When the little boy approached Army PFC Glendon Oakley in the El Paso store and said there was an active shooter at Walmart, he initially didn’t believe him.
The 22-year-old, who is stationed at nearby Fort Bliss, was buying a jersey at the time on Saturday morning.
“The guy at the register and I, we just looked at each other. This was a little kid. We didn’t pay him any mind,” he tells PEOPLE.
But when Oakley left the store, he saw people running. Then he saw 10 or more children running without their parents. Then he heard gunshots.
“I knew what I had to do. I had to get those kids out of there,” Oakley tells PEOPLE.
Oakley is trained on how to use his weapon, so he pulled out his weapon and began scooping up kids along with another man to whisk them to safety.
“I picked up four or five. The other guy got some more of them. We just carried those kids to get them safe,” he says.
“I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about those kids. I did what I was trained to do.”
Oakley eventually found police officers and set down the kids with the police. “I knew they were okay,” he says.
“I don’t have children, but I have a goddaughter. I protect her like she is my own. I would want someone to do the same thing for my kids,” he says.
Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb more than 600 miles from El Paso, is the suspect, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation tells PEOPLE. Police said the suspect drove about 10 hours to the site of the shooting and surrendered to police without incident.
Authorities are investigating the case as a hate crime after finding a manifesto believed to have been written by the shooter with white nationalist themes.
But amid the horror were stories of heroism like Oakley’s.
“People call me a hero, and that’s cool, but my main thing is the kids,” he says.
“I hope I can inspire others, don’t be scared to put others before yourself.”