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Shooting survivor: ‘If I had a gun, I could have stopped him’

Retired sergeant says he supports concealed carry

Mark Hess of Dixon survived a mass shooting near Spokane, Wash., in 1994. He is against gun control and in favor of concealed carry.
Mark Hess of Dixon survived a mass shooting near Spokane, Wash., in 1994. He is against gun control and in favor of concealed carry.

DIXON – Mark Hess makes no bones about his position on concealed carry of guns: He’s for it.

But the 54-year-old Dixon resident comes with a special perspective on the issue. On June 20, 1994, he was a victim in a mass shooting at an Air Force hospital near Spokane, Wash. Dean Mellberg, an ex-Air Force serviceman with mental health issues, killed five people and wounded 22.

A few months before, Sgt. Hess had taken early retirement from the Air Force. On the day of the shooting, he had a doctor’s appointment. He went to another building to pick up his medical records when, on his way out, he saw the gun-wielding Mellberg.

Hess was trapped between two automatic doors leading out when Mellberg came from around the building and shot the man in front of Hess.

Hess couldn’t get away. Mellberg shot him in his right leg. Hess fell to the ground. He saw Mellberg shooting others.

“It was nothing but a clear shot for him,” Hess recalled recently while having coffee at Baker Street Cafe. “If I had a gun, I could have stopped him. Nobody was in the way.”

Hess said he was bleeding “like crazy,” but he didn’t feel the pain at first. “I was more pissed than anything,” he said.

He went to a medical annex after he was shot. The pain increased, but he recovered relatively quickly. In 6 weeks, he was jogging again.

Despite bouncing back, Hess bristles at the suggestion he was lucky.

“If I had forgotten to go to my appointment, that would have been lucky,” he said. “This was fate.”

At the time, Hess owned more than 2 acres in the Spokane area. A couple of hours before his doctor’s appointment, he said, he had thought about moving back to Dixon, his hometown.

The shooting decided it for him; living in Dixon was a “no-brainer.”

In the years since, Hess has noticed changes in himself: He’s a light sleeper with even the slightest noise waking him up; he prefers sitting facing doorways; he becomes nervous in crowded areas.

Hess, who was a hunter growing up, is not an NRA member, but he said he opposes recent gun control proposals. He is also against Illinois’ longtime requirement for gun owners to have Firearm Owner’s Identification cards.

“We already have that right with the Second Amendment,” he said.

If Illinois enacts legislation to allow concealed carry, Hess may get a permit to do so, but he doubted he would carry a weapon in Dixon, which he considers safe.

“That’s why I moved back here,” he said. “They roll up the sidewalks at night.”

If Dixon became more like a big city, however, he said he would likely take advantage of concealed carry.

Recently, Sauk Valley Media has been printing letters to the editor on both sides of the gun debate. A letter from Earl Cook of Chadwick prompted Hess to come forward publicly about gun control.

In his letter, Cook, a gun owner, argued against concealed carry.

“If everyone who is allowed to carry a gun is surprised by someone who is intent on doing something, he isn’t going to know it in time to protect himself,” Cook wrote.

Concealed carry, he said, reminded him of the Wild West, when “everyone packed a gun.”

Hess disagreed.

“Lawmakers sit behind metal detectors and guards to go to work every day, while school kids never get that luxury,” Hess said in his letter. “If we lose our Second Amendment right to these lawmakers, then we deserve what we get. Stand up and tell them to change the law or step out from behind their security and live the risk we live with every day.”

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