Estacada grocery clerk on the mend after stabbing

Michael Wagner, 64, has been recovering in his Estacada home

Michael Wagner, pictured here with his wife Pam, is in good spirits after being seriously injured in an incident at Harvest Market last month. (Emily Lindstrand, Estacada News)

ESTACADA, Ore. (ESTACADA NEWS) — Michael Wagner has proved himself resilient after being seriously injured in a violent chain of events that unfolded in Colton and Estacada last month.

On Sunday, May 14, 36-year-old Colton resident Joshua Webb allegedly carried his mother’s severed head and a knife into Harvest Market in Estacada. Reportedly covered in blood, Webb allegedly stabbed Wagner, a store employee, before being restrained by other store employees until law enforcement reached the scene.

Joshua Webb, 36, allegedly walked into an Estacada grocery store with a human head and stabbed an employee, May 14, 2017. (CCSO)

Webb is in the custody of the Clackamas County Jail. He is charged with murdering his mother, Tina Webb, in their Colton home; attempted murder and assault for the incident at Harvest Market and abuse of a corpse, according to court documents provided to the Estacada News by the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office.

According to those same documents, Webb is also charged with aggravated animal abuse, based on the discovery of a dead dog at the home where he lived with his parents.

A trial has been scheduled for Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The office of Webb’s lawyer told the Estacada News they had no comment on the case or charges. An official at the Clackamas County Circuit Court said Webb has not yet entered a plea.

Meanwhile, Wagner, 64, has been recovering in his Estacada home after being released from Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in North Portland a week after the incident.

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“I’m feeling good, I’m not in a lot of pain and I’m looking forward to finishing up the healing process,” he said while sitting at The Mason Jar Cafe on Friday, June 16.

He credits his coworkers, who restrained Webb and cared for him prior to the arrival of paramedics, as one of the reasons he survived the incident.

“I never thought this was the end,” he said. “I knew I was going to pull through, all because of other people.”

In their first interview since the Sunday, May 14, events at Harvest Market, Wagner and his wife, Pam, met with the Estacada News to discuss the incident at the store, his recovery process and their gratitude for the community’s unwavering support.

The day of the incident

On Sunday, May 14, Wagner was working in the produce department at Harvest Market. Though he’s spent the last decade as a cashier, he began his 20-year tenure at the store in the produce department and was there that day because the section was short staffed.

“I thought it was ironic that (the incident) would happen when I was working there, just like the old days,” he said.

When Webb entered the store around 2:15 p.m. that day, Wagner was working in the store’s back cooler area, preparing to unload items to the produce section.

A man who stabbed a grocery store employee in Estacada is believed to be connected to the death of a woman in Colton, May 14, 2017. (KOIN)

“(It’s) pretty isolated back there,” he said, describing the cooler. “You can’t hear anything. I had no clue he was even in the store. Other people were aware because a customer had seen him come in and had said ‘You had better go find this guy.”

Unaware that anything out of the ordinary was happening, Wagner said he was mainly focused on work in the moments before he was injured.

“I really enjoy working in produce because it’s not the ordinary thing I do,” he said. “It’s not hectic but there’s always something to do. (I wanted to) work another carton of product out to the floor, and then go on my lunch break.”

However, before he could finish the task, Wagner said Webb came “rushing through the clear plastic curtains.”

“He just burst through those curtains and rushed right up to me,” Wagner recalled. “I don’t know if I’ve got the exact words, but (he said) something to the effect that he wanted to do me in.”

Wagner said Webb stabbed him with a knife several times before he realized what the situation was. Wagner then disarmed Webb, which he credits to adrenaline.

“I’ve never been in a fight in my life, in 60 odd years, and I’ve never had to defend myself before,” he said. “I just kind of grabbed his arm, wrestled him down and got the knife away.”

Wagner said the next few things that happened are blurry. After he disarmed Webb, a coworker was “right there” to restrain him, with several other coworkers quickly following suit.

“I think it all happened within a minute,” Wagner said. “It was so fast.”

