life when he exposed himself outside where the shooter was located; he only thought about the safety of the people around him."
The alleged shooter, Armando Hernandez Jr., told investigators he carried out the attack because of his distrust for the government and society as a whole, according to The Arizona Republic.
Three people were shot, but all survived.
Walker said he used his experiences in the Air Force to safeguard those around him during the chaotic and vulnerable situation.
"I signed up [for the military] for a reason," he said. "I know why I put this uniform on every day. I didn't think that my mom could have lost a son and my brother could have lost a brother; I thought about saving others. I wouldn't have done it any other way."
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.