Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2014

Currently: 93° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Woman who witnessed killings of Metro Police officers struggles to move on

Image

Steve Marcus

Sheree Burns is shown in her apartment Wednesday, June 18, 2014, as she reflects on a shooting she witnessed. Burns was in CiCi’s Pizza, 309 N. Nellis Blvd., when Metro Police Officers Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck were murdered Sunday, June 8.

Metro Provides Details on Sunday’s Shootings

Metro Police Office Laura Meltzer posts photos during a news conference at Metro Police headquarters Monday, June 9, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Metro Officers Slain: 6/8/14

Metro Police are seen outside a Wal-Mart on Nellis Boulevard between Charleston Boulevard and Stewart Avenue, where two people allegedly fired shots after shooting two officers at a nearby CiCi's Pizza. The suspects then killed themselves. Launch slideshow »

Sheree Burns began the morning of June 8 like every other Sunday: preparing for church to the sound of Elvis Presley and gospel tunes.

She left her husband and son at their apartment at 8:30 a.m. to drive to church alone, just like she usually does. It was hot outside, just like it usually is.

All signs were pointing to a normal day.

Then, as she was sitting in church, she made an unusual decision. She left early, which she doesn’t often do, and drove a couple of blocks to CiCi’s Pizza on Nellis Boulevard.

When she arrived, the restaurant was mostly empty, save for two police officers sitting near the back. They were laughing when she sat down at the table behind them.

She was just starting to eat her salad when a man walked past her and stopped at the soda fountain. She watched a family as they were about to enter the restaurant.

Then the man turned around, stepped between her and the officers, and fired his gun.

‘An unprecedented day’

In the days that followed, Burns learned that the man who fired those bullets was Jerad Miller, 31, an alienated loner who had long held a grudge against what he saw as a tyrannical government for a series of drug convictions years earlier. He and his 22-year-old wife, Amanda, entered CiCi’s that day determined to start the revolution they had been telling everyone about.

The revolution ended shortly after, when Metro Police officers shot and killed Jerad Miller on the floor of the Wal-Mart across the street from CiCi’s. Amanda watched her husband die, then shot herself. One other person, Joseph Wilcox, 31, was shot to death when he confronted Jerad Miller at the entrance to the store.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie called it “an unprecedented day” for Metro and Las Vegas.

The city, which had never seen a mass shooting of such magnitude, rallied around Wilcox and the officers whose deaths Burns witnessed.

She hadn't said a word to Igor Soldo, 31, and Alyn Beck, 41, when she sat down to eat that day.

“Now, I’m getting to know them in the worst way,” she said.

Sign of life?

When the shots rang out, Burns dove to the ground. She didn’t know what else to do.

“Just pow pow pow pow pow pow,” she said. “It was overkill with the guns. I think they just wanted to hear it.”

Not knowing whether she’d be next, she crawled along the floor to the other side of a partition. There she waited, peeking once to see whether the coast was clear. It wasn’t.

She saw Jerad Miller take Soldo’s gun from his body, and she ducked back down. She stayed there for a while, long after Jerad and Amanda Miller finally left the restaurant and headed toward Wal-Mart.

“They’re gone,” she heard someone eventually say, but she didn’t get up at first. She waited a few moments just to be sure, then rose — first to her knees, then straight up.

She went around to check on the officers. She examined Soldo, even though she was afraid to touch his body. She had been staring at the back of his uniform moments before, but now she looked at his face to see whether there was any sign of life. There wasn’t.

So she waited. She didn’t know what else to do. The police eventually came and evacuated her and others to a yogurt store nearby. Officers questioned her and other witnesses about what they saw, and she called home to tell her family she was safe.

After five hours, police let her return home. She was still in shock and had been crying constantly.

A familiar place

On an equally hot Saturday, almost a week after the events of June 8, Burns finds herself in a familiar place.

The parking lot outside of the restaurant where she witnessed the execution of two police officers was the last place she thought she’d come back to, but she has. Not just that day, but each day since the shooting. The lot quickly became a memorial for the slain officers and their families.

For hours on end, she watched candles materialize, condolences written, flowers lain on a stretch of sidewalk. A small replica Metro badge adorning the top of her shirt, she looked on as a smattering of "thank-you's" turned into a sea of tributes and memorials, stuffed animals and plaques.

She can’t stop what she saw from playing over and over in her mind: sitting down to eat, hearing the gunshots, crawling on the ground. During those moments, she said, she asked God for forgiveness. She promised to never leave church early again.

Weeks later, she’s still trying to make sense of what she saw, but “the sense isn’t being made yet.”

“I’m not getting it,” she said. “I came here to have pizza, not watch the execution of two police officers.”

She fusses over the small things. This time, it’s a piece of cloth bearing the faces of Beck and Soldo collecting leaves on the asphalt.

“That’s gonna get real dirty right there,” she says out loud to herself. “Too bad there’s not a better spot.”

So she picks it up, brushes off the dirt and sets it aside.

'That’s why I keep coming back'

Burns has struggled to cope with the randomness of what happened. After hearing a sergeant at one of the funerals say officers felt they failed Beck and Soldo, she was taken aback.

“Nobody could have stopped it,” she said. “If it was you sitting there, you’d be dead if you were wearing the uniform.”

She has spent time with someone who has talked through the traumatic events with her, but she can’t afford to pay a professional counselor. After she talks with one of the Metro officers standing guard, he leaves and returns with a pamphlet for Metro’s grief counseling services.

“I don’t know how to get over what I saw,” she said. “That’s why I keep coming back.”

On Saturday, she had spent most of the day there. Occasionally she will talk to people, but most of the time she stands looking at the memorial. Every so often, she rests in the shade of a pillar where her own memorial, a big stuffed brown bear, sits. You wouldn’t even know she’s there.

Across the street, local car club Riderz 4 Life holds a car wash to raise money for the families of the victims. By the end of the day, the club raised $1,216.

A sign hangs on the door of a nearby gun store: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the three fallen.”

A young boy, urged by his mother, walks up to a tribute wall where people have written notes in honor of the officers. He picks up a marker and scrawls out a message.

“Thank you,” he writes.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy