As the shooting was going on, one firemen was able to alert police.  As officers arrived they found utter chaos as firemen tried desperately to save Captain Sampsell. Several firemen were able to tell police they recognized the gunman and provided his address.  Officers raced to his house only to find Durham’s wife and two-year-old child beaten to death on the living room floor.

When Chief of Police Keno Wilson learned heard of the shooting, he gathered every available officer and personally began a citywide search.

Officers were staked out at Durham’s parent’s home as newspapers citywide ran headlines proclaiming, “The Worst Day In San Diego” along with the gunman’s picture.

Durham remained a fugitive for more than a day before he stepped off a streetcar in front of Horton Plaza.  He then walked straight to a newsstand where he bought a newspaper and read about his crimes.

Witnesses said Durham paced back and forth several times before he looked up and saw SDPD Roundsman (A senior patrol officer, designated by two “corporal stripes” on each sleeve) Willard Kirkland approaching him.

With Kirkland several feet away, Durham reached into his pocket, pulled out a handgun and shot himself in the head. He was dead when he hit the sidewalk.  The manhunt was over.

On August 3rd, Captain Sampsell died of his wounds at St. Joseph’s hospital.

As officers began to look into Durham’s background, they discovered he had become convinced he was the victim of a plot hatched by Captain Sampsell.

His coworkers saw it differently, Durham was mentally ill.

Several of the firemen at the station had complained to superiors about being threatened by him.  Officers later discovered Mrs. Durham had also been threatened by him and on one occasion she had disarmed him of a pistol during an argument.


Lately, whenever a major tragedy occurs in the United States, there’s always a member of either the media or government who states something like this has never happened before. Or, if it has, the current event is the worst in the history.

So when the Webster New York firefighters were lured into an ambush on December 24, 2012, and two were shot and killed, I thought back to whether or not it had ever happened before. Sadly, not only is the answer yes, it happened right here in our own backyard.

August 1, 1910. Shortly before 1 a.m. San Diego city fireman Burt Durham set off a false alarm at 2nd Avenue and Spruce Street.

The first fire wagon arrived within minutes. As Chief Donald Grant stepped off the back, he was fatally shot in the chest.

Durham’s next shot hit Captain E.P. “Peter” Sampsell in the chest critically wounding him.

Fireman Guy Elliot was the next to be shot.

As Durham ran away, he shot at several other firemen who were scrambling for cover. Several witnesses reported hearing him shout, “Tell my wife I am going to commit suicide!”