How safe are the Sun Cities? Mass shooting in communities considered remote

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

In one week spanning the end of July and the beginning of August, 34 people lost their lives in mass shootings in three locations across the country.

Frank McWilliams

At a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California three people were killed July 28; 22 were gunned down at a Wal Mart in El Paso, Texas Aug. 3 and several hours later the same day nine were killed in a shooting in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

Sun Cities residents may believe such a tragedy could never happen in their community. But they need look no farther than neighboring communities, such as Ventana Lakes where on April 19, 2000 former resident Richard Glassel, armed with a rifle and two handguns, fired eight shots into a crowded HOA meeting, killing two people and wounding three others.

More recently, a man was arrested after allegedly trespassing Aug. 2 at Fellowship Square Surprise, 16477 W. Bell Road, a senior living facility, and shooting at an employee. No one was struck during the incident, according to police and a spokesman for the facility.

“We live in a crazy world, Sun City is not escaping all of it,” Sun City resident Gene Turiano stated in an email.

Sun City resident Cathi Schleh believes it has become reality that she or anyone in her family or acquaintance could die from gunshots.

“Common-sense laws have not been passed, and our country is under siege by rampant out-of-control guns,” she stated in an email. “Nowhere is safe. Not my home, not my grocery store, not my daily outings, not my vacations, etc.”

Sun City West resident Duane E. Robinson is frightened of the state’s open carry permit. He believes in a strong concealed-carry exam, but laments the state does not have that. He does, however, feel safe in Sun City.

“I believe the chance of being ‘mowed down’ is fairly remote,” he stated in an email.

Statistics on mass shootings tend to vary depending on the source. According to ATLAS, a website of charts and data, the number of mass shootings, defined as four or more people killed in one incident, was 269 in 2014, 335 in 2015, 382 in 2016, 346 in 2017 and 340 in 2018.

Research by a major Washington, D.C. daily newspaper, however, found there have been 869 mass shootings — defined as four or more victims by one or more shooters — since Aug. 1, 1966.

But the National Safety Council estimated a one in 110,154 chance of being killed in a mass shooting. That compares to the council’s estimates for dying in any firearm assault, at one in 358; one in 113 in a car accident; and one in seven for cancer.

While chances of a person being killed in a mass shooting are slim, Sun Cities agencies must consider the possibility and try to be prepared for it. Mr. Robinson believes security in Sun City West is non-existent.

“We have almost no police presence as it is,” he stated.

Joaquin Enriquez

Recreation Centers of Sun City West officials have taken steps to address violence on their properties, according to Katy O’Grady, RCSCW general services officer. She said they are proactive, and about two years ago brought in an expert to evaluate the facilities and activities, and provide recommendations. RCSCW has a paid, armed security guard at major board meetings and off-duty, armed police at big concerts and events.

“We have included active-shooter training for our employees as part of our annual, mandatory OSHA training,” she stated in an email. “And, of course, we have security systems in place.”

Rec center officials in Sun City and Sun City West declared their facilities gun-free zones.

“I don’t feel unsafe in the rec centers. However, a sign on the door that says ‘No Guns Allowed’ doesn’t make me feel safe,” Mr. Turiano stated. “RCSC can afford armed guards at the facilities and should provide them.”

RCSC officials did not respond by press time to an email request for comment on this story.

As the law enforcement agency for the Sun Cities, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office includes training for catastrophic events, such as mass shootings. During basic training, every deputy attends the MCSO Active Shooter/Work Place Violence course, at which time they are trained on how to respond to these types of mass casualty incidents, according to Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez, MCSO spokesman. Continued training on the topic is offered during advanced officer training throughout the deputies’ careers.

“This being said, the deputies patrolling and guarding your community have all been trained and prepared to respond to an active shooter event,” Mr. Enriquez stated in an email. “Although it is imperative the MCSO prepare our deputies for these types of events, it is also just as important we create partnerships with other local law enforcement agencies in order to accomplish one goal of serving the community.”

Katy O’Grady

Because MCSO is a countywide agency, its jurisdictional span allows it to work with every law enforcement agency in the Valley, according to Mr. Enriquez.

“These mutual aid relationships built across Maricopa County will ensure not one, but all law enforcement agencies are working together and responding to stop an active shooter incident in any part of Maricopa County,” he added.

If residents see a direct threat of gun violence, MCSO and RCSCW officials advise they immediately call 911. The caller should provide the dispatcher with as much information as possible, such as description, precise location, what is happening, how many shooters and type of weapon being used, according to Capt. Frank McWilliams, MCSO District 3 commander. This basic information will enhance responding law enforcement’s ability intervene and stop the incident as soon as possible, he added.

“Do this while ensuring your personal safety,” he stated in an email. “If someone finds themselves in the midst of such a situation they need to try to remain calm, explore potential escape routes or seek cover and concealment.”

If residents in an active shooter event can escape, they should do so, Mr. McWilliams advised. If escape is not possible, move to a safe location, possibly into a room where the door can be locked and barricaded. Once out of immediate danger, call 911, he added.

If residents receive information in regards to a possible active shooter event or suspect a situation that could lead to an active shooter event, they should report it to local law enforcement as quickly as possible, according to Mr. Enriquez.

“No matter how insignificant the information appears to be on its surface, reporting this information may stop the next mass casualty event,” he stated. “Prevention is our overall goal.”

RCSCW officials agreed.

“This is a situation for the Sheriff’s Office. Not the Posse. Not the rec centers,” Ms. O’Grady stated. “We can be alerted later — and the sheriff would include us as needed — but 911 should be the first call made. The rec centers’ staff members are trained to call 911 if we become aware of a threat.”

Sun City resident B. Oliver believes the world has changed and believes the Sun Cities are not adequately prepared for an event such as a mass shooting.

Sun City resident Pam Schwartz feels safe in Sun City because of the history of low crime rates and the disinclination of residents to do things that are public and call attention to themselves. People here write letters and speak out at meetings, but are seldom physically demonstrative, she stated in an email. The Sun Cities are populated by a lot of ex-military and ex-law enforcement people that would still react quickly in a crisis, she added.

“No, security would not be adequate to cope with a mass shooting, but the likelihood of such an incident is extremely low statistically,” Ms. Schwartz stated.

She believes security can be improved at Sun City events with the presence of MCSO officers.

“But that means that the RCSC would have to pay for them and increase the costs of events to attendees to cover that cost or to raise the annual fee for all residents again,” she stated. “Neither option would be popular.”

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