NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Earnest Cobble’s most distressing yet heroic work day at Nashville International Airport arrived early Easter morning, April 17, as he served as a volunteer at the welcome desk, just inside the baggage claim’s sliding doors. Cobble previously retired from a 25-year career maintaining the terminal’s HVAC equipment.
“I was right here talking to a family,” he said, standing behind the desk staffed by BNA’s 60 volunteers who spend their shifts answering questions from harried travelers throughout the facility. “A young lady came up asking questions. She was kind of aggressive.”
Cobble is used to confused and agitated travelers, so he wasn’t immediately worried. She wanted to know where the restrooms were and how to catch a ride-hailing service, and he graciously directed her.
His calm responses didn’t soften her approach. She pounded her fist on the desk and cursed as he helped another passenger: She insisted on using Cobble’s cell phone to call her mother.
He agreed but, instead of making the call, she walked off in a daze.
“I kept my eye on her,” Cobble said.
As he fielded questions from a family standing in front of him, everything changed.
“That’s when I heard a gunshot,” he said.
The woman pulled a gun from her purse and held it to her head.
Thinking fast to save a life
The first gunshot she fired missed her head, where she pointed it. As the gun rested momentarily at her side, Cobble ordered airport passengers and employees to run.
He took cover behind a concrete pole and trained his focus on the woman as she picked up the gun again.
He instinctively wanted to calm her. Distract her. He said, in as normal a tone as he could muster:
“Ma’am you shouldn’t have that gun here at the airport.”
She fumbled with the gun and yelled back that she was only going to hurt herself.
She aimed the gun again. This time, the shot went clean through her thigh.
Now Cobble yelled at the top of his lungs to get her attention.
“Put the gun down! Don’t do it!”
The woman seemed to be in a fog but she looked up and locked eyes with him after hearing his pleas.
“Slide the gun toward the door!”
He continued to yell and, each time, she paused and made eye contact.
“She gave me a startled look,” he said. “I think I broke her concentration.”
Police officers arrived and swiftly handcuffed the woman.
She survived the incident.
Cobble, meanwhile, continues to reflect on the emotional confrontation and whether there was anything different he could have done.
Cobble saves a life, honored as a hero
Metro Nashville Airport Authority honored Cobble for his heroism at a recent meeting. He received a framed proclamation for helping to prevent a worse outcome.
“As a former employee and now as a volunteer, Earnest was undeniably the right person at the right time who helped to save lives through his courageous actions,” said Doug Kreulen, president of Nashville International Airport.
Cobble continues to volunteer one day a week, though he said he enjoys retirement and is busy planning his next vacation.
But now he pays closer attention to people’s hands in case they’re holding a gun.
“I enjoy helping people,” he said. “I went back to work that Monday, but I wanted to see everyone’s hands.”
Resources for mental health in Tennessee
There are a variety of resources for those seeking mental health support at the national, state and local level. Here are just a few.
The CDC offers a wide variety of mental health resources at cdc.gov/mentalhealth, including a mental health quiz and a tool to find a therapist.
The state of Tennessee also has a hub for behavioral and mental health resources at tn.gov/behavioral-health.
The Behavioral Health Safety Net for Adults provides free, essential outpatient mental health services to Tennesseans who lack insurance coverage. More information is available at tn.gov/bhsn or at 800-560-5767.
Tennessee offers a free crisis hotline that is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. All calls are directed to a trained counselor in the caller’s area. Call or text 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).
The Tennessee REDLINE is a free 24-hour resource for substance abuse treatment referrals. Anyone can call or text 800-889-9789 for confidential referrals.
The Vanderbilt Psychiatric Assessment Service can be reached 24/7 at 615-327-7000. More information is also available at vanderbiltbehavioralhealth.com.
Learn more about The Refuge Center at refugecenter.org.