The parents of Louisville bank shooter Connor Sturgeon are calling for tighter gun control in America to stop other people in the midst of mental health struggles from getting their hands on deadly weapons.
Todd and Lisa Sturgeon spoke to NBC’s Today Show on Thursday morning, in what marks their first TV interview since their son killed five colleagues in a horror rampage at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville earlier this month.
The parents shared their grief and guilt over both their son’s death and the deaths of his five victims as they revealed they had been seeking mental health support for him just days before he went on the shooting spree.
But, despite his mental health struggles, the 25-year-old had been able to walk into a gun store and buy the AR-15 rifle used to kill five just days before the attack.
This is something his parents say he “absolutely” should never have been able to do.
“How many mass shootings have there been this calendar year already? It has been happening to other people like us, and we’re continuing to let it happen and we have to fix that,” said Ms Sturgeon.
“Because of his mental condition, he should not have been able to purchase the gun,” she said.
“If there had been a delay or something of that nature, that would have been helpful.”
Mr Sturgeon added: “We know that Connor was seeing two mental health professionals and that he was able to walk in.
“From what we have been told is that he walked in [to the gun store] and walked out with a weapon and ammunition in 40 minutes.”
Now, Sturgeon’s parents hope the tragedy can bring about change to prevent people “in an impaired state” from being able to legally buy firearms so easily.
“What we’re hoping to do is stimulate some conversation around this,” said Mr Sturgeon.
“I think the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t want people in an impaired state to have a weapon in their hand.
“Now, it becomes more complex to thread the needle and protect us from those people while still being conscious of individual rights and liberties.”
While they stopped short of pointing to specific policies they think could help bring about change, authorities have previously revealed that Sturgeon bought the AR-15 legally from a Kentucky store just six days before the 10 April shooting.
That very same day – 4 April – Ms Sturgeon said that her son called her to say he had had a panic attack at work.
“He called me on the Tuesday before the event… and he said, ‘I had a panic attack yesterday and … I had to leave work,’” she said, adding that she reassured him: “We’re here to help you.”
The 25-year-old had struggled with panic attacks and anxiety for the past year and was taking medication and seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor, but they thought he was “coming out of a crisis” at the time.
The next day, she met her son for lunch and arranged a psychiatrist appointment for him for the following day, which she and her husband joined him for.
“He was willing to talk to me. He had told us before he would never do such a thing like that to us,” she said.
“We thought he was coming out of a crisis.”
The day before the shooting, Sturgeon appeared to be “fine” when he saw his family for an Easter egg hunt and then watched the Masters with a friend on the night, his parents said.
But the very next morning – and just four days after that psychiatrist appointment – Sturgeon entered his workplace Old National Bank armed with an AR-15 and gunned down his coworkers, while livestreaming the massacre online.
Ms Sturgeon revealed the moment she learned what her son was doing.
She told the Today show that her son’s roommate called her to say that Sturgeon had told him he was “going to go in and shoot up Old National”. The roommate also found some notes he had left at their home.
”There’s no way this is happening. Please stop him. Please make sure nobody gets hurt,” Ms Sturgeon recalled thinking at the time.
“This cannot be happening,” she remembered thinking.
She rushed to the scene and called 911 – a desperate call released to the public earlier this month – but it was too late.
Mr Sturgeon recalled that he was driving in his car when he heard about the shooting and instantly feared his son was in danger.
“You go from praying for his life to praying that this is unimaginable, that he just commits suicide and doesn’t hurt anyone else,” he said.
Five executives at the bank – Tommy Elliott, 63, Jim Tutt, 64, Josh Barrick, 40, Juliana Farmer, 57, and Deana Eckert, 57 – died in the attack while another eight were hospitalised.
Sturgeon then opened fire on responding officers at the scene before he was killed by officer fire.
Louisville Metro Police Department Officer Nickolas Wilt was shot in the head by the gunman and is still in critical condition in hospital more than two weeks on.
Sturgeon’s parents feel they “failed” the victims who died and were injured that day.
“Well-meaning people keep saying to us, ‘You know, you did what any reasonable parents would have done.’ But Connor in his darkest hour needed us to be exceptional, not reasonable — and we failed him,” said Mr Sturgeon.
“We failed those people,” Ms Sturgeon added.
To the victims’ families, she said: “We are so sorry. We are heartbroken. We wish we could undo it, but we know we can’t.”
“He did this to totally innocent individuals. There was no provocation, no justification, no rationalisation at all.”
While four of the victims’ families declined to comment to the Today Show, Barrick’s brother Jeffrey Barrick released a statement.
“A husband was taken, a father was taken, a brother and son was taken. He did nothing to deserve this, he simply went to work one day just like all of us do. The fact that anyone can walk in and buy a semiautomatic weapon, its only purpose being to kill many in seconds, is simply wrong,” he said.
“Enough is enough. Inaction is not an option. We deserve to be safe in our communities — whether that be at the bank, the grocery store, our schools, or anywhere else. We are simply heartbroken, this didn’t have to happen.”