Mark Garsteck is one of three Mount Pleasant residents who received a Carnegie Medal by risking their lives to save the lives of others in a June 1, 2010, incident in which a neighbor attacked his own family.
By Kaitlynn Riely Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On that evening three years ago, when his Mount Pleasant Township neighbor went on a shooting rampage, Mark Garsteck had a choice: to hide from danger or to run toward it.
He ran toward it.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, which is headquartered Downtown, on Thursday recognized Mr. Garsteck and two other Westmoreland County residents -- John Swartz and the late Stacey Lynn Feiling -- by awarding them the Carnegie Medal, which honors people in the United States or Canada who have risked their lives to save the lives of others. Feiling, a 42-year-old nurse, lost her life while intervening.
Nineteen other people were also named as recipients of the medals and a $5,000 award by the commission, which dates to 1904.
Wilfred L. Spencer III, of Moundsville, W.Va., another local person among the awardees, was honored for rescuing a 28-year-old woman who was being attacked by a man with a knife at a bus shelter in Wheeling, W.Va., last year. Mr. Spencer, a contractor, was stabbed multiple times but he, and the woman he helped save, survived.
In Mount Pleasant, one life was lost, but many others were saved. The events that occurred on the evening of June 1, 2010, were recounted by Mr. Garsteck in a phone interview and described in a report compiled by the Carnegie commission and in a letter Mr. Garsteck wrote to the commission's investigators.
Mr. Garsteck, a 58-year-old salesman, said the neighborhood where he lived in the village of Calumet for two decades was a quiet one, filled with friendly, good people. He was in his home one evening when he heard gunfire and screaming.
He went outside and saw that his neighbor, Raymond Piper Sr., had shot and wounded his wife and teenage daughter. Mr. Garsteck went into the yard to speak to his neighbor, to calm him down, while the Piper family fled.
Another neighbor, Mr. Swartz, drove his truck toward Piper, who fired his gun at him, hitting the vehicle. Mr. Garsteck, now worried that Piper would fire at him, hid behind another car. He escaped back into his house to get the pistol he had purchased 25 years earlier, just in case.
He returned to the yard and saw two young boys, who had been staying with Piper's family, in the yard, vulnerable. He heard more shots as he hurried toward the boys.
"It was kind of just a gut reaction," he said. He brought them inside his own home, where he hoped they would be safe, and set them up with ice cream and television.
He then walked through the Piper and the Swartz residences, looking for anyone who was hurt and finding no one. He'd later learn that Piper's injured daughter and members of the Swartz family had been hiding in the basement of the Swartz home, terrified of what Piper would do next.
Returning outside, Mr. Garsteck saw a car stopped on Route 981. Inside was Feiling, who had stopped to help Piper's wife when she saw her, wounded, running to the road.
Piper had shot Feiling in the head, killing her, and as Mr. Garsteck stood next to her body to check for a pulse, Piper fired a shot at him, too. He fired back, using Feiling's car as protection. Piper's wife and daughter both survived the shooting.
In his letter to the Carnegie commission, Mr. Garsteck said a motorcyclist told him later that he felt that Mr. Garsteck, by engaging with Piper at that moment, had saved his life, since Piper had shot at him while he was stopped at a nearby intersection.
Mr. Garsteck, continuing to exchange gunfire with Piper, retreated to a neighbor's house, meeting Mr. Swartz again. Eventually, Piper went into his home and set it on fire. State police arrived and arrested him, and in 2011 Piper pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and multiple counts of attempted homicide. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Mr. Garsteck said he was honored, and a little surprised, to receive the Carnegie Medal. As he recounted the details of the incident in which he intervened, he was humble.
"I don't really think about it much. It just happened really quickly. I think anybody who might have seen it might have done the same thing," he said. He is glad to have his story told, however, because he thinks it is important people understand the responsibility they have to come to the aid of others, citing the example of those who responded to the wounded in the Boston Marathon attacks.
"I'd like to be an example to anyone who is ever a witness to a crime to come forward and be brave," he wrote in his letter to the Carnegie commission. "Evil can be stopped, but it's up to us as people to do it."