Those who knew Donald Ray Surrett Jr. say the Safeway grocery store worker who was killed while trying to disarm a gunman in Bend, Oregon, was acting in the selfless way he always had.
“He was the kind of person that would jump in before thinking about what he was doing to try and stop a situation,” said his ex-wife, Debora Surrett, 65, of Sacramento, California.
Police called Surrett, 66, a hero for putting his life on the line as he tried to wrest an AR-15-style rifle from a 20-year-old man who they said opened fire Sunday in the store where Surrett was working.
Surrett and customer Glenn Edward Bennett, 84, were killed before the gunman fatally shot himself, police said.
“Surrett engaged with the shooter, attempted to disarm him and may very well have prevented further deaths,” Bend Police Department spokeswoman Sheila Miller said at a news conference. “Mr. Surrett acted heroically during this terrible incident.”
Police said Surrett was fatally shot in the rear of the store near the produce section.
Debora Surrett said her ex-husband was an Army veteran who was always willing to risk his life for the greater good.
“I think it’s great what he did,” she said when reached by phone Tuesday. “He tried to save lives. That’s part of who he always was.”
Donald Surrett served in the military for over 20 years as a combat engineer, and he had extensive military training, she said. He served in Germany on three occasions and on bases in California, Texas and Missouri, she said.
As a stay-at-home mother to their three children, Debora Surrett made the moves with him. They were high school sweethearts who grew up down the street from one another in Sacramento and dated for about three years before marrying in 1975, she said.
She said they divorced around 2002, and the last time they spoke over the phone was about a year ago. She looked forward each year to them exchanging holiday cards through the mail.
Officers were called to the Safeway at the Forum Shopping Center shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday on reports of shots fired, according to the Bend Police Department.
After the shooting, police recovered a sawed-off shotgun and three Molotov cocktails in the gunman's vehicle, along with additional ammunition and “digital devices,” authorities said.