Off-duty Arkansas TSA officer credited with saving lives at risk of his own

Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Officer West photo

Off-duty Fort Smith Regional Airport TSA Officer Wallace (Wally) West acted in self-defense when he stopped an active shooter at his Arkansas apartment complex, likely saving the lives of countless neighbors and responding law enforcement.

The incident, West recalled, started when he woke to the sound of what he suspected were gunshots. Shaking off sleep, he first wondered if the sounds might have come from nearby Fort Chaffee, an Army National Guard installation just a couple miles away.

As he and his son gathered in the kitchen to assess the situation, another round of shots went off.

“I told my [adult] son, ‘It’s here. It’s in the complex,’” said West. “‘Call 911 and tell them we’ve got gunfire from a semi-automatic weapon.’”

Photo of West and son
A proud father and son team, TSA Officer Wallace A. West with his son and namesake, Wallace M. West. (Photo by Tonya Wilhelms)

The shooter was taunting residents, singling out an elderly first-floor occupant, telling her, “‘I’m coming after you,’” said West. Witnessing this scene, West (who is a passionate hunter) stepped back into his apartment and grabbed his bolt action hunting rifle from his gun cabinet.

By the time West returned with his rifle to the balcony, the man, who was later identified as a tenant and Army veteran allegedly suffering from PTSD, had already fatally shot one neighbor and was continuing to threaten others.

“I knew what I needed to do,” said West. His first shot missed but drew the shooter’s attention as well as his fire. “He wheeled around, and I got my son back inside the apartment. I think the closest [projectile jacket] police measured was about 9 inches from where I was actually standing.”

West returned fire. His second shot fatally hit the shooter. Then he and his son moved quickly down to the courtyard, kicked the shooter’s weapon away from reach, and remained there until law enforcement arrived.

A thorough investigation by the Fort Smith Police Department and county prosecutor’s office said West’s “decision to risk his own life, shooting the assailant as he stood on his apartment balcony, likely saved the lives of neighbors and law enforcement who arrived.”

TSA leadership and team members immediately supported West. Arkansas Federal Security Director Tim Berroyer and Assistant Federal Security Director Jamie Hicks spoke with West on the morning of the incident. “I shared how his actions, although difficult to process in the aftermath, most certainly saved lives,” said Berroyer.  

West and his son have moved to a new home and grown closer since the incident. “We’ve always been really tight,” said West of his bond with his son. “This incident has really pushed it to another level. We make more time for each other now.”

“Although I know Wally would say otherwise, the entire TSA-Arkansas family attributes the title of hero to him,” said Berroyer. “He’s championed as being a hero from community leaders and residents of Fort Smith. Many would have hesitated to act or would have sought shelter from the evil that presented itself. Wally acted.”

West is at peace with his actions but doesn’t consider himself a hero. “I could have run; I could have hidden,” said West, referring to TSA active shooter training. “But I knew the families in my apartment complex didn’t have a way to defend themselves. I really didn’t have a choice.”