Vargas: A gunman enters a Costco threatening to kill people, and an off-duty police captain takes action

By Joe Vargas

Police officers are sometimes referred to as sheepdogs, the analogy being they watch over the flock and when needed engage and ward off the predators who might endanger their charges. A police officer, like a sheepdog, runs toward the threat.

This police-sheepdog behavior was evident during an incident in Lenexa, Kan., a few weeks ago.

On the morning of Nov. 26, off -duty Kansas City, Kan. Police Capt. Michael Howell was shopping at a Costco in Lenexa when the store staff started directing customers out the back doors. A person had entered the store with a handgun and was threatening to kill people.

While everyone ran outside to safety, Capt. Howell did exactly the opposite. He moved toward the armed subject and sought to actively engage him.

During a recent interview, Capt. Howell gave an account of what occurred.

Capt. Howell tracked the suspect using the aisles as concealment.

“I’m an off-duty U.S. Marshal, I’m here to kill people,” the gunman stated.

“At that point, I knew I had to do something,” Howell said.

“Police! Drop the gun! Don’t move!” he ordered the suspect. As he started to say it a second time, the suspect pointed his pistol at him.

“That’s when I fired at him and he went down,” Howell said.

The suspect was mortally wounded.

“My greatest fear was the fact that we had kids with their moms and their grandmas and their grandparents and their dads — whoever. There were little kids running and screaming and seeing the fear in their face and knowing whatever it took I had to do whatever necessary to end this threat so they wouldn’t get hurt,” he said.

Capt. Howell minimized his heroics, stating it’s something anyone would have done. Thank God for the hundreds of thousands of sheepdogs we have who run toward the threats that mean to do us harm.

Capt. Howell, you are a hero.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at