When Reverend Jeff Hood first heard the sounds of gunshots in Dallas Thursday night, he thought they might be fireworks.
“But then after hearing the noise, I very much, very quickly realized that it was gunfire,” Hood, who organized the protest, told TIME’s Joey Lautrup, adding that he began feeling his own chest and shirt because he thought he may have been hit.
Five police officers were killed and multiple others wounded in the shooting, which became the deadliest day for U.S. police since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. One shooter, identified as Micah Johnson, was killed after a standoff with police.
Hood said the purpose of his protest was to fight against violence in the wake of two shootings of black men by police this week. “Right before the shots rang out, I had been sitting there talking to a sergeant in the Dallas police department about how peaceful and nonviolent the protest had been,” he said.
But once the violence began, Hood sprang into action: “After the shots went off, I was carrying a cross, and I turned around, and that cross turned into a shepherd’s staff, and I just was trying to help people get out of the street and saying run, run, run.”
Hood got separated from his wife in the mayhem, and said he wasn’t able to get back in touch with her until more than three hours later when she saw him on television and called the TV station. “I’m sitting there at that point just devastated and crying and just upset that such a, what was a beautiful night, a beautiful protest, a strong protest could turn into something so evil so quickly,” he said.
“The protest was about pushing, you know, getting out frustration,” he continued. “[But] after the officers got hit, and you know, we started learning the full extent of what was happening, it was all about love. It was all it could be about.”
– With reporting by Joey Lautrup