Shielded from Above

God's Grace

Shielded from Above

For Davage, there was no escape–just the gun, aimed right between his eyes.

A police car with lights ablaze

Something bad had gone down. That was clear. Police and emergency vehicles jammed the parking lot outside the Fort Worth, Texas, McDonald’s. Officers took statements from traumatized witnesses. People huddled together. Parents held their children, weeping.

Detectives searched for evidence. Shell casings. How many shots had been fired? An APB was blasted out to every unit in the area. Man in a white shirt and black jeans. On foot. A crazed gunman. Still on the loose.

The scene was all too familiar. A reminder of how fragile life can be. One moment everything’s fine, boring, even, the next, total chaos, ending in unimaginable tragedy.

Or was it? Davage Armstrong’s statement told a different story. Five shots inside the restaurant. At least two more fired outside. But, as he told the skeptical detectives over and over, they wouldn’t find what they expected at the scene.

Go back just a few minutes earlier. An ordinary September evening, McDonald’s crowded with people enjoying a meal out. A young couple grabbing free refills at the soda machine. Teenagers sitting around laughing, devouring Big Macs and fries. Everyone blissfully unaware of the nightmare about to unfold.

Davage and his seven-year-old were in line to order, toward the back of the restaurant. The two of them went there all the time for a quick bite before Davage went to work.

Davage was talking on his cell phone, his son tugging on him, hungry for a hot apple pie. Davage noticed the man in the white T-shirt by the door–pacing, agitated–but the guy wasn’t hassling anybody. Davage pressed the phone against his ear, trying to hear what his older brother was saying on the other end.

“You’re right,” Davage said. “But I think things are finally coming together.” He hadn’t always made the best decisions in life. But he was 30 now, more mature, holding down a good job as a home health aide. And his son? This past year they’d grown a lot closer.

Still, he appreciated his brother’s encouragement. Just a few years before, their other brother had been killed by an armed robber. That, maybe more than anything, had straightened Davage out.

“Hold on, I’ve gotta order,” Davage said into the phone.

“Welcome to McDonald’s,” the cashier said. “What can I get you?”

There was a commotion over by the soda machine. Davage looked to his left. The man in the white T-shirt... he was brandishing a black pistol. “Give me your money!” he shouted. No one moved. Then the gunman turned and charged directly at Davage, waving the gun in his face.

“You think I’m playing?” the gunman said.

He leveled the pistol directly at Davage’s head. All around him people started crying, backing slowly away, hiding behind tables, anything they could find. Some bolted for the door. But for Davage and his son, there was no escape.

There was only the gun, inches away, aiming right between Davage’s eyes.

Davage watched the gunman’s finger squeeze the trigger. I’m dead, he thought. It’s over.

CLICK.

The gun didn’t fire. Davage didn’t think, just reacted. He motioned for his son to run. The boy dashed for the bathroom. Davage surged forward, grabbed the gunman by his shirt and pushed him against a wall. Hard. The men struggled. The gunman’s arms flailed.

Davage couldn’t get the gunman down, couldn’t hold him. The barrel of the gun swung toward his head. Davage ducked. This was his only chance to get away. He turned and ran. Any second he expected to hear the gunshot and feel the bullet explode through his back.

CLICK.

Run. Just keep running.

CLICK. A third misfire.

He saw a door in front of him. He opened it, ducked inside what looked like the manager’s office, and pushed the door tight behind him with all his weight. What good would it do, though? The gunman would just fire through it. The door was flimsy, no better than paper against a large-caliber bullet.

Was his son okay? The thought filled Davage with fear. Anguish. He heard people screaming. He strained to hear his son’s voice. Then, nothing. Silence. What was happening out there? He couldn’t take it. He had to get to his son.

He inched open the door. The dining room was nearly empty, just a few people pressed against a wall, peeking around the corner. Where was the gunman? Davage left the office and moved toward the front door.

CRACK! Now that, that was a gunshot. The sound made his blood curdle. Then again. CRACK! The gunman was outside. Shooting wildly in the parking lot.

Whatever problems the gun had had before, the gunman had fixed. He was ready to take out real targets. He swung around and stared through the glass door at Davage, his eyes smoldering.

Davage backed away. The gunman stalked to the door, swung it open, aimed. Davage wanted to run, but his legs were like lead.

The gunman pulled the trigger.

CLICK.

He shook the gun, aimed it again at Davage’s head. Davage threw his arms in the air. “Please, I’ll give you anything–money, my car,” he said. “Anything.”

The gunman wasn’t listening. He was in a fury, his face contorted with rage, hate, frustration. Davage closed his eyes and prepared to die, to meet the Lord.

CLICK.

The gunman threw his hands into the air, incredulous. He turned and fled the restaurant, this time for good.

Davage found his son in the bathroom, huddled inside a stall, trembling, sobbing. He looked at his father as if he was seeing a ghost. “I thought you were dead,” he cried.

Davage took the boy into his arms. For the longest time, they stayed in the bathroom, terrified the gunman would return. Finally, they made their way out to the parking lot with the others.

The wail of police sirens filled the night. Help was coming. But all Davage could think about was how many times he’d heard the sound of the gun misfiring. One by one he counted them. Five shots in all. At close range.

The detectives raised their eyebrows. They asked time and time again if Davage was sure. But then the other statements came in, backing him up. The surveillance tape showed the gunman’s finger on the trigger–pulling it once, twice, three times more.

When the police finally caught the man, they examined the gun and the magazine. Nothing wrong with it that they could see. Enough ammo left to have made the McDonald’s a bloody, deadly scene.

In the months since, Davage has struggled to make sense of what happened, to him, to all of the folks whose lives had been spared that night. He’s often thought of his brother, who hadn’t been so fortunate.

For Davage, there’s no simple explanation. “Maybe God just needed to show me that miracles still happen, that life is a precious gift not to be wasted,” he says. “I’m going to do my best with the second chance I’ve been given.”

 

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