ODESSA, Texas — 57 minutes – that’s how long it took to change the lives of West Texans on August 31, 2019.
Officers across all local and state agencies responded to hundreds of calls in that time span trying to hunt down the man wreaking havoc on our communities – trying to put a stop to the madness.
Cpl. Kaaiako Laimana Vavao is the man who stopped him. He wasn’t on duty that day. He was relaxing, watching "The Office" when he got the first phone call.
“I got a call from one of my cousins asking what was going on. So, I started monitoring my radio,” Cpl. Vavao said. “I started hearing all the calls – gun shot victims and officers responding.”
Cpl. Vavao jumped off the couch and started getting ready.
“I was throwing on my SWAT gear. The last thing I heard was that he was possibly heading towards Cinergy. I don’t live far from there, so I headed straight over,” he said.
He says leaving his home, he had no indication of what exactly he was getting into.
“Hearing all that radio traffic and just how bad it was, hearing the different codes these officers were calling out, hearing dispatch sending help to another gunshot victim, hearing the stress in their voice. I hear their voice all the time but just to hear that change in their voice is like, wow, this, this is real. And then driving there, it’s like what’s going on? The whole time I’m getting ready, it’s like, what’s going on, what’s going on? And it’s like I wanted to snap out of it, it’s like maybe I fell asleep watching tv and I needed to wake up, but it was real. And it’s just, it’s unbelievable,” Cpl. Vavao said.
He says time sped up as soon as he pulled around the back of Cinergy.
“Me and other officers were holding security around the back because that’s where all of the people had been evacuated to. I pulled my vehicle out of the parking lot and onto the road to block anything because we knew the threat was most likely coming from the west,” Vavao said.
He says he linked up with a Midland Police officer.
“We heard gun shots to our west. It was our officers getting shot,” he said.
From there, Cpl. Vavao and the Midland Police officer he was with sprung into action.
“I knew it was the gunman. Prater with MPD got into his unit and told me he was going to push him. So as the gunman was approaching us, Prater went around the back side of my unit and clipped him, causing a skid. As he did that, I was able to get five shots on the windshield of the mail carrier. I took off running after that because he was skidding towards me. When the carrier came to a stop and I realized it wasn’t coming towards me, I saw the back of the carrier facing me. At that point, I took five more shots with my patrol rifle into the back window,” he said. “We just had to make sure the threat was eliminated.”
A viewer sent NewsWest 9 cell phone video of the scene unfolding behind Cinergy – in total, Cpl. Vavao and other officers had less than ten seconds to react before the mail carrier crashed. No one else was injured in that portion of the incident.
Cpl. Vavao says even a year later, aspects of that day still have not sunk in.
“It almost doesn’t seem like it happened. Maybe because we just suppress it so much in our minds. When I do think about it, it’s one of those things you really only hear about happening in other places, not on your front steps,” he said.
He says it’s hard to talk about that day – small things still take him back.
“I’d imagine everyone is going to have their trigger,” he said. “For me, I’m more cautious in certain situations. Pulling up to a stop light and sitting at a red light. I’m always watching my surroundings. It was an eye opener, definitely.”
Though Vavao says Aug. 31 is also a reminder of the important work all agencies who came together to do.
“The whole incident was tragic but to see all the agencies come together, when we normally don’t work together in that capacity or any capacity really…it was amazing,” he said. “I can’t speak highly enough about not just my department, but Midland, the troopers. I think there was a game warden out there, UTPB, the hospitals. Everyone did such an amazing job.”
He says now, more than ever, he is committed to his job as a peace officer.
“This is something we sign up for – to protect and to serve.”
You can watch the full interview with Corporal Vavao below.