A mass transit worker for the Metro rail system in Washington, D.C., was killed while protecting a passenger from a mass shooter on Wednesday morning, officials in the nation’s capital said.
“Obviously an incredibly sad day today here at Metro,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Randy Clarke said at a press conference. “One of our employees, quite frankly, I think will be known as a hero. Tried to intervene and help one of our customers who was under a potential assault from the assailant.”
The spree of violence began on a city bus just after 9:00 a.m. on Feb. 1, at the corner of Potomac Avenue and 14th Street, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. During an altercation, Isaiah Trotman, 31, allegedly brandished a weapon and engaged with other passengers on the bus, eventually following one man out and shooting him in the legs. The first victim left the scene and contacted police, officials said.
The suspect then made his way down a nearby escalator to the Potomac Avenue Metro Station, police said.
“At that point, he engages someone who is attempting to buy a Metrocard,” MPD Executive Assistant Chief Ashan Benedict said during the press conference. “Again, another altercation occurs. He shoots this individual in the leg, brings him over to the turnstile.”
After making his way down another escalator to the train platform, Trotman pointed his weapon at a female passenger, and “a verbal exchange ensued,” the MPD said in a press release.
At that point, Robert Cunningham, a beloved 64-year-old WMATA mechanic, stepped up and intervened to protect the woman, authorities said. One shot rang out during the struggle.
The woman was ultimately not harmed. But Cunningham was shot and killed, police said.
“His heroism has to be recognized here today,” Benedict said late Wednesday morning. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family and the heroic actions he took – that took place here.”
A second train employee intervened after his co-worker was shot, and appeared to have some success de-escalating the situation, “because no one else was shot after [Cunningham] was shot,” Benedict said.
“The suspect then entered an occupied Metro rail car,” the MPD said in their press release issued later that day. “After a brief period of time, passengers were able to disarm the suspect.”
“The fact that our citizens had to intervene with armed gunmen is disturbing to me,” Benedict added during the press conference.
Responding officers arrived at 9:19 a.m. and initially tended to the second victim, the MPD said. Law enforcement also found Cunningham – who was pronounced dead at the scene of the crime. Trotman allegedly got on and off the train and was apprehended by a First District Officer sometime after 9:20, Benedict added.
Clarke thanked the MPD for their “quick response” time, noting that the incident was diffused within “a couple of minutes.”
The first and second victims were treated at local hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries, police said. A third victim suffered a laceration to one of their hands, authorities added, saying that initial reports of a fourth person being shot were incorrect.
Sad accolades rolled in for the felled rail worker.
“On behalf of the Metro Board, words cannot express how saddened we are to learn about the death of Mr. Cunningham,” WMATA Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg said in a statement. “ We understand that the employee acted with extreme bravery to help a customer who was being threatened by the shooter. To the family of the Metro employee, please accept our sincerest condolences. The Board is working with management to support the Metro family.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed “deep condolences to the Metro family” and said the shooter created “yet another tragedy.”
One of Cunningham’s neighbors, Mary Whalen, remembered “Bob” as a committed family man and said he had four children – who the two frequently discussed along with his family’s dog.
“He’s a hero,” the neighbor told local ABC affiliate WJLA. “He’s a hero because he came forward, and that’s what heroes do. They don’t think of themselves first. They put other people first.”
Clarke later issued a lengthier statement reproaching the nation for its culture of gun violence:
Today, I feel profound sadness about the loss of our Metro family member, Robert Cunningham. We grieve for our employee, his family, and all who have been affected by this senseless tragedy. I appreciate the outpouring of support Metro has received today. Gun violence must stop. Unfortunately, Metro is not immune to the violence that our country is experiencing right now. These senseless acts must be addressed together by our leaders and community. We will take time to process this loss and take care of our employees. We are all hurting and will continue to lean on each other for support.
Trotman is currently facing charges of murder in the first degree while armed, kidnapping while armed, and assault with a dangerous weapon, according to police.
[image via AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta]
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