When two killers ambushed a pair of Las Vegas police officers Sunday and vowed to gun down others, an unassuming man jumped into the line of fire to try to stop the violence — an act of bravery that cost him his life.
Joseph Robert Wilcox, 31, was at Walmart with a friend returning a modem when a gun-toting couple who had just murdered two police officers at a pizza shop came into the store. Instead of running away, Wilcox, told his friend he was going to confront the one gunman he could see.
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Wilcox pulled out the handgun for which he had a concealed weapons permit but that his family says he rarely carried. He approached Jerad Miller, a 31-year-old ex-convict who investigators say walked into Walmart, fired off one round, and told shoppers, "This is a revolution." His wife, Amanda Miller, 22, was trailing behind, authorities said.
"[Wilcox] immediately and heroically moved towards the position of Jerad Miller," Las Vegas Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said at a briefing Monday. "As soon as he began to confront Jerad Miller with his firearm, Amanda Miller removed her firearm and shot him one time in the ribs area, where he immediately collapsed."
The final bloodshed of the day came after police officers arrived and exchanged gunfire with the suspects, who McMahill said had taken guns and ammunition from the belts of the officers they shot dead at the nearby CiCi's Pizza before they charged into Walmart. Both suspects were injured during the gunfight before Amanda Miller fired several rounds at Jerad, then ending her own life with a single gunshot.
Wilcox's family says they've been bombarded with phone calls, visits and gifts since news came out that Joseph confronted the gunmen. While his parents and three siblings are overwhelmed with grief, they say they're not shocked that the modest man they've always thought of as their own hero tried to save others.
"All the love and support we've been getting — I didn't expect any of this," Wilcox's youngest sister, C.J. Foster, 18, told NBC News. "Joseph would kill us if he knew we were doing this. We want people to know his story because he was really trying to help."
Foster and her mom, Debra Wilcox, laughed through tears Tuesday morning as they remembered how funny and loving Wilcox was.
"When he was home, not doing anything, he loved fooling around with his family," Debra Wilcox told NBC News. "He would give what we called 'neck-nuzzles.' He would come to us at the side, not a normal front-hug, and he'd nuzzle his head into our side. Just silly."
He was also very protective of his siblings, she said, so much so that he considered protecting people as a profession. Wilcox was between jobs, and had wanted to become a police officer — something Debra Wilcox discouraged.
"[I would tell him,] 'I don't want to get the call and have two police officers show up at the front door telling me you were shot and killed in the line of duty.' Then this happened," she said.
The family doesn't know why Wilcox decided to bring his gun with him that morning when he went to Walmart.
"The gun was simply for defense, not for what these people did," Debra said. "Sometimes he'd go out with it, sometimes he wouldn't. He didn't always walk out with it. Why he had it that day, I don't know."
Jerad Miller and Amanda Miller
That Wilcox jumped into action to stop the bloodshed doesn't surprise his mom.
"That's just the way he was," she said. "If he saw something going on that he didn't think was right, he would do what he could to quietly stop it. If he saw someone in need, he would help."
She said she was grateful to everyone who showed their support for her family, and in awe that so many people were calling him a hero.
"He's my hero, that's all I know," she said.
Jeremy Tanner, the friend who was with Wilcox on Sunday, said the Walmart "was like a war zone."
“We hear this guy coming in yelling, 'Everybody get out, this is the beginning of the revolution, we will shoot you,'” Tanner told NBC affiliate KSNV.
Tanner said Wilcox told him he was going after what he thought was a lone gunman.
"I stayed at the entrance hoping that he turned around and that he exited himself," Tanner said. But Wilcox never came out.
Wilcox's family is also slowly coming to terms with the reality that the man who would take his sister to the movies and fix his mom's computer when he wasn't out four-wheeling with his friends is not coming back.
"I keep waiting him for walk out of his room. I just want my brother," Foster said.
First published June 10 2014, 8:19 AM