May 29 Active Shooter: Deputy Constable Luna shot responded to HPD’s ‘Assist’ with well-packed second vest plate and God’s enabling grace

Tom Kennedy

The May 29 active shooter scene in the middle of a Memorial area neighborhood had more than its share of danger and chaos.

Deputy Constable Danny Luna had to decipher broadcasts from three different – or was it four? – dispatching agencies, just to join the chaotic backdrop of a mentally deranged shooter spraying bullets all over the place.

A four-year constable handling the toll road beat in Harris County Precinct 5, Luna was willing and eager to help HPD manage the deadly shooting spectacle, especially if it meant taking down the active shooter.

If ever there were an unlikely active shooting scene it was Memorial Drive between Beltway 8 and Wilcrest. Investigators later determined it likely that the shooter picked it at random.

Under the circumstances, Luna, 43, would rather stay alive in the line of hazardous duty with flying slugs from an AR-15 landing all around him.

‘It was like a war’

The enterprising constable almost lost his life. Today Luna is thanking God he was wearing a fully-equipped, standard issue bullet-proof vest manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor.

He literally got up from what he thought was his last duty, scarred only by “a red bruise” where the bullet was stopped, and went back on duty.

The married father of two detailed his experience in an interview with the Badge & Gun. He said he was helping a fellow Precinct 5 deputy constable serve a warrant and heard the assist call as they traveled about a mile away. He and his partner were quickly assigned to block off a nearby intersection to protect motorists from the shooter.

Blazing bullets scattered through the Sunday morning air. The individual pulling the trigger was four football fields away, the power of his AR-15 placing Luna and his law enforcement colleagues well within the shooter’s range. Luna told the story:

“I positioned my vehicle and grabbed my rifle, also an AR-15, which I’m trained to use. I took cover on the passenger’s side, which was facing eastbound. The driver’s side was facing westbound. I was out there with another Precinct 5 deputy, Jacob Casallas.

“We were taking fire, gunfire. It was like a war out there. You couldn’t see the active shooter. We were over 400 yards from where the shooter was at.

“We held our position. It seemed like forever. I literally rolled both of my windows down in my Tahoe so if I was to see the suspect, I’d be able to take a shot at him.

“I was taking cover and the last time I moved in front of the window of the Tahoe I heard the shot.

Boom! Thump!! The next thing I knew that was it – I thought I was dead.

“We knew the shooter had an AR-15. We know that those AR-15 rounds will go through our vest. I’m sure he saw that I had a long rifle and would pose a threat.

“When I got shot, I got shot. I got shot! My partner advised the dispatcher to get an ambulance. Once I went down, he came and checked on me. I had my windows down so I could see the suspect. He could see me through the same window. We never saw him.

“I had on my vest and I had two plates in it. I was asked, ‘How did you get two plates?’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry, I always have two plates.’

“I took a direct hit in the chest – to the second plate.

A chest plate away from death!

“The bullet hit the right center middle of the chest plate. It went through the first plate. I carry two soft plates. The second soft plate stopped the bullet and the bullet was found inside the second soft plate. It was still there when I gave my vest to HPD.

“As soon as I got hit, it knocked me on my rear. I thought I was dead. I was hit by an AR-15! He (partner Casallas) came and checked on me. He unbuttoned my shirt and checked under my vest.

“We saw a red bruise where the bullet was stopped right there in my vest. The bullet never penetrated my skin. I had a big red bruise right there for a good week and a half.

“The second plate stopped the bullet. If the bullet had gone through it would have struck me in the lower throat. The shooter had a powerful long rifle but was more than 400 yards away. I believe the velocity of the bullet was fading down by the time it struck me.

“After I got shot and knew I was okay, the adrenalin was going 100 miles an hour. I had to get back in the fight. I took cover behind an HPD officer’s Tahoe. My partner was running to avoid getting hit and fell and busted his elbow. He’s fine. We all made it behind the Tahoe.

“Then we all took cover behind a concrete barrier at an intersection in the neighborhood. Once behind there, we were listening on radio and learned there were possibly two suspects. It turned out it was a bystander with a long rifle also trying to take out the shooter. We didn’t know it. We just thought it was a second active shooter.”

Luna never got a shot off. “I never saw him,” he said.

After a total of 90 minutes of gunfire exchange – an HPD investigation showed the suspect fired 212 rounds – one person was killed and six others, including Luna, were wounded. The citizen initially identified as the second shooter suffered a leg wound but will recover.

An HPD sniper took out the shooter, Dionisio Garza III, 24, an Army veteran from San Bernardino County in California. The sniper fired four rounds.

A Homicide investigation found that this active shooting event could not be classified as an act of terrorism. Garza randomly picked a tire store as a place where he could sleep. When he got up, he shot to death the first individual he encountered with a handgun before retrieving his AR-15. The dead man was identified as Eugene Linscomb.

Garza fired at passing vehicles, including police cars. His shots struck a line to a nearby gas station, igniting a fire. He also fired five shots at an HPD helicopter hovering over the area No one was injured in the helicopter. Enough of his shots struck an HPD patrol car enough times to totally disable it.

HPD attributed the actions of Garza as those of someone “in a mental health crisis.” He had written randomly on the walls inside the tire store; they proved to be ramblings deemed to be nothing significant.

Luna ultimately gave his rifle to a captain from Precinct 5 and caught an ambulance to Hermann Hospital. All told he had been at the scene from 10:40 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Doctors gave him a thorough onceover and found nothing – except that red bruise.

Luna graduated from South Houston High School in 1991 and did four years in the Navy. He then spent time in sales and as a detention officer at the Harris County Jail before joining Precinct 5 in 2012.

The deputy constable said that from the scene he was able to contact a family member who spread the word among loved ones that Luna was okay. It took a while but Luna finally reached his wife, Teresa, on a borrowed cell phone. As any wife in these circumstances, “she freaked out” but soon realized her husband and the father of “two amazing kids, Christian and Priscilla” was safe and sound.

“By the grace of God I’m still alive,” Luna said. “ ‘You’re lucky,’ some people said.

“God has a path for me to help other people. That’s why I’m still alive.”

HPD has Luna’s vest in the Property Room as evidence in the case.

After Constable Phil Camus (HPD Retired) allowed Luna to take some vacation days, the deputy returned to duty.

Luna got a new bullet-proof vest. It has two soft plates.