Feb. 9, 2021 started like just about any frigid February day in Buffalo. People were moving quicker than the usual to get out of the cold air as soon as possible. Smoke was everywhere – from the tops of homes and businesses to the plume of exhaust when a vehicle accelerated from a stop light.
It was painfully typical of a winter day in Minnesota…until 10:52 a.m.
That was the time Gregory Ulrich entered the Allina Crossroads Clinic armed with a gun and bombs. Chaos erupted in the hail of gunfire that left Lindsay Overbay dead and three others critically injured.
Wright County Sheriff Sean Deringer was quick to the scene. He hasn’t talked very often about the heroic job his office and other agencies did that day – from the first minutes after the shooting when officers entered the building with no idea whether they were walking into an ambush to those who assisted the injured and the traumatized inside the clinic to those who helped piece together the hours prior to the shooting and how Ulrich ultimately arrived at Allina that morning.
“My feeling was then and still is now that this tragic incident should be about the victims and their families,” Deringer said. “It’s hard to express how proud I was of those in our office and the extraordinary job they did from the time the first call went on and for the next several days. They did an outstanding job, but I never felt comfortable saying, “Hey, look at us and the great job we did.’ We did what we were supposed to do. That’s our job. It’s what we’re trained to do. I wanted to the focus to be on the victims and their families because their lives would never be the same after that day.”
Within minutes of the shooting, more than 70 law enforcement and first responder vehicles were on the scene. Word got out quickly and went viral. Within a half hour, Wright County was being inundated with calls and media requests from some of the largest media outlets in the world – CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and as far away as The Daily Mail in London.
Buffalo briefly became the epicenter of the daily news cycle around the country because, as often happens during tragedies like this, things like this don’t happen in a quiet town like Buffalo, Minnesota. It happens somewhere else.
Deringer has seen a lot of horrific things in the line of duty, but he was shocked at what he saw when he entered the clinic shortly after the blasts that blew out windows and the shooting that dropped innocent victims to the floor.
“It looked like a war zone,” Deringer said. “Two bombs had detonated, so the entire right side of the lobby had absolutely been blown up. There was damage everywhere. Light fixtures were hanging. By the time I got there, you could still smell the gunpowder and there was a haze that hung in the air. It was very surreal.”
While much of their efforts went unnoticed to the public behind the crime scene tape as well as the offices back at the Wright County Law Enforcement Center over the next several days, Deringer said the pride he had in his co-workers was off the charts.
“We go through so much training and that is why,” Deringer said. “Our staff went into action and pulled together as a team. We all had jobs to do and many did jobs that were well outside of their usual duties. I don’t throw the word ‘hero’ around lightly. We had a lot of people that did heroic things to assist those who were in shock and devastated by what they had witnessed and gone through.”
The clinic reopened in September and Deringer attended to the ceremony to honor the clinic being back in business. Despite eight months having passed since the devastation, Deringer could understand the issues facing employees who witnessed the tragic events of Feb. 9.
“I hadn’t been back in the building since we processed it as a crime scene,” Deringer said. “I have to admit, I got a little emotional when I went in there. Memories immediately flooded back and I remembered things and visualized things I hadn’t thought about since that day. There were some very strong emotions, so I could only imagine what was going through the minds of those who had worked there and were part of the chaos that took place that day.”
One year to the day of the attack on the Allina Clinic, it isn’t being viewed as an anniversary. It is a day of reclamation for the community that lived through the events of Feb. 9, 2021 and came to embody the motto “Buffalo Strong.” While the acts performed by the Wright County Sheriff’s Office haven’t received the credit it deserves – Deringer prefers it that way – those employees can look back on the tragedy as their call to service and the professionalism displayed when that call came.