When Mike Landsberry enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1986, he was following in the footsteps of his father, a 22-year Marine veteran. When he left the Marines, it was to pursue his own dreams and become a teacher. But the call to military service stayed with him. In 2001 Landsberry reenlisted into the Nevada Air National Guard and went on to deploy three times, most recently to Afghanistan. For all three tours, Landsberry was a volunteer.
On Monday, Landsberry was back in Sparks, Nevada, when he heard shots fired just outside the classroom where he was giving his math lesson. That was when “instinct kicked in,” said Chief Master Sergeant James Ross, a friend and fellow airman from the 152nd Airlift Wing. Acting on that instinct, Landsberry told the students in his class to run away and get someplace safe. By that time, one student had already been shot in the shoulder. Then Landsberry went outside and took his final steps, walking toward the sound of gunfire and the shooter.
It’s unclear exactly what took place in the final moments between Landsberry and the young shooter, but according to the statements from his former students who witnessed the events and the local police chief, Landsberry acted heroically and bought time for others to hide. “In my estimation, he’s a hero,” Tom Robinson, the deputy police chief of Reno, said at a news conference.
“It’s quite evident that his military background and protectiveness are what allowed him to step forward,” Ross said of his friend’s bravery.
Two students from the school also were shot. One is described by hospital officials as “doing well” and the other is recovering from surgery. The 12-year-old shooter killed himself.
On his first deployment in 2004, Landsberry stepped up to fill in for another member of his unit who was forced to leave the tour early. Next he went to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2006. Five years later, Landsberry again left his home, his family, and his teaching job to serve at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he was responsible for loading cargo for supply flights and air transportation.
In his down time, Landsberry’s tastes tended toward the funny and lighthearted. “He was a Batman guy,” Ross said. “We liked to watch that or Duck Dynasty.” When Landsberry wasn’t in uniform or at school, he was spending time with his family. “He completely adored his wife and two stepchildren,” Ross said.
“We all aspire that when the world’s coming apart like that, we’ll keep our honor and integrity and keep our wits about us.”
But when it came to his military service and his role in the school, Landsberry was every bit the Marine of his youth and the airman of his later years. A consummate professional whose commitment to his duties informed his approach to teaching, he addressed his students in a message on his class website: “One of my goals is to earn your respect while you earn mine. I believe that with mutual respect, the classroom environment will run smoothly.”
Landsberry was a devoted teacher both to his middle school students and in his military unit. “He loved to teach,” Ross said. “That was his passion: teaching, instructing, mentoring.” In his last military role, Landsberry, an air transportation craftsman, was rigging parachutes to train the flight crews of C-130 cargo aircraft.
In the Air National Guard, he was on track to achieve the ultimate teaching role. Ross told The Daily Beast that Landsberry was working toward a promotion and that “his goal was to be a first sergeant,” a senior non-commissioned officer responsible for training enlisted airmen. “He wanted to be a mentor,” Ross said.
“We all aspire that when the world’s coming apart like that, we’ll keep our honor and integrity and keep our wits about us,” Ross said of his friend’s last act of courage. In his final actions, Landsberry’s legacy as a teacher committed to developing and protecting those in his charge required of him the same level of bravery and sacrifice that he had accepted in the military.