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September 9, 2011
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IHOP SHOOTING: Carson City's National Guard unit loses key players

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday, 1st Sgt. Roger Wheeler sent a text message to his co-worker and friend Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney.

"Please respond to me," he wrote.

But he knew she wouldn't. She was one of four people killed and seven injured during a shooting rampage that morning at Carson City's IHOP that ended when gunman Eduardo Sencion, 32, turned the gun on himself.

"I don't know why I did that," Wheeler said Thursday. "You just can't believe it."

Of Sencion's 11 victims, five were members of the Nevada National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters unit in Carson City. Three of the five died. Those killed held three of five leadership positions in the unit.

"Not only is it difficult emotionally, but it hit the framework of the unit's organization," said Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka. "It's been decimated."

The unit lost its leader, Maj. Heath Kelly, 35, who served as the commanding officer. Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney, 31, was the unit's administrative sergeant, and Christian Riege, 38, who was posthumously promoted to master sergeant Wednesday, was supply sergeant.

Despite the short staff, this weekend's drill - probably what the group was planning during Tuesday's breakfast meeting at IHOP - will go on, Wheeler said.

He said it will likely consist of a troop formation to explain to everyone the situation, then chaplains and psychology professionals will be on hand to speak with soldiers.

In addition to trying to restaff, Wheeler said, unit members also will be trying to work through their grief.

"Three people I know very well are gone," said Wheeler, a retired police officer who served 24 years in Douglas County. "I've been around so much death over the years, it's just numbing. I'm not the kind to break down and lose it. I don't know when it will hit me."

Of the three, he said, he was closest to McElhiney, whom he described as "a short little gal, but she was feisty."

She was ethical and honest, he said: "She lived the Army values of honesty and integrity."

He called her a perfectionist, from her gourmet bakery business - her license plate read "MCakes" - to the way she kept track of all 127 soldiers in her unit, who were often assigned to support different units across the state.

"It was like herding cats at times," he said. "She did it very well - so well, it's going to be hard to replace her."

She had her bachelor's degree in human resources management and was working on her master's degree. She also was considering the Troops to Teachers program.

"She would have been an excellent teacher," Wheeler said.

When Wheeler brought his girlfriend to a military ball for the first time in April, he said, McElhiney took her under her wing.

"She was very friendly," Wheeler said.

He had known Kelly, an Iraqi war veteran and married father of two, only since November, but said he was a good guy.

"He was extremely intelligent, and he loved history."

A fellow guardsman, Master Sgt. Paul Kinsey, said there was a soft side to Kelly.

"He acted like a hard ass, but if you talked to him about his kids, he would just melt," Kinsey said.

Kinsey said all three were assets to the National Guard and to the community.

"Even outside of uniform, they were good people," he said.

It makes it that much harder to figure out why someone would gun them down, Wheeler said.

"I'm frustrated. I'm angry. It makes me mad," he said. "It's just senseless."

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Sep 9, 2011 12:45AM Published Sep 9, 2011 12:37AM Copyright 2011 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.