Charles Childress said he didn't think twice after hearing the screams of two terrified children.
The 56-year-old Moreno Valley man had just seen a bullet pierce the window of a car in front of him with the children and their mother inside during Monday's frightening shootout that killed a California Highway Patrol officer in Riverside.
In the chaos of unrelenting gunfire, Childress, determined to get the twins and their mother out of harm's way, got out of his car and made a low crawl to their vehicle. He found two children in car seats and their mother at the wheel.
"I told her that I'm going to take her and her kids out and try to get them to safety," Childress said. "So, I grabbed the two little boys, and I pulled them out of the car. I put them in a position behind the engine block of her car so that it would protect them."
Jennifer Moctezuma, 31, of Moreno Valley told the Los Angeles Times that she was driving home with her 6-year-old twins when the bullet flew through her front windshield. Childress said the round appeared to fly past her head.
"The bullet went straight in the middle of my windshield, between my head and my two kids," Moctezuma told the Times. "I told my kids to get down and duck. But they couldn't. They had their seat belts on in their car seats. I had to unbuckle them, then we all got down."
Childress said he relied on his training as a Marine during the rescue near the 215 Freeway. Childress said he saw at least one person using a cell phone to record the shootout, then he started shouting for people to take cover during the gunbattle.
He and the family stayed low as bullets whizzed past overhead.
"Somebody needed help and there was no thinking about it," Childress said. "You hear those kids screaming, those kids needed help. They needed to get out of there. There was no thought about it. I just got out and did what I had to do."
They eventually made their way to the base of a freeway overpass and hid behind law enforcement vehicles.
"He's my hero," Moctezuma said.
The shootout followed a traffic stop in the area of Box Springs Boulevard and Eastridge Avenue, just west of Interstate 215. A CHP officer was doing paperwork to impound the pickup truck when the driver reached in, grabbed a rifle and fatally wounded the officer, authorities said.
The slain officer was identified as 33-year-old Andre Moye, who had been with the agency for about four years.
"It's just a tragedy all the way around," said Childress. "I'd like to give a 'thank you' to all these police officers who ran up to a gunfight without hesitation and started protecting the citizens. They're the real heroes."
It's not clear what prompted the officer to stop and impound the truck. Investigators didn't immediately know where the gunman came from or where he was headed.
A motive for the shooting was not immediately determined.
After the shooting, dozens of law enforcement officers gathered outside of the hospital in nearby Moreno Valley. Snipers were posted on the roof as a precaution.
Dozens lined up and saluted as the officer's flag-draped body was removed from the hospital and placed in a hearse. Motorcycle officers then led a procession as the hearse was driven to the county coroner's office.
Two other officers were wounded.
The gunman also was killed.