SAN ANTONIO — Gunshots erupt from the rehabilitation center. Bodies line the halls, a man lies motionless in his upturned wheelchair, police crouch low to the ground. There’s a gunman at large.
The San Antonio Express-News reports David Colbath is tense, his brow getting sweaty, his lips beginning to tremble. But his hand is steady, his aim true. In minutes, he kills two gunmen.
And then the screen goes blank.
“It’s just very real. It’s another scenario that you have to adjust your body to and understand that it’s just a 10-by-10-foot screen — And that’s all it is, David,” Colbath said to himself, still shaking from the active shooter video simulation. “It’s a 10-foot screen and we’re working on getting me better. That’s what we’re doing.”
Once a week, Colbath, who owns a fence-building company, heads to the Center for the Intrepid’s Firearms Training Simulator at Brooke Army Medical Center, where he practices shooting targets using his left arm, after his dominant right arm was shot in the Nov. 5 massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. He was struck by eight bullets.
“We had you on the operating table and bullets were falling out everywhere,” he said the doctor told him.
Colbath, 56, is one of the many Sutherland Springs residents who have decided to arm themselves. They stand in contrast to students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed on Feb. 14. The students have organized and have become leading national advocates for stricter gun control laws.
“I don’t want to go out in my life again where I am so vulnerable that there’s nothing to do but sit and wait and get shot,” Colbath said.
The Sutherland Springs massacre, which took the lives of 25 congregants and one unborn child, was the deadliest in modern Texas history. It left the residents with a new understanding of the fragility of human life — and a new drive to protect themselves.
Frank Pomeroy, the Sutherland Springs pastor, carries his concealed gun to church every Sunday — and every day. Rod Green, another congregant, does too. And Sherri Pomeroy, Frank’s wife, is working on her license to carry.
Frank got her a gun for Christmas — something Sherri said she’s not thrilled about but felt was necessary.
“Months ago I’d say this and I’d be blabbering,” Colbath said. “Today I’m saying this with 100 percent experience, conviction, knowledge: Anything is possible.”
His father taught him how to shoot, and in turn, he taught his son. In the summers, Colbath and his son would go shooting in his 80-plus-acre property almost every day.
“I grew up in a gun family. Guns and deer, that’s all we ever talked about. We didn’t talk about bicycles and cars, we talked about guns and deer,” he said.
Colbath owns 30 to 35 guns, though he said now he’s thinking of selling many of them “because I don’t need all these guns.” He has traveled across North America and Africa to hunt.
“We could get philosophical and talk about God-given rights and things, but it’s what country people grow up with. I don’t care what the color of your skin is, you live in the country, we all shoot. It’s kind of why you live in the country, to go do things like that.”
Since the November massacre, his son has been asking him about going hunting or shooting on their property, but Colbath has a tough task ahead: learning to shoot with his nondominant hand.
His right arm has a large bullet wound scar, with twisted muscle that looks like a dent in his large forearm.
But the determination he has to relearn to shoot has less to do with game — though he looks forward to resuming that with his son — and more to do with protecting himself and his family.
“It’s empowering,” said Scott Fitzgerald, firearms training instructor at the facility. “If you break it down, its empowering somebody to protect themselves, protect their family if the situation was to ever arise. You never want that situation to arise, but you never know.”
Fitzgerald said he always keeps a gun on him, too, as preparation for a worst-case-scenario. During training sessions, he goes beyond helping patients shoot targets and teaches them how to whip their gun out of their bag or holster, or how to load magazines while keeping an eye on the target in front of them.
“It takes practice, practice, practice,” Fitzgerald said. “It is a very perishable skill. You could’ve been the best shot ever when you were 10 years old. It doesn’t mean nothing 10 years down the road.”
March 9 was the first day Colbath tried an active-shooter scenario. The simulator offers multiple scenarios: at schools, workplaces, shopping centers, hospitals. But no church, Fitzgerald said.
The small room is on the fourth floor of the fortress-like rehabilitation facility, with a Wounded Warrior Project sticker and the phrase “A day wasting ammo is never a wasted day” hanging from a whiteboard on its door.
Inside are numerous guns that were stripped of their inner workings and replaced with electronic mechanisms. Colbath used a 9 mm Glock 19, a semi-automatic handgun that is generally sold with a 15-round magazine. Using Bluetooth, a computer tracks the shots of the gun, which is quieter and has less recoil than an unaltered Glock 19, Fitzgerald said.
Colbath started out shooting at crosshairs on a screen, which evolved to large gray plates, headstone-shaped slots, and then shapes of human torsos. Colbath inhaled sharply before each round of shooting.
“I got his clavicle a couple of times, right?” he said excitedly after aiming at torso-shaped targets.
Because he’s right-eye dominant but using his left eye, he has to tilt the gun when he holds it up.
“It’s like TV shooting,” he said, to which Fitzgerald replied: “Gangster.”
They weren’t joking, though, when the active shooter scenario was running. Having been through the massacre, the experience was hair-raising. At one point, an innocent patient flew out from a corner screaming, “Don’t shoot!” as Colbath jerked his gun toward her but resisted pulling the trigger.
When the last gunman was shot, he slumped onto the counter, his eyes watering.
“God almighty that was tough,” he said. “Touch that right there.”
And Fitzgerald put his hand on Colbath’s furious heart, telling him: “You did good, man.”
Colbath went quiet, pleased that he didn’t get shot but reeling from the experience.
“I am not gonna kid with you that I’m glad I was ready for that. It’s been four months, and the booms didn’t scare me. The shaking scared me, like it was in a real scenario. It really did,” he said.
Fitzgerald assured him he had done well — he hadn’t shot any innocent, he wasn’t shot, and he had killed the gunmen. It was a best-case scenario, in a worst-case scenario.
“I’m sorry, I’m out of words. It affected me. Not in a bad way. I can’t say I feel good, but I feel good that I completed it and I was successful,” he said. “Look, I don’t think I’ll ever be in a shooting, I don’t think I’ll ever need it. But if the situation comes, I want to be prepared.”
Featured Image:San Antonio-Express news/File photo