Fairchild hero reflects on famous shooting in new book
AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — They were events that shocked our community: a mass shooting and B-52 crash at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Now, the military police officer who stopped the gunman has written a book called Warnings Unheeded.
Author and former Staff Sergeant Andy Brown thinks both the crash and shooting spree could have been prevented.
If you have a membership at a local gun range or reload your own ammunition, then you’ve probably heard of Airman Andy Brown. His 70-yard-long head shot with a pistol saved lives at Fairchild’s hospital and made Brown a living legend in the world of defensive tactics shooting.
However, Brown’s heroism also came with a great price to his own mental health, and writing this book became an important part of Brown’s therapy.
The third week of June 1994 was the worst in Fairchild’s 74 year history. A deranged gunman had killed five people and wounded 22 at the base hospital. Four days later, a B-52 practicing for an upcoming air show plunged to the ground. Security Forces Officer Andy Brown witnessed both tragedies.
“I was visiting with the gate guard and the call came over the radio,” said Brown. “‘Fairchild to all posts and patrols, we have an alarm at the ER. Information there’s an individual in the hospital running around with a shotgun.'”
Brown had spent the afternoon patrolling base housing on his bicycle. Fortunately, he was just three tenths of the mile from where the shots were already ringing out.
“Before that transmission had ended, I was out of that gate shack and put on my helmet and was pedaling to the hospital,” said Brown.
By then, a former airman named Dean Mellberg had already slipped inside a bathroom stall to remove a rifle from his duffel bag. His first two targets: a pair of Fairchild psychologists who forced Mellberg out of the military. Mellberg then started randomly shooting people in and around the hospital.
“I continued to ride further,” Brown described. “I began to hear gun shots. They were reverberating around the housing area and the hospital buildings.”
Mellberg was firing a MAK-90, a Chinese made AK-47, outfitted with a 75 round drum.
Brown was armed with a Beretta nine millimeter pistol. The senior airman was seriously outgunned, but still got off his bike and yelled at Mellberg to drop his weapon.
“He wasn’t reacting to me, and I yelled again and that’s when he turned his attention and his rifle on me,” said Brown.
That’s when Brown fired the shots that would end the Mellberg’s mental health rampage. As people hid behind cars and trees, Mellberg disappeared behind the Beretta’s front sight.
“When i fired the fourth round, he jumped up in the air, spun around, and landed flat on his back and was motionless,” described Brown.
When police processed Mellberg’s gun, it was still loaded with 19 unused bullets. That’s one reason why Brown’s 70 yard pistol shot won him the instant praise of the Spokane community.
“I know I saved lives, but it was difficult to feel any joy about that because of so many who were hurt that I deep down felt responsible for,” said Brown.
Brown would appear on the back cover of airman magazine, he received numerous medals, but the brave police officer would develop feelings of guilt and anxiety about the five lives he didn’t save.
“When I finally started to realize that maybe I needed some help, I was relieved of duty, couldn’t carry a gun anymore, just for seeking counseling, so that made me not continue to pursue counseling until it was too late,” said Brown.
As Brown developed post-traumatic stress disorder for what he had experienced at the hospital, the Air Force realized it had waited too long to discharge and distance itself from gunman Dean Mellberg.
The day before the rampage, Mellberg spent $2,000 on strippers at the Deja Vu in Spokane.
“A lot of people actually predicted that he could be a threat of work place violence and they brought those concerns to their superiors, but they were ignored or dismissed,” said Brown.
After Brown ended Mellberg’s shooting spree with that heroic shot, Brown ignored his own warning signs.
“I was trying to be John Wayne and just live with it and think it was was gonna go away on its own, but for me it didn’t,” said Brown.
Brown now knows even the strongest people can be deeply impacted by traumatic events. He wishes he sought out counseling a lot sooner.
“I think, if people can learn from my mistakes and seek help now, before it’s too late, that’s all the more better,” said Brown.
Brown has recovered from his PTSD and is still protecting people from harm working for the Department of Homeland Security.
The new Wing Commander at Fairchild wanted to weigh in on Brown’s story.
Colonel Ryan Samuelson knows mental illness is at the heart of the hospital shooting. He says the Air Force has learned a lot from how the gunman was able to avoid getting the help he obviously needed.
“While nothing, 100 percent, can absolve risk on what happened back in 1994, I do believe the DOD is committed. It’s committed to identifying these issues, providing the resources, but most importantly for me, a changing of culture. A culture where mental health issues are not looked at as something that should be shunned, but something that should be addressed and identified,” said Col. Samuelson.
Brown’s book, Warnings Unheeded, goes on sale this Saturday. He’ll be hosting a book signing party at the Northern Quest Casino on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.