Book excerpt: Warnings Unheeded
On June 20, 1994, a mentally disturbed former airman traveled to Fairchild Air Force Base to kill the doctors who had tried to help him – Senior Airman Andy Brown stopped the killer
The following is excerpted from Andy Brown's "Warnings Unheeded." PoliceOne readers can use the code "COPS" for a 25% discount on signed paperbacks and hardcovers, regularly $19.99 and $24.99, plus 3.99 shipping. Purchase the book here.
"Fairchild Police to all posts and patrols, we have an alarm at the ER. Informational, we have an individual in the hospital running around with a shotgun.”
I had been a patrolman for five years, but today was only my second day working bike patrol. After spending the first hour of my shift patrolling the housing areas of Fairchild Air Force Base, I stopped by the Offutt gate to escape the summer sun. My visit with the guard was cut short by the radio call, and before the transmission ended, I had strapped on my helmet and stepped out of the air-conditioned gate shack to my bicycle.
The severity of the situation set in as I rode away from the gate.
As I approached the intersection of Offutt and Graham I was suddenly aware that, unlike my patrol car, my bicycle wasn’t equipped with lights and a siren. I slipped the key ring from my duty belt. The keys to my dorm room, car, and handcuffs dangled from my mouth as I blew a chrome whistle and turned onto Graham, pedaling hard down the two-lane asphalt road. As I rode toward the scene, the world around me slowed and went silent. I felt calm, almost numb.
Several vehicles rolled past me on their way out of the area. The occupants shouted frantically, their voices muted. I kept pedaling toward the hospital. Although I couldn’t hear them, their urgency told me there was trouble ahead.
“Fairchild Police to all responding patrols, the individual just ran out of building 9010 across from the hospital, firing off rounds out of his shotgun.”
I passed a housing area on my right and could see building 9010 ahead. A crowd of men and women dressed in civilian clothes, Air Force uniforms, and hospital whites streamed down the road, fleeing the hospital campus. I coasted through the crowd, scanning them and the surrounding area for a threat. I was intently focused on finding the man with the gun and didn’t hear the radio.
“Fairchild Police, Fairchild Security, just received a notification from the hospital, you have individuals down. Repeat. You have individuals down.”
I shouted to the crowd, “Where is he?” They collectively pointed behind them as they fled, yelling. “There’s a man with a gun!” “He’s shooting people!” “He’s over there!”
As I emerged from the crowd, I heard the deep boom of gunfire. The sound reverberated off the hospital buildings to my right and the military houses behind the perimeter fence to my left. I coasted and searched for the source of the gunfire. In the distance, a man dressed in black, with a long gun at his hip, appeared in the middle of the road. As he walked toward me, he swung the weapon to his right and fired toward the housing area. He then swung the weapon to his left and fired toward the hospital.
Still coasting, I leaned right and glided up a sidewalk ramp in front of the hospital annex building. I leapt from the bike and drew my Beretta as I knelt on the sidewalk. My hands gripped the pistol and brought it in line with my target as I yelled, “Police! Drop your weapon! Put it down!”
The man continued toward me and fired again to his side. I yelled again, “Police! Drop it! Put it down now!” His pace quickened and he aimed the rifle in my direction. My finger moved to the trigger of my Beretta and slowly applied pressure. The hammer came back smooth and dropped sharp, propelling my first shot toward the man with the gun.
* * *
When the shooting ceased, a trail of shell casings, bullet holes, and blood led through the hallways and parking lots of the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital campus. Medical teams worked to locate and triage the wounded, while law enforcement officers searched for a rumored second gunman and investigators attempted to identify the shooter.
As word of the shooting spread, at least one Fairchild airman correctly predicted the shooter would be identified as his former co-worker, Dean Mellberg. Mellberg had previously been assigned to Fairchild’s calibration laboratory before being sent to the psychiatric ward of a military hospital in Texas. TSgt Payton Kendall, a lab supervisor, said, “Dean scared all of us. … I was always real careful not to piss him off, because I was afraid this would happen. … I was scared even after he left … All along I felt sure that he’d come back. … I didn’t know who he’d target: the lab, the commander, the doctors, the wing commander. I didn’t know, and that’s what scared me.”
Sgt Sam Prescott previously worked with Mellberg at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico and had a similar experience. Prescott said, “During the period I knew Dean, my feelings that he was dangerous progressed daily.” Prescott frequently warned his co-workers to be careful when alone with Mellberg, and he warned them to be even more cautious when gathered in a group. Prescott recalls how he learned of the shooting.
“About 0200 the morning after, I was asleep on my sofa with the TV on. I thought I dreamed about Mellberg going on a shooting spree at some Air Force base.” In the dream, Prescott chastised his co-workers, “I told you so. Damn it, why didn’t you listen? I told you he’d get you.”
When Prescott went to work the next day one of his co-workers asked, “How did you know?”
“How did I know what?”
“You know, about Mellberg.”
Prescott’s knees went weak when he realized his dream had been prompted by news reports that aired while he slept.
Jeff Cook had worked as a medical technician at Fairchild’s mental health center and had transferred to another base. He learned of the shooting when his mother-in-law called him after seeing reports on the local news. She asked him, “Who could do something like that?”
Without hesitation, Cook said, “It was Dean Mellberg.”
According to an article in The Spokesman-Review, Susan Brigham, the wife of Fairchild’s psychiatrist Thomas Brigham, had a similar reaction. “When I first heard [about the shooting] that afternoon on the television, I knew Tom was dead, and I knew who did it.”