Bus shooting in Rio: First-hand account from Hoopfeed correspondent Lee Michaelson

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RIO DE JANEIRO — An Olympic media transport bus came under gunfire on Tuesday night, as it made the trip from the venue cluster at Deodoro Olympic Park to the Main Press Center (MPC) and International Broadcast Center, located across town at the main Olympic Park in Barra, carrying approximately 10 passengers. Two windows on the side of the bus were blown out by the impact. A reporter from Belarus, as well as an Olympic volunteer from Turkey, sustained minor wounds from the broken glass, but no one was hit by the shots or seriously injured.

Hoopfeed.com correspondent Lee Michaelson, a retired Air Force captain, was on the bus at the time of the incident, and gave us a first-hand account.

I was on the way back to the Media Village in Barra from the Youth Arena at the Deodoro complex, which requires a transfer at the Main Press Center and International Broadcast Center, located across town at the main Olympic Park. We left Deodoro at around 7:30 p.m., shortly after the last game of the day, between Turkey and Japan, had finished.

We were traveling along the recently opened TransOlympic highway which was built for the Games. The highway is reserved for Olympic priority traffic until the Games are over, so we were moving along at a pretty good clip, making good time. That, and the fact that the shooter used a small-caliber weapon, probably a handgun, may well have saved our lives.

Roughly halfway back, I was texting my daughter about our dinner plans for the evening, when I suddenly heard two shots ring out in close succession. ‘Pop, pop.’ I am a retired Air Force captain, as well as former federal prosecutor; I own a hand gun for personal protection, and have spent plenty of time on the range. I immediately knew we were taking small-arms gunfire.

I instinctively got as low as I could to the floor, and yelled for others on the bus to do the same. There was no immediate reaction; I think people were stunned and confused. Some started wondering aloud, “What’s going on? What just happened?” as the glass in two of the large windows on the bus began to shatter.

I yelled again, “Get down! Get down! We’re taking fire! Haven’t any of you been in combat!” Everyone hit the deck, and the driver started slowing down to pull over.

A photographer from Reuters was sitting near me. He later told me he had been embedded in Iraq, and he too knew the sound of gunfire. He began yelling at the driver not to stop, to keep going. Fortunately, the driver listened to him and kept going.

Meanwhile, I realized that the overhead lights on the bus were still on, leaving us backlit. I started calling to the driver to turn off the overhead lights, but he did not do so. I don’t know how much English the driver spoke; he might not have understood, but we sat there under those bright lights throughout the entire trip back to MPC.

We went a couple of kilometers further, and the driver again started pulling over, despite yelling from some of the passengers to continue on to the Press Center. By this point, a police car had pulled up in front of us with red lights flashing, so the driver really had no say in the matter. While the MPC would undoubtedly have been a safer place to stop and investigate, we were this point well out of range of the original shooter.

The police officer came onto the bus and spoke briefly to the driver, then both of them stepped off of the bus to examine the windows from outside. The officer never spoke to me, nor to the best of my knowledge, any of the other passengers.

After a few minutes, the Reuters photographer and several of the other photojournalists got off the bus to take photos of the damage from the outside. Huge chunks of glass continued to fall out of the windows.”

Meanwhile, the two passengers who were injured just sat there, still bleeding. Initially, I thought it was just the reporter Artur Zhol, a broadcaster from Belarus who had also been at today’s basketball session, who had been hurt. Artur had been sitting directly across the aisle from me, right in front of the rear of the two shattered windows. He could have been seriously hurt or worse had that bullet come all the way through. As it was, he had minor cuts on his hand from the glass.

As I reached to get tissues out of my backpack, I turned and noticed some streaks of blood on the floor further toward the front of the bus, and realized someone else had to have been hurt. That’s when I saw a second passenger, Kaan Korkmaz, who later told me he was hear as an Olympic volunteer from Turkey, bleeding somewhat more profusely from a gash on his arm, again apparently from the broken glass, which continued to fall out of the windows in large chunks. I washed his arm with water from the bottle I was carrying to clean up the wound temporarily, then offered him Kleenex to staunch the bleeding.

After a brief period, the driver got back on the bus, and the police officer went on his way. We made the rest of the trip to the MPC without incident, while glass continued to drop from the two windows all the way there.

When we pulled into the transfer hub, it being a transport for media, a crowd of reporters, photographers and broadcasters began gathering to find out what had happened to the windows. But not a single representative of Rio2016 came over to talk to any of us, nor was any medical assistance offered to either of the injured passengers – or for that matter, to a female reporter who, though uninjured, had moved from the front of the bus near the windows, to the rear, and sat huddled by herself in the back, possibly a victim of shock.

It also concerns me that the driver of the bus was apparently unfamiliar with proper tactics for responding in such an emergency. The very first thing he should have done was hit the gas, flooring it until the bus and passengers were in a position of safety. Instead, he did precisely the opposite. Second, he should have immediately doused the overhead lights, which were making us all better targets. He did not do so, and he ignored calls from the passengers to dim the lights.

Third, in a country where people have quite recently been shot dead, while sitting in taxis on their way to the airport the bus should have been equipped with proper first aid equipment, and the driver trained how to use it. Once in a secure zone, the first concern should have been to attend to those injured, regardless how minor.

The shooting certainly wasn’t the fault of Rio, or of Brazil, and I don’t want to be alarmist. Regrettably, we live in a world where crime and the potential for terrorism surround us. I think of Orlando just two months ago. The people here have been overwhelmingly gracious and welcoming, and they are putting on a wonderful Olympics.

They have done, for the most part, a great job at security; there are police officer and soldiers patrolling practically everywhere you turn. I am thankful that Kaan and Artur weren’t more seriously hurt, and the rest of us escaped unscathed. But I do think there should have been measures in place in event of such an incident. The lack of such basic procedures make me blanch at what might have happened had someone actually been shot. And the lack of concern or any inquiry into the incident by Rio2016 is also quite troubling. Instead, the concern seemed to be getting the bus out of sight as quickly as possibly, before even more photographers and journalists had the opportunity to see it or photograph the damage.

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