For the first time, we are hearing from the chief Bexar County medical examiner on what it was like for his office after the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history. All 26 victims from the Sutherland Springs shooting went to his office for an autopsy.
It’s not an easy job, but it’s one that must be done and sometimes offers a slither of closure for families. Before calling San Antonio home and eventually becoming the chief Bexar County medical examiner, Dr. Randall Frost had been a part of one of the worst mass fatality situations of all time.
“Well I was in the Navy, so I was mobilized for the Pentagon on 9/11, so I’ve seen mass causalities before. This is the first mass shooting I’ve dealt with on this scale,” said Dr. Frost, who was already at the office on that Sunday when the first reports of a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs started to come in. “It wasn’t overwhelming. We knew what we had coming and we mobilized all our resources. We train for this sort of thing, we have procedures in place for mass fatalities."
In this case, all seven medical examiners were working long days and long nights. The office usually handles about eight to 12 bodies a day, and each body is typically released within 24 hours.
“In this case, it took about two and half days in order to get all the cases, just because of the volume and the complexity of the cases," Dr. Frost noted. "When you have multiple gunshot wounds, particularly with rifles, those are very difficult cases to do an autopsy on. There’s a lot of injuries and they take a long time.”
When asked how a medical examiner can separate the emotional aspect from the task at hand, Dr. Frost said, “I don’t know if I have a good answer to that other than, we just do. You couldn’t do this kind of job without being able to compartmentalize the tragedy and put it aside and then do your work.”
Even then Dr. Frost will admit that this case was different because there were so many children involved.
“That was particularly difficult and a lot of folks were affected by that,” Dr. Frost explained.
Overall it has been a really tough year for the Bexar County medical examiner’s office as Sutherland Springs was not the only mass fatality case they’ve worked this year. In March, there was the bus crash in Concan that killed 13 seniors. And, in July, 10 undocumented immigrants died after being smuggled in the back of a semi-truck.
Dr. Frost said that he’s never seen so many mass fatality cases in his 20 years of working in the office.