Steven Maida vividly remembers the moment he first heard that a guy was stabbing young women in the face. It was April 9, he was in between classes at Lone Star Community College, and suddenly a swarm of panicked students began pouring out of the Health Science building, among them a girl bleeding from a puncture wound in her cheek. She was “tiny and defenseless,” Maida observed, just the sort of girl he was fond of chatting up between classes. Still, what happened next, he says, felt less like an act of preference than duty, a remnant—frayed but durable—of the Texas chivalry his father had schooled him in.
In other words: “I thought it was a sexist thing so I decided to go in there and whoop some ass.”
But first, the compact, 160-pound 21-year-old with the disarmingly boyish face tried to rally a band of brothers, a reflex of Maida’s ever since his days at Katy’s Morton Ranch High School, where he’d been an undersized lineman on the football team. He made a beeline for a group of young men hovering around the building’s entrance. They were idling wide-eyed in the doorway, even as frightened, bloody victims rushed past.
“I was like, ‘Guys, come help me, come help me!’” he says. “There were 15 guys just standing there, most of them bigger than me.”
Nobody budged, something that Maida is at a loss to explain, even now. “I guess they had girlfriends,” he speculates, smiling ruefully.
Undeterred, he bounded into the building alone, following a spotty trail of blood that led to three more women at the top of a staircase. It was at that moment, he recalls, that “shit started getting real.”
It was also a moment that marked the beginning of the end for Lone Star’s accused knife-wielding attacker: the mysterious alleged psychopath with a shock of red curls and an X-Acto blade who in mere minutes would attack 14 people and turn a suburban Houston community college into a crime scene that made headlines around the world.
Maida scanned the campus from a second-story window. Suddenly, there he was, Dylan Andrew Quick, walking across a nearby bridge, just strolling, in no particular hurry. Maida raced down the stairs and out the building. When the 20-year-old Quick saw Maida and a few others coming, he sped off south across the Lone Star grounds. He tried to lose them by ducking into the Technology building, but Maida’s band kept on his tail. Soon, the suspect was back outside and, Maida believes, just a few strides away from disappearing into a parking lot packed with cars, when Maida and some other guys quite literally ran him down.
After authorities arrived, and for reasons that remain unclear, Maida was inspired to reach for his smart phone, snap a picture of the now-facedown and handcuffed Quick, and post it on Instagram. The photo immediately went viral, and soon thereafter, Maida had too. Within hours, he was fielding Wolf Blitzer’s questions on CNN, the first of many interviews in which the Morton Ranch lineman’s heroism would be hailed and debated.
Ask a law-enforcement official whether an unarmed bystander should ever attempt to chase down a fast-moving, knife-wielding madman, and the answer you’ll hear, invariably, is no. Except in Houston, that is, where these days it sometimes seems like there’s a new sheriff in town and that sheriff is—gulp—you.
Such is the conclusion, anyway, that one might draw from the Houston Police Department’s “Run. Hide. Fight.” video (2 million YouTube hits and counting). The five-minute production, which has aroused the interest of police departments around the country, offers blunt advice on how a potential victim should respond when in an office- or school-shooting situation, advice that represents a sea change in law enforcement’s thinking on the matter. The unmistakable message of the video, which includes a shivers-inducing dramatization of an office park under siege by a lone gunman, is that the days of keeping calm and waiting for authorities are over. Now, we must act. We can flee, hide, or fight back. But we can’t not act.
Dennis J. Storemski runs the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, which produced the video. He approves of Maida’s actions but sees only rough parallels between them and what “Run. Hide. Fight.” advocates. For one thing, the video addresses only incidents involving firearms. For another, it counsels retaliation only when one’s life is in danger.
“In the case at Lone Star College the student actually went on the offensive and I applaud him for it,” he said. “We don’t know if the attacker would have gone on to hurt more people, but his actions helped law enforcement catch the guy.”
Still, we couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the forceful steps Maida took and the proactive ones recommended by Storemski’s video. From there, it was just a short leap to the conclusion that there was something peculiarly Houston at work here, that somehow this land—a terroir of rugged self-reliance, gallantry, and castle doctrine—had produced a rare mindset, something as unique to its region as Belgian linen or the Great Barrier Reef.
“I think it would happen anywhere, I really do,” said Storemski, bluntly dismissing our lofty thesis. “Americans are just the kind of people who want to help out when disaster strikes.”
We watched “Run. Hide. Fight.” again the other day, this time with Maida, on a Lone Star campus that by all appearances had returned to normal. The man who’d been quicker than Quick grew increasingly tense as he watched: the unsuspecting office workers laughing and chatting in the break room even as a shotgun-brandishing assailant was about to change their lives forever.
“I just want to know why,” said Maida, shaking his head as the video concluded, as much at a loss as the rest of us. He seemed subdued now, even as he made good on a promise to retrace his steps on that fateful April morning. The tour ended on a grassy median in the parking lot, with Maida staring at the spot where he’d brought down Quick. He appeared not proud but angry.
“Do something,” he mumbled. “That’s exactly it. Be somebody who does something. Don’t be that nobody who stands around watching when something goes down.”