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EMS Workers Recall Harrowing Scene of Rampage

September 17, 1989

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Confusion, danger and the number of casualties delayed the evacuation of patients from the scene of a gunman’s rampage that left eight dead and 13 wounded, paramedics say.

Normally, paramedics try to stabilize gunshot victims and send them to a hospital immediately - ″load and go,″ said paramedic Kenneth Murray.

But Greg Torpey and Connie Grace, who were among the first to arrive Thursday after Joseph T. Wesbecker began a shooting spree at Standard Gravure Corp., were pinned down with four victims in a third-floor reception area while Wesbecker roamed the building somewhere nearby.

Wesbecker, a Standard Gravure employee on longterm leave because of mental problems, wounded 20 people, seven fatally, before killing himself.

Torpey, Ms. Grace, Murray and two other EMS workers described the harrowing scene at an impromptu news conference Saturday at Louisville Emergency Medical Services’ headquarters.

Murray, whose voice quavered occasionally, said he wanted to speak publicly about the experience because ″people should know what an AK-47 (assault rifle) can do.″

″It’s tough. We’re talking about combat medicine,″ EMS director Richard Bartlett said.

″Every time there’d be a noise, these police officers would turn around with their guns,″ Torpey recalled. ″You got a real good sense that you were in a very dangerous situation.″

Despite his efforts to stop receptionist Sharon Needy’s massive internal bleeding, Torpey had to watch while she died.

″If we could have got her out right away and got her to a trauma center ... there is a possibility that she could be living now,″ he said.

Needy died at about the same time that the paramedics heard a police radio report that Wesbecker had shot himself on a lower floor. Ms. Grace passed the news to one of the wounded women in the reception area, Torpey said.

″At that point the victim said, ’Well, God rest his soul,‴ he said, ″which for me was a tremendous boost in faith that somebody could say that after being shot several times ... to still understand that this wasn’t the action really of a criminal, this was the action of a sick individual, someone who for some reason has gone over the edge.″

Even then the two paramedics had to wait for what seemed like an eternity until another ambulance crew arrived to help.

″We knew that we had ... patients who could die on us,″ Torpey said. ″There was this immense feeling of frustration. We expected the cavalry to come charging through the door at any minute.″

″Not knowing the full scope of what had gone on, not knowing how many patients were eventually found in the building, we couldn’t exactly understand why the cavalry wasn’t coming.″

At one point, Murray said, the gunman was still moving around the building and paramedics decided it was unsafe to enter a lower level. But Standard Gravure workers who had escaped from the building kept urging the rescue workers to go in and help their downed co-workers.

″They said there were victims just inside the door,″ Murray said. So after a few moments, even though police not yet entered that part of the building, Murray and a shift supervisor, Capt. Randy Montague, decided to go inside.

A few moments later they found Wesbecker dead, lying face down on his assault rifle. Montague radioed police that he was dead.

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