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For Louisville's mayor, Monday's mass shooting brings fresh loss and painful memories

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Louisville, Ky., mayor, Craig Greenberg, is doing what no elected leader ever hopes to do. Just 3 1/2 months into the job, he's now the city's consoler-in-chief following Monday's mass shooting at Old National Bank. And as Greenberg mentioned in a press conference last night, it's extremely personal for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CRAIG GREENBERG: Last year, I survived a workplace shooting. And now yesterday, I've lost a very close friend in another workplace shooting.

SUMMERS: Greenberg knew local businessman Tommy Elliott, a senior vice president at the bank and one of five people killed after another bank employee allegedly attacked his colleagues with a legally purchased AR-15-style rifle. Nine were injured before police killed the accused gunman in a shootout. It came nearly 14 months after a college student opened fire on Greenberg's mayoral campaign headquarters.

Mayor Craig Greenberg joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and I'd just like to say that we're so sorry for your loss and for everyone who's being affected by this.

GREENBERG: Thank you very much. It's certainly been a heartbreaking couple of days for all of us here in Louisville, around Kentucky. But the warmth and support we've had in each other and from around the country has been overwhelming and gracious.

SUMMERS: I mean, it has no doubt been a really difficult week for you and others there, so I just want to start by asking you how you're doing and what feelings have stood out for you since the shooting on Monday.

GREENBERG: Well, I think some of the initial reaction - when I got the alert, I was driving to the office and I heard the - way too many sirens. My heart just dropped when I saw an alert on my phone that we did have an active shooter. And then when I saw the address, it dropped again, knowing how many people I know who work in that building. My mind raced back to my experience with an active shooter just over a year ago, when an individual entered our campaign office and fired six gunshots at me. And I was just hoping that everyone in that building on Monday morning was going to be as fortunate as I was, and then I quickly learned that was not the case. So it was a tough day notifying families that they had lost some, but it was also heartwarming to see the doctors and nurses in action at the University Hospital that were saving lives. And as I learned of the heroism of our police officers that quickly jumped into action and also save lives, that gave me strength to move forward.

SUMMERS: That includes Louisville police officer, Nickolas Wilt, a brand-new member to the force who was shot in the head on Monday. Wilt survived, and, last we heard, he's in critical condition. Is there anything else you can share about him today?

GREENBERG: I've been told by medical professionals that he has stabilized a little bit. He's made some positive progress over the next couple of days. He is certainly still fighting hard. And so we're going to continue to pray for him and send he and his family all of our support, but he still has some progress to go. So that's the latest update I have as of this morning.

SUMMERS: Last night at your press conference, you called forcefully on lawmakers to grant your city the ability to address gun violence with more autonomy. I'd love to know, ideally, for you, what would that look like? How would that take shape?

GREENBERG: I do think that cities like Louisville that have unique gun violence epidemics should have the autonomy to figure out what we want to do to reduce gun violence. And so to those in state legislatures who believe in local control, let's give cities like Louisville the ability to address our local issues in our unique ways for important issues like this.

Also, in Kentucky, we have a law that this assault rifle that was used to murder five people and that was used to lay in wait and shoot at rescuing officers that came to the scene - that gun, under Kentucky law, will one day be back on the streets because, right now, under Kentucky law, confiscated guns are required to be turned over to the state, who are - in turn, is required to auction off these weapons. That is wrong. That is absurd. That is dangerous. And we can work together to change that law so that if a local government like Louisville wants to destroy illegal guns that are confiscated or guns that are used to commit violent crimes, we can destroy them here locally so that a gun like this AR-15 is never used to cause harm again.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you a bit more about that state law and how you plan to advocate for policy change on that or any other gun control measures, given the fact that other proposals have failed to make their way through Kentucky's Republican-controlled legislature?

GREENBERG: I'm cautiously optimistic today. First, I know that my friends of all political parties agree that they never want to see harm like this happen ever again to anyone. And based on some of the outreach that I've had over the past 24 hours since I called for this change, I am hopeful that we can sit down and work together and talk about areas that we agree on and where we can move forward and work together, taking action to reduce the amount of violent crime that's taking place.

SUMMERS: I want to end by asking you about Louisville and the people who were impacted - that were killed, but also who were injured in this shooting. Is there anything that you would like us - that you would like the country and the world to know about those people and about the city that you represent?

GREENBERG: Well, I lost a very good friend. Tommy Elliot was a close friend of mine, and he was a close friend of Governor Beshear's and many others. And so I fondly remember Tommy as a wonderful, loyal friend, a great father, a great husband, a great person who was very involved civically and giving back to others and helping others. But I know that we lost five wonderful people. We lose people far too often. Another individual on Monday was also murdered by gun violence in a separate, targeted incident just a few blocks away after this happened. And so whether we know the victims or not, every loss to gun violence is a tragic loss - a life taken too soon. And so that is why I'm hopeful that people will take action. There's no use in finger-pointing or placing blame. There's no - partisan politics right now is not helpful. Let's find a way that we can work together and start to take some steps forward that are going to make a meaningful improvement in making cities like Louisville safer.

SUMMERS: That's Louisville mayor Craig Greenberg. Thank you for joining us, and our thoughts are with you all.

GREENBERG: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.

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