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Dayton VA shooting victim thought gun was a toy

The victim shot in a struggle with an alleged gunman Monday at the Dayton VA Medical Center in Ohio said he does not think he was the intended target.

Paul A. Burnside, 61, a Dayton VA linen distribution worker, was shot in the left ankle shortly after noon. Authorities said in court documents former Dayton VA employee Neil R. Moore, 59, of Trotwood, Ohio, had come to the Dayton VA to warn ex co-workers: “Don’t mess with my family.”

Moore appeared in U.S. District Court on Tuesday and was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime of violence. If convicted, the former VA housekeeping aide faces maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervision.

Burnside said he thought at first his former co-worker may have returned since he retired in October to greet employees and play cards during the lunch break.

“But I noticed he had a gun in his hand,” said Burnside, the father of six children. He said he thought it was part of a joke. "I thought it was a play gun.”

“But he said, ‘I don’t want you all messing with my family,’ and I looked at him and I could tell something was wrong,” Burnside said in an interview at his Dayton home Wednesday. Six people were in the break room when the alleged shooter showed a .38-caliber revolver, Burnside said.

Burnside, a 16-year Dayton VA employee, said he does not know whom the defendant intended to warn, and had no knowledge of Moore’s concerns about his family.

One person got into a struggle with the alleged gunman, pushed his hand up and a shot was fired and hit the ceiling, Burnside said.

“When the first shot went off, that’s when I knew it wasn’t a toy gun,” Burnside said. He said that’s when he realized he needed to try to defuse the situation. While one VA employee held one of the suspect’s arms that was allegedly holding the gun, Burnside said he grabbed the suspect’s other arm. During the struggle, a second shot fired and struck bone in Burnside’s ankle, he said.

His leg went numb. He gradually started to feel pain, he said.

When he rolled over on the floor after he was shot, everyone had left the break room room and the alleged gunman was gone, he said. Eventually, a man who had been in a restroom alerted the Medical Center staff about what happened, Burnside said.

The sprawling VA campus immediately went into a security lockdown. A response team arrived and gave aid to Burnside about half an hour after the shooting, he said. He was taken to the Dayton VA emergency room and later transferred to Miami Valley Hospital for treatment, he said. He expects he will be off work six to eight weeks to recuperate from his injury.

Burnside said the Dayton VA needs to “most definitely” improve security after the shooting.

A Dayton VA spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Burnside described his former co-worker as a “good guy” who was soft-spoken and never raised his voice.

“I played cards with him for years,” he said.

“He didn’t say too much,” Burnside said. “He’d kid around with us, we’d kid around with him, that was it. No indication that anything was wrong.”

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