Nick Riley, an advanced EMT with the Franklin Fire Department, his wife Jennifer, their two daughters and four longtime friends and their children were vacationing together in Panama City Beach, Florida, on June 8.
It was the third day of their vacation, which had already been interrupted by the effects of a passing hurricane.
Their group, which included Chris Fields, an advanced EMT with the Columbia Fire Department, his wife, Kristen, and Taran and Kelsey Santiago, who are federal border patrol agents, was seated in the outdoor dining area of a nearby restaurant.
Their food had just arrived when they heard gun shots and screaming about 200 yards away.
“We could hear a mom screaming, ‘Somebody help my son!’” Nick said.
He, along with Taran, Kelsey and Chris, jumped up and ran toward the distressed mom, leaving Jennifer and Kristen to care for the kids. When they arrived on the scene, the officers and EMTs, all licensed to carry firearms, drew their weapons.
“We didn’t know if there was an active shooter,” Nick said. “Most people never think about being in this situation, but if you don’t know where the shooting came from, everyone is a suspect.”
By the time they arrived, the hysterical mother and grandmother had taken the 3-year-old victim — a boy — into a nearby souvenir store.
The agents and EMTs cleared the area outside, found a gun inside a vehicle, disarmed it, locked the vehicle and entered the store.
“(Taran) cleared the store to make sure the shooter wasn’t inside,” Nick said. “I remember hearing Taran say he wished he had his vest when we walked into the store. Luckily, there weren’t many people (inside), so he was able to clear it very quickly so we could provide some medical care.”
Kelsey assisted Nick, Taran stayed with the mom and grandmother and Chris was on the phone with the Panama City Police Dispatch and 911.
While on the phone, Chris was also grabbing T-shirts off racks for Nick to use to clean up the area and apply pressure on the wound to the child’s abdomen to limit the bleeding until the fire department arrived with medical equipment.
“We were able to stabilize the boy,” Nick said. “It was amazing. He wasn’t crying, so Kelsey (a certified medical technician) kept him distracted and helped me keep pressure on the wound.”
Later they learned what happened.
The mother, grandmother and child lived in Alabama and were vacationing in Panama City Beach. While getting out of the car by climbing onto the front seat, the child got hold of the grandmother’s pistol, which was holstered and tucked between the console and the driver’s seat. He was told to put it down, but it dropped into his lap and discharged.
Once the local officials arrived and took over, the four friends returned to the restaurant to join their family members. Of course, their meals were cold by then. And, actually, their appetites had disappeared.
“The restaurant treated us real good,” Nick said. “They took care of our wives, covered the bill and gave us fresh food to eat there or take with us. We took it with us.”
A week after the incident, the boy was released from the hospital and was walking. A week after that, he went home. He has since made a full recovery. Luckily, the bullet missed any major organ.
“Taran and Kelsey spoke to the boy since then,” Nick said. “They said he was most upset that he couldn’t go to the beach.”
Nick admitted that the event was a “huge eye-opener” regarding firearm safety and firearm education and he now uses the event as a teaching lesson for his 9-year-old daughter.
“This wasn’t something I did. It was a multi-agency event. Everyone did what they were trained to do,” Nick said. “It’s what we’re trained to do. In the entire situation, we didn’t do anything more than anyone else in the same situation.”