Hero Who Ended Mall Shootings Finds Life Changed
SPRINGFIELD, Pa. (AP) _ Life has been a blur of limousines and interviews for Jack Laufer since he grabbed a rifle-toting woman at a shopping mall the day before Halloween and ended a bloody rampage that left two people dead.
Now, the reluctant hero says he wants nothing more than for things to get back to normal.
Laufer, a 24-year-old Widener University graduate student, part-time contractor and paramedic, was shopping at Springfield Mall the afternoon of Oct. 30 when a woman with a semiautomatic rifle began firing randomly.
A 64-year-old man and a 2-year-old boy lay fatally wounded and seven other people were injured before Laufer, thinking the woman was firing blanks, walked up to her and wrestled away her rifle.
Sylvia Seegrist, 25, of Crum Lynne, was arrested on murder and other charges and is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at a state mental hospital.
Since that day of horror, Laufer’s life has been transformed. He guesses he’s taken and returned hundreds of phone calls, received letters from across the country and gotten bunches of flowers and balloons from cousins, schoolmates and people he’s never seen.
″I’ve just tried to be agreeable with everybody,″ said Laufer this week as he sat in the family room he helped build onto his parents’ ranch-style house in Delaware County’s Middletown Township, not far from the mall.
″I can’t say no, I guess,″ he said.
About the only offer he has rejected came from a supermarket tabloid, which wanted to pay him for his account of the tragedy.
Laufer has made appearances with talk-show hosts Maria Shriver, Sarah Purcell and McLean Stevenson. The next few weeks will be filled with speeches to local civic groups and veterans’ organizations and interviews with assorted newspapers and magazines.
He said one of the most touching calls came last Saturday from George Cosmen, the father of Recife Cosmen, the toddler who was shot to death outside the mall. ″He just wanted to call and thank me for stopping her when I did. I thought it was nice for him to take the time after his loss.″
Laufer’s hero status changed his life almost immediately.
After disarming the fatigues-clad woman, he and his friend, Victoria Loring, a registered nurse, helped the wounded until ambulances arrived.
He spent two hours providing written statements about the shootings to police investigators, and then he and Loring went to his house. They were greeted by television lights and cameras and dozens of reporters.
Laufer calmly answered their questions until midnight.
A talk-show host from Australia called at 1:30 a.m., and CBS News in New York called several times throughout the night, arranging for a limousine to take him to the studio of WCAU-TV, the network’s local affiliate, for a morning interview. He also walked across the street to do an interview at WPVI-TV, the ABC affiliate.
″I think I was still running on adrenaline,″ Laufer said. ″After everybody left at 12 o’clock (midnight) Wednesday, I figured this was it.″
Laufer’s friend and neighbor, Bill Kauffman, said being a hero has changed Laufer very little.
″He was over here Sunday to borrow a couple of eggs for breakfast,″ said Kauffman. ″I asked him when he’s going to cut my grass, and he said, ’It’ll cost you $100 now.‴
In the spring, Laufer plans to return to Widener in nearby Chester to continue working toward an master’s degree in hospital administration.
Last February, he finished 49th out of 2,123 people taking tests to become Pennsylvania state troopers, but missed the cutoff - only the top 32 were chosen for further testing.
State police spokesman Curt Ashenfelter said that because the agency’s hiring process is ″fairly rigid,″ Laufer’s heroism won’t increase his chances of being selected.
Nonetheless, Laufer said he was glad to have put an end to the tragedy at the mall.
″I never thought people would ever react the way they did,″ he said. ″Life wasn’t that bad before this. I’d like to return to the old Jack Laufer. My mom keeps saying, ’When are you going to hang that front storm door?‴