Keep thanking God for Jeanne Assam, a name too many have forgotten. Thanks to her, our community doesn’t suffer the life-long aftermath of a historic December mass murder.
Among those who love the victims, none may fully recover from the destruction of one unchallenged man who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut, with two common 9 millimeter handguns Dec. 14.
Rewind five years and five days before Sandy Hook massacre, and we find Assam near the center of the arena at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
A heavily armed killer arrives with more than 1,000 rounds of ammo. Just like the Sandy Hook killer, the young man has two 9 mm pistols and an AR-style rifle. The killer waits for a marked patrol car to leave the area, then begins shooting. Assam hears distant shots from the parking lot. The killer hits and kills sisters Stephanie and Rachel Works, ages 18 and 16, as they enter the family car with lunch plans. The killer shoots and permanently injures their father, David Works, before shooting and injuring Judy Purcell. He blasts glass doors leading into the children’s wing of the church, then enters.
Mayhem ensues in the 100 yards between Assam and the killer. Terrified churchgoers scream and rush for cover in rest rooms and classrooms. As crowds push past Assam, she grabs the 9 millimeter Beretta that’s concealed in the front of her jeans. As a volunteer member of New Life’s civilian security squad, Assam decides she must stop the shooter before he gets to the densely populated arena.
Assam approaches and begins shooting the killer from a distance of about 60 feet. She continues toward him, connecting with four of 10 shots from her small handgun.
Severely injured and incapacitated, the wannabe mass killer crawls a short distance and kills himself with a final shot from his own 9 millimeter pistol.
With more than 1,000 rounds on the shooter, and thousands of potential victims at the crime scene, Assam saved lives that may number in the hundreds.
In an article for the December issue of “5280” magazine, Robert Sanchez presents unprecedented insight into Assam’s heroic deed.
“I take seven steps out from behind cover,” Assam says, recalling the day she saved lives. “This amazing, you know — this presence of God — this powerful presence shields me. I felt that. I felt like I was protected by God himself. It was powerful.”
Sanchez tells of Assam’s meeting with the parents of the 24-year-old gunman whom she killed. Assam gets along with the couple, a neurologist and his wife, who understand why she killed their son. Assam learns the couple’s son was troubled and desperate — a person Assam could relate to.
“He became a human being,” Assam says of the gunman, after meeting with his parents.
Mostly, Sanchez shares insight into the heart and soul of a God-fearing woman who prays her way through a life of depression, unemployment, financial turmoil and routine struggles with doubts that are conquered by faith. It’s the tale of a woman stripped of her secrets — in fact demonized in public — because she saved lives.
Society remembers historic acts of destruction and those who commit them. Perhaps we should pay equal attention to feats of valor that save lives. A world that grapples with ever-more-alarming episodes of evil needs more heroes like Assam, and more institutions that plan for the safety of the audiences and crowds they host.