A Walmart supervisor is being credited with saving dozens of lives during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, after he opened a fire exit and hid customers, many of them elderly, in shipping containers behind the building.
Gilbert Serna told TODAY he helped about 100 customers and employees flee through the back of the store on Saturday while a gunman opened fire, eventually killing 22 people and wounding dozens of others.
"I will never forget the faces of them as they're running out of the fire exits,'' Serna told Miguel Almaguer. "I will never forget the recognition that I'm getting from the customers reaching out to me and telling me you saved my aunt, you saved my uncle, you saved my mom, my dad, my in-laws, you saved somebody in their families, you're a hero. I will never forget that."
Authorities believed the gunman posted a hate-filled essay about killing Hispanics on an extremist website just minutes before storming the Walmart. He is in police custody and federal prosecutors are treating it as a case of domestic terrorism.
Serna had just come back from lunch around 10:15 a.m. when he heard gunfire. He said he began grabbing fellow employees and customers and yelling that there was an active shooter. He then opened a fire exit door in the rear of the building to help them escape.
"We're out there out in the open, and I thought to myself if this guy comes out here he's going to get us all or something,'' Serna said.
Serna opened about three or four shipping containers and told customers and store associates to hide inside.
"There was a man that told me there's a white male in there with an AK-47, they're shooting up the place, and that's when it registered to me that this wasn't a one-on-one confrontation over a parking spot,'' he said. "That's when I realized this was a mass shooting, this was a massacre or something."
He then saw about 50 other customers on the side of the store and told them to run to a nearby Sam's Club for safety.
"Once I got to Sam’s I noticed customers with gunshot wounds to their legs and arms, a customer who didn't know he has been shot in his back,'' Serna said. "I saw a baby full of blood. It was horrible."
Serna knew some of the people because they were regular customers, many of them elderly.
"Some of them have reached out to me, and I'm so glad that they made it out alive,'' he said. "I was scared, I'm not going to lie, but if I'm going to run away from this, I'm going to bring people with me. I’m going to help ensure that our customers are safe."
Serna attended a vigil for the victims on Sunday night before an emotional moment on Monday.
"I passed by the store for the first time, and I just got a bunch of flashbacks,'' he said. "It's something that nobody should ever have to go through."