DALLAS, Texas (Oct. 12, 2020) – 1st Sgt. (Ret.) William Henderson thought Oct. 12 would be like any other day at North Dallas High School where he is the Senior Army Instructor for the school’s Army JROTC program. He has no idea that later that afternoon he would be intervening in what looked to be a school shooter situation.
Henderson said it was during his fifth period class that he heard something outside that sounded familiar from his 21 years as a Soldier.
“We (in the class) heard a loud pop that sounded like a tire was blown at first, but the echo sounded like a gun shot,” he recalled. “I carefully looked out the window and saw an SUV running a young black male off the sidewalk. It appeared to be a Caucasian male driving the SUV. The man in the SUV drew his weapon on the young man.”
Henderson said it took him a few seconds to grasp what was happening outside his classroom.
“At first glance I thought the young black man was one of our football players running late for practice since they practice during fifth period and he was heading towards the back of the school in workout clothes,” he explained. “From there, I ran out the class yelling, ‘he has a kid at gunpoint, he has a kid at gunpoint, call Officer Pacheco.’
“After I made it outside I started deescalating the situation by pleading with the gunman not to shoot again by talking with him, letting him know that we have a policeman on campus and we have already called them,” he said. “I told him he should be here in about 30 seconds to a minute, he is on his way, but please don’t shoot him. I then went on to say that we have kids in class please just don’t shoot.
“The gunman was telling me that this man just robbed his wife while his daughter were there. I responded by telling him, ‘I understand, I understand, but we have the police right here and he is not going to run and please don’t shoot.’,” Henderson shared. “During this time the young man was being held at gun point and was pleading for his life while on his knees with his hands up.”
Henderson said he did his best to also keep the young man as calm as possible.
“He turned towards me pleading to me saying, ‘Please do not let this man kill me, he already shot at me, I don’t know what’s going on, please sir don’t let him kill me.’ I told him to try to calm down, the police are on the way and ‘I got you, I’m not leaving, I’m here with you’,” Henderson explained. “I was trying to calm down the young man and the gunman at the same time.”
Henderson he was able to keep his own safety in mind as well while trying to keep everyone calm and safe.
“While this was going on, I remained at a safe distant with my hands up showing the gunman that I was not armed. I kind of stood at an angle from the gunman where it was easy for him to see and hear me, but where I could still use the cars as cover in the event that the gunman turned his weapon on me,” he said.
Henderson said from that point the gunman put his weapon away and moved his vehicle out the middle of the street. Seeing that the situation was possibly deescalating, he moved in closer and placing himself between the gunman and the young man that on the ground. It was then that campus police officer, Officer Sergio Pacheco arrived at the scene and cuff both men and retrieved the weapon from the gunman.
Henderson attributed his training as a Soldier and a leader for taking action in what could have turned out to be a much more tragic situation.
“Conflict resolution, active listening and my experience as a first sergeant dealing with all types of Soldiers issues - I believe all of that helped me to remain clam in that situation,” he said. “I feel blessed about how the situation ended. It could have been a lot worst if the man pulled that trigger. I am thankful that the gunman was listening to me. I didn’t know what was going through his head at the time, but I am grateful that no one was physically harmed or killed.”
Katherine Wanserski Eska. Principal for North Dallas High School, said she is glad to have people on her staff like Henderson and Pacheco.
“From watching this unfold real time, it is my deepest belief that without the proactive and immediate action taken by 1st Sgt. Henderson and Officer Pacheco, this situation would have absolutely ended with injury or death of an unarmed, kneeling, African American man,” she said. “Later understood to be a case of mistaken identity this would have been a horrifying community event.”
“The action and bravery of Officer Pacheco and 1st Sgt. Henderson saved a man’s life yesterday,” Eska added. “Work like this is why we have exemplar men and women in our schools trained by the military. There could not have been a better example set for our students.”
Lt. Col. Fred Holland (Ret.), deputy director for the Dallas Independent School District JROTC, echoed her sentiments.
“When I first heard about 1st Sgt. Henderson’s actions that day, I was first shocked, then speechless. I had always read about or saw active shooter incidents at schools on TV, but for it to happen so close to home in Dallas made it feel very real,” he said. “I felt that 1st Sgt. Henderson was acting on instincts and his military training that he had learned while on active duty in the Army.
“His decision was not just to ensure the safety of JROTC cadets, students and faculty or himself, but to also save an innocent man’s life by putting himself between the gunman and the person being wrongfully accused is absolutely one of the bravest acts of courage that I’ve ever seen,” added Holland. “He epitomizes the Army value of selfless service that we expect from all of our current and former men and women in uniform. I’m very proud of him and grateful to call him my colleague and even more importantly to call him my friend.”