Besides body armor, a semi-automatic rifle, and 21 magazines of ammo, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker soldier Brandon Barrett had a scope and a bipod rifle mount on him when he stood waiting for the Grand America Hotel elevator in Salt Lake City last August 27. There didn't seem much doubt about his intentions: He had sent text messages using threatening phrases that, as a buddy put it, seemed to come right out of Columbine.
For this week's SW cover piece (also online at sister paper Phoenix New Times), Grand America security guard Robyn Salmon told us she thinks that her being 60 and a grandma (for two weeks, anyway, at that point) may have made a life-and-death difference for Utahans that day.
Her nonthreatening presence, she thinks, "deterred him from going up and shooting people from the tower. He clearly was headed there."
A former longtime Salt Lake City police civilian employee and daughter of an ex-assistant police chief, Salmon recounted the conversation she had with the combat-ready Barrett at the garage elevator in the 24-story hotel.
Salmon: Excuse me, sir, can I help you?
Barrett: I need to go up.
Salmon: To what floor? I'm with security. I can assist you.
Barrett: Just up.
Salmon: Are you on assignment? I need to know what floor you're going to.
Barrett: Where is the stairwell?
Salmon: I'm sorry, sir, we don't have a stairwell here.
Barrett: OK then, you better call the police.
Salmon: OK then, follow me out.
Which he did, en route to his own death. Rather than take down a city, he opted for suicide by cop in a hotel parking lot. Officer Uppsen Downes, an Army vet, was wounded in the exchange.
Salmon says she later received a letter from Barrett's mother, thanking her for preventing a tragedy for which the soldier could never have been forgiven."She called me his angel," says Salmon. That's how Salt Lake felt as well. In a public ceremony, Mayor Ralph Becker gave awards to both Salmon and Downes. Their actions "averted what could have been an absolute disaster situation," Becker said.