After Taunton mall attack: Tragedy, heroism turn strangers into family

Story highlights

  • An attacker stabbed people in a Taunton, Massachusetts, mall last May
  • An off-duty officer and a teacher helped bring the attack to an end

Taunton, Massachusetts (CNN)Two couples were enjoying a Tuesday evening out at a restaurant in the Silver City Galleria in Taunton, Massachusetts.

The Heaths were sitting at the bar, and the Creeds were a few tables away. They had never met before.
    Little did they know, these couples were about to be united by tragedy, fate and courage.
    Soon, their conversations and laughter were drowned out by cries, screams and chaos as a man entered the restaurant and started stabbing as many people as he could.

    'Help me, help me'

    George and Rosemary Heath had purchased tickets to see the Captain America movie. Both were superhero movie fanatics and bought the tickets weeks before the film opened in May 2016.
    They had just sat down at the bar and ordered their first drink when the chaos erupted.
    "We were just laughing and having a good night, talking about our day. We ordered our beers talking about what we'd do on the weekend ... and then we heard the scream," Rosemary Heath told CNN.
    Those screams came from Sheenah Savoy, a waitress who was repeatedly stabbed at the bar of the Bertucci's restaurant. Savoy, who was 8 weeks pregnant at the time, ran toward the Heaths for help.
    "George and I both stood up and [Savoy] came running towards me. Our eyes locked on each other and she was just screaming, 'Help me, help me,'" Rosemary Heath recalled.
    George and Rosemary Heath are credited with saving a pregnant  waitress' life.
    Heath tried to hit the attacker with a bar stool while her husband grabbed the assailant from behind and tried wrestling him to the ground.
    Jim and Laura Creed were just finishing their dinner when they, too, heard the scream. They initially thought the man and the waitress were engaged in domestic dispute of some kind. It didn't take long for them to realize that this was something else.
    "I saw the knife go up in the air," Laura Creed, a registered nurse who works on a trauma floor, recalled as her voice began to break and tears formed.
    Laura Creed witnessed the attacker stab George Heath, 56, in the head while Heath was protecting his wife and Savoy.
    "I saw there was a knife involved so I drew my weapon," said Lt. Jim Creed, a 10-year veteran of the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department, who was off duty at the time. "I identified myself as a police officer ... and instructed him to get on the ground."
    The man didn't comply with Lt. Creed's request and charged full speed toward the Creeds.
    "The last thing I wanted to do was use my weapon in the course of duty, but it was basically him or us," Lt. Creed said, recalling the moment he made the tough decision to shoot the suspect, who was fatally wounded.

    A race to help the victims

    After the suspect was shot, Laura Creed ran to the bar and tried to render aid to the victims.
    "I first came upon Sheenah, sitting on the ground. I tried to get her to lay down and put pressure on the wound on her back but she didn't want to lay down. So, I propped a chair behind her so she could just rest. At that point, Jim shouted for me to come over and help George," she recalled.
    George Heath was lying on the ground next to the bar, bleeding from the stab wound he sustained to his head. "I knew it was really bad and I knew that he wasn't going to make it ... I was able to say goodbye, I had to say goodbye," Rosemary Heath said.
    George Heath, a superhero aficionado and teacher whose own actions that evening were nothing short of heroic, was taken away in an ambulance and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
    Police quickly descended on the scene.

    Mall stabbings followed another deadly attack

    The suspect, 28-year-old Arthur DaRosa, was described by the Bristol County District Attorney's office as having problems with anxiety and depression.
    Prior to the attack at the mall, he called an ambulance after having suicidal thoughts. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with experiencing "acute severe stress ... anxiety and adjustment disorders" as a result of a recent break-up. DaRosa denied any homicidal thoughts while at the hospital, which was enough for them to discharge him, less than 24 hours after he was admitted, according to the Bristol County DA.
    Hours later, DaRosa committed a series of violent assaults. The spree began when DaRosa drove into oncoming traffic, colliding with a pickup truck, injuring the driver. He exited his vehicle and ran to a nearby home. Inside the home, DaRosa stabbed 80-year-old Patricia Slavin and her daughter, Kathleen Slavin, according to the Bristol County DA. Patricia Slavin was fatally wounded.
    DaRosa left the home and got back into his own vehicle and drove away toward Silver City Galleria.
    He crashed his vehicle into the north entrance of the Macy's located at the mall. He ran into the Macy's in what witnesses described as a "manic, frantic and enraged" state.
    Surveillance video from inside the Macy's shows DaRosa punching and knocking over several patrons before making his way out and into a nearby cell phone store. DaRosa assaulted an employee behind the counter before heading to the Bertucci's restaurant, according to investigators.
    He went straight for the waitress station, where Savoy was grabbing a steak knife. He took it from her and stabbed her five times, according to prosecutors.

    Strangers become family

    Rosemary Heath, right, and the Creeds have become close friends. They are seen here wearing Batman T-shirts, George Heath's favorite superhero, at a fundraiser in his name.
    Savoy has since given birth to a healthy baby girl. She credits the Heaths for saving her and her unborn baby that day. She declined to be interviewed by CNN.
    "Jim saved my life ... he is my hero," Rosemary Heath told CNN. "We're friends now."
    "No, we're family," Laura Creed interrupted as the three all smiled at each other. Heath considers Laura Creed like a sister now.
    And as for Lt. Creed, Heath said, "I wake every day and say, "I love you" to George, take a deep breath and thank Jim for giving me another day."
    For Christmas, Heath had a bottle engraved for Lt. Creed. He and George Heath both enjoyed whiskey. The bottle reads "Lt. James Creed, My Hero, My Friend."
    In the days and weeks after that night, the efforts of both Lt. Creed and George Heath were recognized, awards and accolades were distributed and memories were shared.
    As a surprise to the Creeds, Rosemary Heath contacted the New England Patriots, hoping they would help her thank them personally. The Creeds are season tickets holders and attend every home game. During one of the home games, the Patriots sent out a thank you on Heath's behalf. "Thank you Lt. James Creed & Mrs. Laura Creed for your HEROIC actions on 5/10/16. You are HEROES!"

    'George loved that school'

    Students at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, where George Heath began teaching in 2005, were devastated by the news. They honored his memory in the days following the tragedy, which Rosemary Heath attended.
    "It was really important to me that the students be OK. The school brought the teachers and everybody in early the following morning and told them what happened and instructed them to go back to the classrooms and tell the students in their own way ... George loved that school, and the school loved him," Heath said.
    Rosemary Heath held a fundraiser in memory her husband.
    Lt. Creed named his new K9 partner Heath, after Rosemary and George Heath.
    The George Heath Superhero scholarship fundraiser brought in $11,000. The scholarship benefits seniors interested in visual design at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School. The money will help students who put others first, like Heath did, continue their education.
    As for the Creeds, transitioning back to normal life was a challenge.
    "That was definitely the worst night of my life," Lt. Creed said.
    The Plymouth County Sheriff's Department, where Lt. Creed is employed, encouraged him to take a few weeks off from work to be with his wife and collect his thoughts.
    Creed, an officer in a K9 unit, was eager to get back on the job.
    "I transitioned back to work and within a week or so and we got my new dog. Rosemary was kind enough to let us name him Heath, after her and George. Heath and I were actually in training four months together before I went back out on the road," Lt. Creed said.
    "We're family and to have that is the best part of my healing ... to be friends with them ... There's so many positives that came out of this whole night. I choose to focus on the good things," Heath said.