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TSA officer honored for stopping gunman at Fort Smith apartment complex

Wally West was honored for his actions during an active shooter situation in Fort Smith last year.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — The Gerardo Hernandez “In the Line of Duty” Award is given annually to TSA employees who distinguish themselves through bravery, valor and heroism.

Officer Hernandez was killed in the line of duty while attempting to stop a gunman inside Los Angeles International Airport on November 1, 2013. Since then, TSA honors his life with the distinguished award. 

Thursday, March 24, officer Wally West was honored to receive the award at the Fort Smith Regional Airport in front of his coworkers, neighbors, and family.

On May 15, 2021, Wally West awoke to gunfire outside of his apartment off 74th Street in Fort Smith. West made a split-second decision, risking his own life for the safety of his son and neighbors.

West directed his son to call 9-1-1 while he ran inside and grabbed his hunting rifle. West told 5NEWS that his only thought was to protect others.

“I grew up at an early age knowing that you protect your family, you protect your property, and you protect your neighbors,” said West.

That spring morning, 26-year-old Zachary Arnold had opened fire on residents inside of the complex in Fort Smith, killing 87-year-old Lois Hicks as she retreated inside of her home. 

With adrenaline pumping, West fired upon Arnold missing his first shot. At which time, Arnold turned on West and his son as they stood on their balcony. Bullets hit all around the two men but did not injure them. West said once Arnold came back out, he took another shot. It was then the gunfire stopped.

 West shot and killed Arnold, ending the active shooter situation.

“Wally did not hesitate. His son was in his home with him and he just did what had to be done,” said Patricia Mancha, TSA media spokesperson. “He saved lives. He ended a situation that could have been much more serious and much worse,” continued Mancha.

West’s sister, Debbie West-Stuart, echoed the sentiment by saying, “He was where the Lord put him to be that day, to take care of the people that were around him and to take care of his son.”

Thursday, Wally West was recognized for his actions and spoke about the tragic event for the first time publicly. West-Stuart believes the ceremony was the closure her brother needed to know he did the right thing.

West was humble about the recognition and despite those in attendance calling him a hero, West says he just wants to be known as Wally West.

I’ve been called everything from hero to Superman,” said West. “I don’t see myself as that. I’m just a guy that made a split-decision to protect people’s lives, you know, I’m just a guy,” West continued.

Following the events of May 15, 2021, prosecuting attorney Daniel Shue deemed the actions of West to be justified in the situation. West was not charged in killing Arnold.

For now, West is back to doing what he knows best, ensuring the safety of Fort Smith residents and those who take to the skies as they fly out of Fort Smith Regional Airport.

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