By Ed Payne
(CNN – May 5, 2015) — Sometimes a mother’s love can make all the difference in the world. It can even save lives.
Erin Stoffel shuffled her 7-year-old son Ezra and 5-year-old daughter Selah off a pedestrian bridge in Menasha, Wisconsin, after a distraught gunman randomly opened fire.
She did this while taking three bullets.
“You can never underestimate the power of a mother to protect her children. To have three gunshot wounds and be able to get off that bridge and save two of her children is incredible to think about,” Dr. Ray Georgen at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah said Monday.
“It’s an amazing story of heroism on her part and certainly of her children.”
But her quick actions weren’t enough to save Stoffel’s 11-year-old daughter Olivia and her husband, Johnathon, who were fatally shot. Adam Bentdahl, an unrelated Appleton man, also died.
Police say 27-year-old Sergio Valencia Del Toro opened fire near the middle of the Trestle Trail Bridge Sunday evening, after an argument with his ex-fiancée, CNN affiliate WLUK reported. He then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life, police said.
The gunman didn’t know any of his victims, authorities said.
Chaos on the bridge
Even with the loss of life, Erin and Ezra Stoffel are being called heroes. The toll could have been higher.
Stoffel sent Ezra to get help in the midst of the gunfire.
“Despite being shot multiple times, Ms. Stoffel was able to … (instruct) her young son to go run for assistance,” said Menasha Police Chief Tim Styka. “Absolutely amazing.”
Barry Busby, the Winnebago County Coroner, also praised her quick thinking.
“True heroes going into an act of fire, where they don’t know what’s out there on this unprotected bridge, but trying to save other people,” Busby said. “And I think their fast response helped save a lot of people.”
Georgen said the early stages of Stoffel’s recovery are going well. The medical center lists her condition as critical.
A gofundme page set up to help the family after the shooting had raised about $70,000 by Tuesday morning.