MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon native David Royer, a master sergeant assigned to the US Army base Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, is being hailed as a hero for stopping an active shooter on the Centennial Bridge in Kansas last Wednesday.
In an interview with the News, the 34-year-old master sergeant spoke humbly and thoughtfully of his decisive action and his ties to Knox County.
“I still do not feel as if I am a hero due to that incident and that most people would have taken similar actions to eliminate a threat,” Royer said. “I was merely in the right place at almost the right time to prevent many people from being seriously injured or killed.”
When asked about his definition of a “hero,” Royer notably described it as not “who” but “when.”
“A hero to me is when someone can change a person’s life, for the better, by applying dedication and commitment to that person selflessly,” Royer said.
On May 27, Royer was on his way home when he came across Jason Westrem, 37, on the Centennial Bridge connecting Leavenworth, Kansas, and Platte City, Missouri.
Royer was on the phone with his fiancé at the time. He told her to report the incident to law enforcement before driving his car into Westrem, who was firing a semi-automatic weapon at the oncoming traffic.
With the collision, Royer was able to stop and disarm Westrem who had already wounded one man and shot multiple vehicles. The shooting was believed to be random. Westrem, who is expected to recover from his injuries, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder.
The victim was later identified as a 30-year-old soldier who is also assigned to Fort Leavenworth.
Royer said he did not know the soldier before the incident but has reached out to him afterward to offer prayers and condolences.
“I do not feel comfortable speaking for him, but I can say that he is one tough soldier and man to be as humble and high-spirited despite the trauma he endured,” Royer said.
At a press conference the day after the incident, Royer shared that while he was growing up in Mount Vernon, his truck driver father and petite but fierce mother often went out of their ways to help and protect others. He gave credit to his parents and his upbringing for informing his response to the shooting.
Speaking of his upbringing, Royer said he “got into a little bit of trouble” when he was young. He is thankful for those who believed in him and offered him a second chance in the last couple of years before he joined the military.
“Mount Vernon is a much ‘bigger’ place now than what it was when I grew up there. I have seen a lot of my old friends go through rough times in their lives and some more successful than others. Either way, even though I have been away for 15 plus years, I have not forgotten where I come from,” Royer said. “You all mean something to me, and I wish the best for each one of you.”
Royer entered the US Army 15 years ago, after graduating from Mount Vernon High School and the Knox County Career Center. Royer completed the US Army Basic Training and Advanced Individual training in June 2005 as a Military Police Corrections Specialist. He was assigned to the 189th MP Co. at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and a guard at the U.S. Enemy Combatant Detention Facility.
He spoke fondly of his time serving as a drill sergeant with his older brother, SFC(R) Eric Royer, who recently retired.
Royer has been stationed at Fort Leavenworth since 2014.
“It is an immensely proud feeling to be able to say that I served my country in such an honorable way,” Royer said, expressing that earning the title of an American soldier is one of his greatest successes in life. He also noted that military service is not the only way to serve the country.
“I understand that it is not meant for everyone and to make a country work successfully, it needs to have many diverse types of people,” Royer added. “At no time in my career have I felt that I was a better person than anyone else in our country that works to do good for a better cause.”
Royer shared that he has trained two soldiers from Knox County in the past.
“They were very prepared for the training and discipline they received,” Royer said.
As many Knox County high school students who graduated this season are expected to enter military service, Royer encourages them to “volunteer for anything that is available and to simply stay out of trouble.”
“The military is what you make of it,” Royer noted. “If you have a poor attitude, then you will have a difficult time adjusting to the military lifestyle. Stay humble and remember that everyone has a job to do. Despite the reasons a person joins the military, we are all brothers and sisters and when things get rough, we will always have each other’s backs to get through enduring times. Lastly, do not give up on yourself.”
Royer said he appreciates the support from those in Mount Vernon and Knox County who have reached out to him and his family following last week’s incident.
“We are all doing great,” Royer said. “It has been a surreal time in our lives with all the support from everyone around the country and even some in different places around the world.”
Royer’s mother, Cheryl Royer, told the News that she was “so very proud” of Royer for stopping the shooter. She learned about what happened in a phone call with Royer that night.
“What an amazing, kind person — he’s the hero,” Cheryl said.
It has been an overwhelming time for the family but Cheryl could not stress enough how proud she is of her son.
Royer said when he is back home visiting “do not be a stranger if you see me in town.”
“No matter where you find yourself, someone cares for you and do not give up,” Royer said. “Be kind to others, put the work in and you will be a success. If there’s anyone that just needs to talk or needs someone, I am all ears. Find me on Facebook and send me a message. I will not share our conversations and will just listen. God bless all of you.”
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