Quick-thinking volunteer diffuses situation with suicidal gunman at VA

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - On Thursday, Nov. 21, a suicidal man entered Anchorage's VA building with a gun, pulled it from his back pack and pointed it at his head. It could have ended badly, with the man harming himself or someone else, but didn't, thanks to the quick actions of a volunteer.

Rex Sharp Jr., 35, is a volunteer at the VA in Anchorage. He put his own life on the line to compassionately stop a suicidal man with a gun from hurting himself or bystanders.

Rex Sharp, Jr., 35, a husband, father, and member of the Alaska Air National Guard told KTUU that although the event was terrifying, his crisis training kicked in and allowed him to calm the man down.

Sharp serves in the military as a Sexual Assault Training Coordinator and first responder, and he knew that making a genuine connection with the man in crisis was key to de-escalating the situation.

When the man dropped to his knees, Sharp dropped to his knees, locked eyes with the man and let him know he wasn't alone.

"I said 'I am listening. You have been heard. Please take a moment to breathe,'" and "'If you want to talk about it, we can talk about it. But trust me, this is not what you want to do," Sharp told KTUU during a walkthrough of the health-clinic lobby where the incident took place.

The man never said a word. As Sharp filled the silence with words of encouragement, VA police cleared the lobby and waited for the right opportunity to move in.

Sharp said the minutes spent speaking with the man "felt like a lifetime."

Eventually, the man took a deep breath, relaxed his body, and dropped the gun. Police were then able to safely remove the weapon, and the man was able to get connected to needed services.

They later discovered that the weapon, which resembled a small handgun, was a metal air pistol loaded with BBs.

Suicide is a national health crisis, including among veterans. Data released in September by the VA shows about 20 veterans a day die by suicide.

Sharp wanted to make sure that the man in crisis didn't become one of the statistics.

"I feel blessed and fortunate. I was glad that it worked out," Sharp said.

A confidential veterans crisis line -- 1-800-273-8255 -- is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Individuals or concerned friends or family members may also reach a VA responder by sending a text message to 838255.

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