HOBART — People ran, others stood still and cars poured out of the Walmart parking lot Sunday as police Cpl. Kevin Garber Jr. pulled up in response to a report of an active shooter.
A man waved the Hobart police officer down, telling him, "There's a kid shot. There's a kid shot."
Garber parked his squad car and ran toward where the man was directing him, where he could see a 9-year-old boy under an SUV.
"I saw his legs from underneath the vehicle," Garber said. "I could see a bullet hole, a wound, in his back.
"I put my hand underneath his chest, because I knew I didn't want to move him too much, and that's when I felt the larger wound."
The boy also had a gunshot wound to his torso, he said.
Garber, a 6.5-year police veteran who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines, said his military combat lifesaving training kicked in. The goal is to sweep for wounds and treat the largest ones.
Garber radioed dispatch that he had located a juvenile victim. Other officers began to arrive at his location. Seeing Garber had the situation under control, the other officers continued their search for more victims and suspects.
A chaotic scene
Inside the Walmart, the boy's 25-year-old father crawled to a clothing area, unable to walk because of gunshot wounds to his leg.
Off-duty Gary police Officer Keon Parker, who was shopping with his family, secured his family in a storage closet, located the boy's father and disarmed the father's friend, who reportedly had returned fire during a gunfight just outside the the store.
Dozens of store customers took cover, some climbing onto shelves and hiding behind pillows.
Walmart employees, who recently completed active shooter training, helped customers shelter in break rooms and other areas of the store.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the 9-year-old victim," company spokesman Payton McCormick said.
Walmart was thankful for the quick response by employees and has been cooperating with police, he said.
The boy remained in critical condition Wednesday. His father, a documented gang member who has been shot three separate times since June, was in stable condition, police said.
Alex C. Hughes, 26, of Gary, allegedly a member of a rival gang, was charged Tuesday with two felony counts of attempted murder, aggravated battery and criminal gang activity. He remained at large Wednesday.
Hobart police Lt. James Gonzales said the first officer arrived at Walmart within a minute and police entered Walmart within three minutes.
"You just don't get more efficient than that," he said. "These guys train for hours and hours. It's second nature for them to take that action."
While employees and customers sheltered inside the store, Walmart staff asked anyone who saw or heard anything to fill out witness statements. The company shared those forms with police, Gonzales said.
'Doing a lot of good'
While Garber helped the boy, other officers went inside Walmart, not yet knowing where the shooters had gone.
Every officer, and the medics who risked their own safety to respond, were "doing a lot of good out there that night," Garber said.
"I wasn't the only one that had a critical part," he said. "I just so happened to be closest to the kid. Other guys did things just as critical as I did."
Despite the chaos, Garber remained focused on the boy and trusted other officers to locate additional victims or suspects.
"I knew the ambulance was on the other end of Walmart, and people were still running around," he said. "The fastest way to get him to the ambulance was to just pick him up and run. We were still trying to gain control of everything."
The boy was writhing in pain, so Garber bear hugged him.
"When I did that, he kind of relaxed with me. I didn't want to hurt him anymore," he said. "I kept pressure on with my hand."
As he ran with the boy, another officer approached and asked where to apply pressure.
"I said, 'Just hold him,'" Garber recalled. "I knew where the wounds were, and I had pressure on already. That way we weren't losing that."
After placing the boy in the ambulance, Garber went back out and assisted other officers.
"I'm just glad I was able to help and hopefully give the kid a chance," he said.