Fire Chief, neighbors react to deadly mass shooting, house fire in Tucson

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 6:00 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 7:18 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -“Something just broke,” said a neighbor who lives across the street from the scene of a house fire that led to a mass shooting on Tucson’s Southside on Sunday, July 19.

People in the area said they were shocked that something like this happened where they live, and the fire chief also shocked and saddened that this has happened to his crews.

Tucson firefighters were called that evening to respond to a house fire in the 2100 block of East Irene Vista. After they arrived, authorities said, he opened fire at medics at nearby Silverlake Park on an unrelated call before coming to the scene and shooting at firefighters.

A medic at Silverlake park was shot in the head and was listed in critical condition on Monday. A second medic at the park was shot in the arm and chest, but is expected to recover from her injuries.

At the scene of the house fire, 44-year-old Cory Michael Saunders, a neighbor helping firefighters, was fatally shot in the head. A fire captain was shot in the arm, hospitalized and released the next day.

Police on Monday identified the shooter as 35-year-old Leslie Scarlett.

Scarlett allegedly left in a silver SUV and slammed into a police cruiser. Officer Danny Leon got out of the cruiser and he and Scarlett started shooting at each other before a bullet struck Scarlett. Leon then began treating Scarlett for his injuries, police said. Scarlett also remained in critical condition on Monday.

Three children known to live in the house were considered missing on the night of the fire, but were later found in the care of a relative. Their mother is missing and presumed dead.

What is left of the house, charred wood and boarded-up windows, is visible from the road.

Authorities found an unidentified body inside

Just a few houses down, a neighbor says she tried to stop the gunman.

“I don’t know what sent him over the edge, I keep saying that to myself, ‘what sent him over the edge,” said Ladene Jones, who lives just across the street from the crime scene.

Jones said she knew the gunman, and that night, as everything unfolded, she tried to talk to him as first responders rushed into her house seeking safety.

“I was shaking, but it’s only in hindsight. At the time, I didn’t feel any fear because he never threatened me. He never pointed the gun at me,” she said.

At least two people have died from the Sunday night, including one of her neighbors who went out to help. A fire captain, whose name has not been released, is among the injured. Chuck Ryan, Tucson Fire Chief, calls the incident “soul crushing,” and said his crewmembers will need physical and psychological recovery.

The injured captain has since been released from the hospital. Ryan said he spoke to the captain on Monday morning and thanked him for his leadership. It felt “great” to hear the captain’s voice, Ryan said.

“He will recover from his physical injuries, the psychological part of it’s going to take some time,” Ryan said. “That’s not what we come to work to do, is to get shot at. That’s not what we sign up for, but sadly it’s become part of our experience now.”

Ryan said he is relieved his crews are okay for the most part. But unfortunately, he said, departments from around the country have reached out to him sending their condolences and sharing stories of similar things that have happened to them.

TFD crew members have access to mental health support from their own peer support network and from the department. But in the future, TFD may likely redouble their situational awareness training.

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