CINCINNATI – Elder assistant athletic director Kevin Espelage was glad Cincinnati police Sgt. Daniel Hils had come to the school's soccer game Tuesday night.
Hils came to watch his son play. He was trying to relax after losing his 18-year-old daughter, Meghan, to a long illness just two weeks ago.
That was before gunshots rang out. A bullet went through Espelage's thigh. Two other people were struck by fragments.
Hils, president of the Cincinnati FOP, rushed to Espelage's side.
"I felt something just whack me on the back of the leg," Espelage said. "I didn’t hear anything — didn’t hear a gunshot — just heard the result. I really thought somebody just hit me in the back...until I reached down and felt some blood and saw the bullet and said, 'I’ve just been shot.'"
Hils was the first to reach him and apply pressure to the wound.
"I just wanted to keep him calm because I’ve seen a couple of gunshot wounds and I knew it wasn’t life threatening," Hils said.
"Of all the people to put pressure on my wound, you’ve got Dan doing that and I can’t thank him enough," Espelage said. "I can’t thank a higher power enough as well."
The bullets struck in front of the concession stand where players and parents were having a pot luck dinner.
The shooting angered Hils, who called the gathering "innocence on steroids."
"It couldn't get any more innocent than that and the next thing you know somebody's been shot. You went from one world to another in a matter of a minute," he said.
Hils returned to the Panther Athletic Complex Wednesday, telling investigators how something so pure was insanely flipped upside down.
"I heard my wife yell that he was shot. For a second, my heart sunk fearing my son might have been the 'he.' "
He said he wanted to keep Espelage calm until paramedics arrived.
"I knew it wasn't life threatening and I wanted to make sure he knew that because the fear of something like that is a lot of times worse than the wound itself," Hils said.
Hils was "very comforting, reassuring," Espelage said. "Let's me know there's a higher power watching over us."
Investigators believe the shots came from a fence line about 100 yards away. Police believe the shooting was random and not targeting anyone.
"I'm curious to find out what it was because if we find out it was a reckless thing, that's a whole different thing than if it was purposeful," Hils said. "If it was purposeful, then I'm flat-out mad."
Espelage was up walking Wednesday and trying to figure out how to turn this into a teachable moment for the Elder community.
The bullet passed through about two or three inches of his thigh. He sent an email to the Elder community at 3 a.m. saying he was OK.
"Never been shot so I don’t have anything to compare it to, so all things considered I think I feel pretty good," he said.
Espelage said he had been bombarded with well wishes on social media.
"I just feel good about the Elder community - how we come forward and just rally in situations like that," he said.
Espelage said he’s not mad at the shooter - he just wants to know why.
"My heart hopes it’s random," Espelage said. "My heart hopes it’s somebody doing a stupid act...There’s more good people in this world than bad people. "