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DAYTON, OHIO — An Ohio-based Air Force staff sergeant who survived mortar attacks in Iraq only to become a mass shooting victim in the U.S. wants others to learn from her experience.
Staff Sgt. Deondra Parks was with friends at a crowded cafe in northern Texas on April 20, 2010, when a 22-year-old man walked in and shouted racial slurs and “white power” before opening fire with a shotgun.
The shooter, Ross William Muehlberger, was white.
Parks, who is black, and three other black or Hispanic women were wounded. A white bar worker who tried to wrestle the weapon from Muehlberger was killed. Muehlberger, who had a violent history before the shooting, soon after fatally shot himself in the head.
“I knew what I was walking into when I went to Iraq,” Parks told the Dayton Daily News in an interview at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, where she is now stationed. “But I never expected this to happen in my own country.”
Parks, now 27 and an emergency medical technician, said that she wants people to hear her story of survival and have a plan in case they’re ever in a similar situation.
In her case, Parks said that when she first saw Muehlberger that day near Sheppard Air Force Base, she thought he was going to ask for directions or some type of question.
That’s when he said a racial slur, announced that it was Hitler’s birthday, raised a shotgun and began firing, Parks said.
“He was screaming, ‘White power.’ Yelling, laughing and shooting at the same time,” she said.
Parks ran, tripped over two chairs and felt a shot graze her face. She then decided to “get low, get down and to play dead.” She got control of her breathing.
That’s when Muehlberger began firing at her lower legs.
“I didn’t move, I didn’t budge,” she said. “I just laid there trying to play dead so he wouldn’t shoot me again.”
Parks spent eight days in the hospital. Weeks later, she had additional surgery at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Dallas during a 30-day recuperation at the Fisher House, a place where her family gathered to support her during her recovery.
Parks also began therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and developed a friendship with a fellow sufferer who served in Vietnam.
“We still feel the same things,” she said. “The intrusive thoughts, the nightmares, the obsessions with death. Everything like that. That’s one thing I do suffer from is the obsession with someone wanting to harm me, no matter what their skin color is.”
Parks said despite all her difficulties, she never considered a medical retirement.
Now in her ninth year in the military and engaged to an Air Force reservist, Parks said she intends to stay in uniform for a full 20-year career.
“The Air Force asks a couple of things from you. And that’s to be spiritually, physically and mentally fit, and that’s all they ask,” she said. “I can do every last one of those and more so why can I not have a chance to retire from the military.”