After taking the knife away, he “started feeling really weak.”

“Either I said get me out of here, or someone else said get him out of here,” Wagner continued. “They walked me to the front of the store and got a chair for me. It seemed like hours but it was only a minute or two until (paramedics) were putting me on a gurney.”

Wagner praised his coworkers for caring for him prior to the arrival of paramedics.

“One of our newer employees, a young girl, she was holding a towel and putting pressure on the wound. She stayed there until the paramedics arrived,” he said. “I thought it was impressive for a young person to be that calm and collected.”

As he was being prepared for transportation to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center via lifeflight, Wagner gave a coworker a list of phone numbers to call to get in touch with his family.

“I wanted Pam to know right away, because I didn’t want her to find out on the news,” he said. “That was my first thought.”

Wagner’s coworker wasn’t able to contact his family immediately, but eventually, they called the store themselves.

“My son-in-law had heard on Facebook that something happened at (Harvest Market), and he had tried to call (Michael’s) cell phone to see if he was OK,” Pam Wagner said.

When there was no answer to her husband’s phone, she called the store.

“I called and asked to speak to someone in produce, and the guy I talked to kind of hesitated and asked if I was Mike’s wife and told me what happened,” she said.

At that point, the Wagner family immediately set out for the hospital.

“(When we started driving), we didn’t even know what hospital (Michael was at),” Pam said. “We just dropped everything and left, and we didn’t even know where we were going yet. We knew it was one of two hospitals in Portland.”

The road to recovery

During the attack, Wagner received seven stab wounds in the areas of his stomach, colon and sternum. Eight hours after his arrival at the hospital, during which time surgeons treated his injuries, Wagner was able to see his family. His Harvest Market coworkers were able to visit the following day.

Five weeks after the attack, Wagner said his recovery process is steadily moving along, and he isn’t in a lot of pain.

“I’m doing real well,” he added.

Pam Wagner credits her husband’s upbeat attitude as a helpful factor in his recovery.

“His outlook on life has always been positive,” she said.

In turn, Wagner believes his wife’s support is one of the elements that’s gotten him through this time.

“I’m like the running back and she’s the blocker,” he said. “She protects me.”

Since the incident at Harvest Market, Wagner has retained his sense of humor.

“Once I could tell you a bad joke, you knew I was OK,” he told his wife.

Toward the beginning of his stay in the hospital, Wagner was “concerned because they wouldn’t let me eat anything.”

“That’s sort of my hobby,” he said. “I remember being excited when they said I could have clear liquids on the third day. That was the best chicken broth I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

These days, Wagner mainly keeps himself occupied by spending time with family, working on crossword puzzles and walking his dog. Soon, he hopes to be able to go to the gym and begin driving again.

A doctor’s appointment next month will determine when Wagner may be able to return to work.

“(After that appointment) would be the absolute soonest,” he said, discussing going back to Harvest Market.

He added that he’s eager to return to the store.

“The sooner (I can go back), the better,” he said. “I miss the people. I miss everybody.”

He’s visited Harvest Market several times since returning home from the hospital.

“I like going back,” he said. “I almost didn’t get in the door before getting a hug yesterday.”

Wagner believes his coworkers played an integral role in his survival.

“From the moment I knew that all my fellow workers had my interests in mind, I knew it was going to be OK,” he said. “As soon as I realized that, I wasn’t worried about anything.”

During an Estacada City Council meeting on Monday, May 22, Mayor Sean Drinkwine signed a proclamation honoring Harvest Market employees for acts of heroism during the Sunday, May 14, events at the store. The proclamation expressed gratitude “to all employees and the management at the Market for their bravery and resilience in recovering from this terrible experience, and for reopening their doors to our community so quickly.”

Wagner praised his coworkers for their diligence during the difficult situation.

“(This was the) first time anything like this had happened in this town,” he said. “Our crew had not trained for something like that, (but) everyone did what they needed to do. Everything came together and nobody took off. Nobody didn’t want to help.”

