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Sandy • At about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Will May was driving home to pick up his 12-year-old son and drive him to a friend's end-of-school pool party. It would be a quick errand, he told himself. There was more to do back at work.

But as May crested a hill about two blocks from his Sandy home, he came upon an odd scene. At first, it appeared to be a car crash. There was a large black pickup truck nearly blocking the road. A few feet farther down the hill, a black SUV was turned toward the sidewalk, dented from major impact.

May quickly realized this was more than a fender bender. A woman lay in the street, near the SUV. The only other person at the scene, a man dressed in black, was standing nearby. He was holding a gun.

Still, there was no time to think, May said. These people clearly needed help, so the 52-year-old pulled his Lexus to the shoulder and ran.

"Hey, what can we do? What's the game plan?" May asked the man several times, trying to assess the situation. The man didn't reply or make eye contact, slowly backing away from an 8-inch hole in the rear passenger window of the SUV.

May was one of perhaps dozens of people in the quiet residential neighborhood who would come into contact with Tuesday's violent scene in one way or another. Three people died there, including a 6-year-old, and two more children left with severe injuries.

In the two days since, members of the tight-knit community have swapped stories of what they saw minutes after some of the year's final school bells rang down the street, of how neighbors helped children and others get to safety after shots rang out. They have reassembled many of the details of the tragedy, trying to make some sense of the destruction.

But as May stood shoulder to shoulder with the man in black, he was confused, his mind scurrying. He crouched over the woman's body, trying to see whether she was still breathing; blood poured across the street.

That's when, May said, "it started to click."

A brush with a killer • This man, standing directly above May, could very well be the shooter, he realized — the very reason the woman, later identified as 39-year-old Memorez Clark Rackley, was dying of a gunshot wound.

"My heart sunk, and I went, 'OK, Will, what are you going to do now?' "

He considered running, or hiding on the other side of the SUV. He thought he was "probably done for."

Seconds ticked by.

May still crouched over the body, thinking.

"I didn't want to stay down in that position for too long because I thought, Oh, I'm such a target," he said. "But then I had the thought: I'm going to stand back up, and I'm going to just be beside him, like nothing is wrong, and just see if he reacts."

So May stood.

He brushed shoulders with the man, an avid bodybuilder later identified as 32-year-old Jeremy Patterson. Standing near the sidewalk, they looked to the east. Downhill.

An "incredibly loud" gunshot cracked the silence, ringing in May's ears.

The man collapsed.

"And I thought, 'Hell, there's a shooter!' " May said.

He figured maybe there was a sniper who had shot the man. Or maybe another nearby resident had just shot him because "they knew something I didn't."

"I just didn't know what to think. All I knew is when he hit the ground … I just thought, I got to run for safety, and so I bolted."

May dived behind a concrete wall several yards away. A woman pulled her car to the bottom of the hill, and May yelled at her to call 911. Several moments passed, and he could hear sirens in the distance.

"I thought, Oh my heavens, they're coming. It'll soon be over."

The road • Patterson had "some type of relationship" with Memorez Rackley, police have said, without providing further details. Friends and neighbors say Rackley and her husband had been seperated for some time. Patterson's Instagram posts from earlier in the week are snapshots of vitriol directed at the woman.

Natalie Hansen lives just down the street from Brookwood Elementary School, which two of her children — and two of Rackley's boys — attended. Hansen's home is on Alta Canyon Drive, about a quarter-mile east of the shooting that would turn the street into a bloody crime scene.

Hansen noticed Rackley walk by her home about 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, apparently heading to pick up her sons at school. A short time later, Hansen heard a confrontation erupt on the street outside.

A man in a truck — Patterson — had parked on the wrong side of the street and apparently confronted Rackley.

Hansen watched as Rackley waved down a passing SUV, steered by a woman police would call a "good Samaritan." Patterson tried to pull Rackley out of the vehicle, Hansen said; Rackley "swatted him off."

"You could tell she did not want to have anything to do with this guy," Hansen said.

The confrontation halted traffic; several bystanders, including Hansen, dialed 911.

