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Fifth Third Center shooting survivor Brian Sarver recalls surprise, confusion

Posted at 3:46 PM, Oct 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-01 22:55:37-04

CINCINNATI -- Brian Sarver was standing in the Fifth Third Center on Sept. 6, meeting with colleagues, when two of them were shot. 

Sarver survived the shooting. His colleague, 64-year-old Rick Newcomer, was one of three people who did not. Sarver shared his story with a reporter Monday.

"I felt something hit me," Sarver said. "It didn't knock me down. I actually didn't really feel pain at first. It was more trying to figure out what was going on."

Other bullets hit Newcomer, who had been discussing a project with Sarver.

"We'd both been hit," Sarver said, "We both realized, 'Wow, we've just been shot. We've got to get away from this person.'"

Both took cover as the gunman, Omar Santa-Perez, continued his deadly rampage.

"I continued to hear him fire," Sarver said. "I went down a set of stairs and Rick ended up coming down behind me. Then we went through a secure door into the basement area and what is actually a dock area of the building."

It was then that Sarver finally had a chance to check his injuries. 

"I put my hand on my back and I could see that, 'Aw geez, I've got blood all over me.' And I also had a wound in the front," he said.

Paramedics drove Newcomer to the hospital first, but he died from his wounds. Prudhvi Raj Kandepi, 25, and Luis Felipe Calderón, 48, also died in the shooting. 

A second ambulance took Sarver to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Doctors found a bullet has passed right through Sarver, entering his back and coming out his front.

"My spleen ended up being hit in that shot, and ultimately I had to have emergency surgery to have my spleen removed," Sarver said. "So I ended up going through surgery for that as well."

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His wife, Lisa, was with women in her Bible study group when one of them got a breaking news alert about the shooting.

"I started texting Brian and wasn't getting a response, which is kind of normal because he's so busy in meetings throughout the day," she said. "But as time went on, we were getting really worried and pretty upset."

Because of where he was, Sarver didn't know about Cincinnati police officers' gun battle with Santa-Perez until much later.

"I would say [they're] heroes," Sarver said. "They were right there, where they needed to be; stopped the threat."

The city held a ceremony at Fountain Square Monday to honor the police officers and others who helped protect the lives of bystanders and tended to the injured.

Now, as Sarver continues to heal, he and his wife are reflective, prayerful and thankful.

"I don't know why I'm the one that lived, but I feel like God is in control of everything and I'm just happy to be here," he said.

Santa-Perez's motivation remains a mystery. It may never be known. He was killed by police who responded to the shooting. Sarver said he believes Santa-Perez was dealing with some sort of mental health issues.

"There's obviously something going on there that was wrong within his mind to have him do that," Sarver said. "I've got to believe that no one would ever really, in their right mind, want to do something like that to other people."

The Sarvers sat down with their three young children to discuss what happened.

"We tried to talk to them and explain, obviously, in this world there is good and evil," Brian Sarver said. "We all just pray for protection for our whole family every day, and I try to look at the positive sides of this — that I wasn't killed. It could have been much worse."