Looking for explanations

Wagner said he doesn’t remember encountering Webb prior to the incident at Harvest Market.

“I have no recollection of ever seeing or talking to (Webb),” he said.

In a previous interview with the Estacada News, Harvest Market President Jeff O’Neal noted that Webb had never been in the store before and described the incident as “random and senseless.”

Wagner believes that Webb may have targeted him because he was isolated from the rest of the store.

“He didn’t come in there hunting me specifically,” Wagner said. “He took me as an opportunity because I was all by myself.”

Wagner noted that one explanation for the events that has been circulating is “not even close to the truth.”

“Apparently someone put it on (social media) that I was having an affair with (Webb’s mother Tina),” he said, describing this supposed reason for Webb’s motivation as false. “I don’t know where that came from. It made me think that someone out there is not having good feelings about this.”

A search for former criminal offenses committed by Joshua Webb only unearthed a Class C violation for unlawful use of metal objects on tires 17 years ago. Webb pleaded guilty and paid a $70 fine.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, May 16, Webb’s father David noted that his mother was concerned their son was depressed, but he had never noticed symptoms of any mental health concerns.

An important aftermath

Wagner believes the most important part of the story, which made national headlines, is the way the Estacada community rallied together in support.

“That’s a huge story to me,” he said. “It just chokes me up every time I think about it.”

He sums up the community reaction with a single world: love.

“That’s a one-word answer, but it covers everything,” he added.

In the days following the incident, a multitude of cards, flowers and well wishes could be seen at several Estacada locations. Additionally, countless people have donated to a charitable donation account Harvest Market set up for Wagner’s medical expenses.

Employees at several Estacada establishments, including Fearless Brewing and Sunrise Java, have donated their tips to the fund. Additionally, the American Legion Carl Douglas Post donated all net proceeds from its annual Memorial Day breakfast.

Many other residents have participated in a Meal Train for Wagner and his family.

Pam Wagner cites a “positive feeling wherever we go.”

“Everyone is really rooting for him to get better,” she said. “That’s huge.”

Wagner is touched by the constant outpouring of support.

“I thought I knew everyone in town by sight, but I never thought I had made an impression on people or anything,” he said. “I’m still having trouble grasping the huge response. Everyone wants to help me — people from every part of life, and every walk of life.”

Wagner added that he loves the town.

“I keep telling everybody that, and now I’m convinced even more … (there’s been) such a genuine desire to help,” he said. “(This is) a beautiful place and full of beautiful people.”

Pam Wagner noted that this sort of response is nothing unusual for Estacada.

“Anytime something happens in this town, whether it’s big or small, people come together,” she said, citing last year’s “Put a Buck on the Truck” fundraiser as another example of the city’s generous spirit. Last April, the efforts raised more than $10,000 for the Sanchez-Serrono family of Pepe’s Tacos when their patriarch was hospitalized for heart problems.

“You wouldn’t get that anywhere else,” Pam Wagner said, characterizing the response as unique and special. “Everything that we needed, people have helped with.”

Wagner is grateful for the way the community came together for him.

“I know I’ll never forget it,” he said. “Ever.”

“Where I’m supposed to be”

A 28-year resident of Estacada and a 20-year employee of Harvest Market, Wagner doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

“It took me most of my life to figure out where I belong, and this is where I belong,” the Wisconsin native said.

He moved to Estacada after he married his wife, Pam, who is a lifelong resident of the town. The pair agree that the area has been a great place to raise their three daughters.

Wagner describes his coworkers at Harvest Market as extended family.

“It’s a delight to work there,” he said. “It really is.”

Wagner’s 20-year anniversary at Harvest Market was Sunday, May 21 — one week after the events that left him hospitalized. He noted that the incident has not marred his time at the store. In fact, he sees a positive element to it.

“As bad and evil as it sounds it was all really good for me,” he said, explaining that he feels this way because of the ways his coworkers and other community members have supported him, which has further solidified his belief that Estacada is where he belongs. “I know I’ll never be the same again, and I know I’ll even more appreciate our great little town. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”