Twenty years ago this month people at Fairchild Air Force Base and nearby Spokane were recovering from shock, dealing with grief and wondering “what next?” On June 20, a former airman recently discharged for erratic behavior had killed four and wounded 22 at the base hospital before he was shot dead. Four days later, with most of the wounded in hospitals and the base holding funeral services for two of the shooting victims, Fairchild’s last B-52 tilted at a sharp angle and slipped from the sky while practicing for an airshow, killing all four onboard as it was engulfed in a ball of fire.
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Dean Mellberg returned to Spokane, rented a room in a north side motel, bought the MAK-90 from a private gun dealer and a 75-round magazine at a local sporting goods store. Dressed in black and carrying a duffle bag, he took a cab to the base medical center which sat outside the security gate. He went into the men’s room of the annex where mental health services were located, took the rifle out of the bag and attached the clip. He went to the offices of London and Brigham, killing them both, then continued across the parking lot to the hospital where he entered the emergency room door and began firing. By the time he left the hospital, he’d killed two more and wounded 22. As Mellberg crossed the hospital lawn, base police were responding to the flood of 9-1-1 calls. Security Policeman Andy Brown ordered him to halt and drop his weapon. He didn’t, but the gun jammed and Brown fired four shots; two hit Mellberg and one of those was fatal.
Children flee the Fairchild housing compound as police evacuate the area on Monday, June 20, 1994.
Emergency workers prepare to transport Sam Spencer, who was shot inside the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital on June 20, 1994.
An Air Force security guard stands outside the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital annex Tuesday, June 21, 1994.
On a warm Friday afternoon, with Fairchild personnel and their families gathered near the flight line to watch and photograph, the bomber made several practice runs of the maneuvers - a steep climb from the runway, a sharp left turn with wings at about 45 degrees to the ground. Cheers turned to gasps of horror as the plane made a final pass of the runway, went up, tilted to 45 degrees and kept rotating until the wings were almost perpendicular to the ground. The bomber dropped wing first, its tail struck power lines and the crash set off a ball of fire. Holland, McGeehan and two other senior officers who were making their last B-52 flight before transferring to desk jobs, were killed instantly. It just missed the Survival School, which contained some 500 students and instructors, and the area where Fairchild stored its nuclear weapons.