Patterson "left in a hurry," heading west. The SUV containing Rackley — and likely her two boys, the other woman and her children — rested on Alta Canyon Drive for a beat.

"Then, all of a sudden, he came back," now driving east, Hansen said of Patterson. "And they saw him and took off."

Patterson flipped a quick U-turn, she said, and followed.

Protecting the ones they could • Police say Patterson caught up to Rackley and the SUV. He rammed it with his truck before jumping out and opening fire.

Colby Corbett was working in his backyard nearby when he heard the rapid-fire pops. His first thought was of his son, who was walking home from Brookwood. He quickly reached home, and the two waited inside for several minutes, later walking around the corner to see patrol cars hovering near two sheets on the street.

Police roamed the neighborhood for several minutes, Corbett said, apparently uncertain whether a shooter lay in wait.

Emily Loveland's 10-year-old son was about a block from their house, walking back from school, when he called her and said he'd heard gunshots. She went closer to the scene and saw children on the street — a busy route after school bells proclaim the days' end.

"I collected as many [children] as I could," she said, bringing 15 back to her home. She locked the door and stayed there for an hour, she estimated. Or maybe it was more.

"That whole afternoon was a time warp," Loveland said.

'Could I have changed the course of events that day?' • Within sight of Jen Wilhite's driveway on Thursday, teddy bears and bouquets rested against a concrete wall. Cars occasionally stopped to add to the memorial. The fallout from the violence was nearby.

Wilhite had just picked up her children from school and arrived home when she heard a commotion outside, the pop of a gunshot. Someone shouted, "The shooter's dead!"

Across the street, Wilhite's neighbor Kathy Peterson emerged and yelled for help. Moments earlier, Peterson had found a hysterical woman and three girls on her doorstep. One was covered in blood.

She took them in, and Wilhite ran to their aid.

"One girl had been shot in the leg," Wilhite said, and the two women did their best to comfort the girls and "tell them how brave they were." Peterson — a grandmother to the neighborhood — gave them water and gathered teddy bears they could play with.

"It's traumatic," Wilhite said. "You never think you're going to see something like this. Especially when you find out it's friends of yours. And children."

Some in the neighborhood wondered whether they could have done more to stop Patterson's rampage.

"You have two elements," said Sarah Weaver, a neighbor and close friend of the Rackley family. "You have this horrible tragedy, this horrible loss that has impacted a family that we love so much.

"And then you have all of these kids and mothers who saw what happened, who wondered, 'What if I had done something different? Could I have intervened? Could I have changed the course of events that day?'"

'I'm not the shooter' • For May, the adrenaline didn't let up as police and other emergency responders converged. Confusion reigned.

May sought safety and clarity behind the wall, blood coating his left side, while officers arrived and scanned the scene, guns drawn. "They thought there was [another] shooter," he said. That is what May had yelled to the woman who arrived moments earlier, after all — the one who called 911.

But as he lay in the grass next to the wall, May realized there was no sequestered sniper, no further ambush: The lone gunman had shot himself. That explained the blood splattered on his left side.

Others were less convinced. A woman on a deck overlooking the road screamed at officers: "He's behind that wall, in a blue shirt!"

"And I thought, Hell, that's me," May said. "She just assumed I was the killer."

May yelled back: "I'm not the shooter. You've got to believe me! My car is out there, it's a silver Lexus. I'm just trying to help. I can explain it all."

May said he got the attention of an officer, who walked him out from behind the wall. He was asked to move his car, to allow space for the professionals who would sort out what had happened.

As he sat in his car, and later under a nearby tree, the adrenaline drained. He felt empty.

A crime scene photographer approached to document his spattered shirt. May teared up Thursday as he recalled the moment.

"He pulls me up, and says, 'You know what, sir? Nobody in their lifetime should ever have to witness anything like this. I'm really sorry that this happened to you.'"

In the days since, one question keeps replaying in May's mind.

"Why didn't he shoot me? Why did everyone else at that scene get shot but me?"

Twitter: @lramseth