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How I tried to save Chris Lane

Richard Rhodes, who was first on the scene after Australian Chris Lane was shot in Duncan, Oklahoma, tells US correspondent Nick O'Malley what happened next.

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In Duncan, Oklahoma, Chris Lane died pointlessly and terribly, but not alone. As he struggled to take his last breaths on a dry, grassy roadside, three people, strangers to one another and to Lane, battled to save his life.

One was Richard Rhodes, a 37-year-old contractor who was working with his partner, Lindsey Moore, painting a house on the corner where the shooting happened. Just before 3pm last Friday, he heard a popping noise and said to Lindsey, "that sounds like a gunshot" before going outside to investigate. He saw a small black car speeding off and peering over the fence he saw a woman on the phone.

A Duncan resident places flowers at the spot where Chris Lane died in the arms of strangers last week.

A Duncan resident places flowers at the spot where Chris Lane died in the arms of strangers last week. Photo: Reuters

At that point he thought she might have had a tyre blow out and he walked around the corner to offer to help. That is when he saw Lane lying facedown on the grassy verge.

The woman, who Fairfax Media now understands to be Joyce Smith, had seen neither the shooting nor the car, just Lane staggering over the road and falling first to his knees, then slumping forward. She pulled over and, worried he might be on drugs, called 911.

She was still on the phone when Rhodes knelt by Lane and saw blood in his mouth and on his back. Lifting Lane's shirt, Rhodes saw a small gunshot wound high on the left side of his back. He pieced it all together. "He has been shot," Rhodes called out to Smith, who relayed the information to police.

Chris Lane and girlfriend Sarah Harper.

Chris Lane and girlfriend Sarah Harper. Photo: Facebook

"I was like this, telling him, 'buddy, stay with us, stay with us,'" Rhodes said, demonstrating how he knelt by Lane and looked into his eyes. By then, Lane was taking long desperate breaths, punctuated by ominous silences. Another woman pulled over and came to help.

"He's been shot, we're fixing to lose him," Rhodes told her. Soon the gasps ended. They could not find a pulse. Together they rolled him over and the woman began chest compressions as Rhodes breathed into Lane's mouth.

After a few minutes of CPR, the woman said to Rhodes, "Honey, he's gone." She reached up and closed his eyes with her fingertips. Rhodes took his T-shirt off and laid it over Lane's face.

The corner of Twilight Beach Road and Country Club Road in Duncan,  Oklahoma, where Chris Lane was shot.

The corner of Twilight Beach Road and Country Club Road in Duncan, Oklahoma, where Chris Lane was shot.

This is how police found Lane and the trio of Samaritans moments later. Rhodes was able to furnish them an accurate description of the car he had seen race around the corner, and its direction. Within minutes this led them to the Don Jose restaurant a few blocks away, where police obtained security camera footage of the car speeding through its parking lot.

In turn, a police officer viewing the footage recognised the car and identified the owner. Duncan is that sort of place, a town of about 22,000, where people stop to help.

On Tuesday afternoon, after three youths were charged over Lane's murder, Duncan district attorney Jason Hicks held an angry press conference and made a point of saying to an Australian audience he knew was watching: "This is not Duncan, Oklahoma."

Chris Lane's parents, Peter and Donna, address the media in Melbourne on Monday.

Chris Lane's parents, Peter and Donna, address the media in Melbourne on Monday. Photo: AAP

Lane's murder has jarred Duncan badly. As Vicky Lynch, a friend of the family of Lane's partner, Sarah Harper, puts it, "he was hurt on our watch."

Lynch has known Harper since she was a child. Later she taught her karate and marvelled at her athleticism, as did Harper's coaches in softball and golf. Lynch is so appalled by the tragedy she has started a fund-raiser to help the Harper family with expenses for travel to Australia.

This urge to help in any way has been a common reaction here. Prayer meetings have been held, the main street decked in red, white and blue ribbons to match the colours of the Australian and American flags. Many restaurants have donated takings. A fun run is to be held and at nearby Ada, where Lane attended university, a memorial fund has been established.

The tragedy is only honed by the pointlessness of the crime.

The bleak nihilism of the claim of one of the boys – that they killed Lane out of boredom – has captured and appalled onlookers around the world.

Many are now packing their own explanations into the void left by the accused.

James Johnson was the man who called police four hours after the boys allegedly shot Lane to say they were outside his son's home with guns. Minutes later the boys were arrested and ammunition and a disassembled shotgun were found in the car.

Johnson says the boys had threatened his son's life before they arrived at his house and has told Fairfax Media he believes they murdered Lane as part of a gang initiation and targeted his son because he had refused to join.

In its editorial on Thursday, the Dallas Morning News considered it a more plausible explanation than others given. Local police chief Danny Ford says the theory is not a line of inquiry. Nor are they investigating the murder as a hate crime.

Outside Duncan, the murder is already being crafted into shot for the ongoing culture wars. Racist tweets allegedly sent by one of the accused have been published, while prominent conservative Christian figures have blamed the killing on everything from a collapse in families to a contempt for life engendered by legal abortion.

More have demanded that the President address the killing as he did that of Trayvon Martin, suggesting he is hypocritical for not weighing in on the killing of white person by African Americans. Others, including Australia's former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, have linked the killing to the debate over America's gun laws, calling on Australians to consider avoiding the US until it tighten restrictions on gun ownership.

Duncan city manager Jim Frieda is not enjoying seeing the town he loves in the international spotlight.

"It is difficult. We are a small, quiet community, life does not move very fast here and we have always thought that to be enviable.

"I get the feeling that we are being depicted as some sort of wild west town and I don't appreciate that."

Frieda describes a town that is not only peaceful but also largely cohesive, saying that one of Lane's killers lived near where he was shot, on Country Club Road, which is known as being as upper crust as life gets in Duncan.

Lynch makes the point that there is only one middle school and only one high school, so rich or poor, the town's children know each other well.

As with many others in town, she is not engaging in broader debates prompted by the murder. Instead she is working to lend what comfort she can to the Lanes, and to the Harpers, who she says consider Lane to be one of their own.

Perhaps Lane's father, Peter Lane, put it best when he addressed Australian media after the murder.

"It is heartless and to try to understand it is a short way to insanity," he said.

The day after Lane died, Rhodes came back to work at the house on the corner. He saw that somebody had laid a wreath on the roadside, but in the wrong place, so he moved it a dozen or so metres up the road, to the place where he had knelt with Lane as he died.

A while later, he drove back into town to the dollar store and bought some solar-powered garden lights to add to the floral tribute, and a little glass ornament with a verse from a Christian poem engraved on it.

Standing over the growing roadside shrine on Thursday, he said, "It's not enough. I just wish I could have done more."