Some sources say that two stewards tried to rush into the boat, causing an officer to use his gun. It is also said to be that that were two male passengers trying to get a seat. There is also the possibility that the guns were only shot into the air as a warning.
What did the survivors say?
First Class passengers
- Hugh Woolner and Mauritz Steffansson came to inspect the tumult. Woolner wrote in a private letter aboard the Carpathia:
- "We then turned our attention to a boat ready on the starboard side, (Boat C, Ismays Boat) where there was shouting going on. We saw the first officer [ Murdoch, at Collapsible C ] twice fire a pistol in the air ordering a crowd of the crew out of the boat. We ran in and helped bundle the men onto the deck and then we got a lot, about ten, Italian and other foreign women into that boat and when we saw it was being safely lowered we went away and made a final search on the deck below."
- George Rheims said in a letter to his sister:
- "While the last boat was leaving, I saw an officer with a revolver fire a shot and kill a man who was trying to climb into it. As there remained nothing else for him to do, the officer told us, 'Gentlemen, each man for himself. Good bye.' He gave a military salute and then fired a bullet into his head. That's what I call a man!"
- Jack Thayer wrote in 1940:
- "There was some disturbance in loading the last two forward starboard boats. A large crowd of men were pressing to get into them. No women were around as far as I could see. (...) Purser H.W.McElroy, as brave and as fine a man as ever lived, was standing up in the next to last boat, loading it. Two men, I think they were dining-room stewards, dropped into the boat from the deck above. As they jumped he fired twice into the air. I do not believe they were hit, but they were quickly thrown out."
- Third Class passenger Eugene Daly told a newspaper:
- "...an officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to get in he would shoot him on the spot. I saw the officer shot two men dead because they tried to get into the boat. Afterwards there was another shot, and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him."
Daly immediately jumped overboard.
- Third Class passenger Shawneene George/Joseph recalled:
- "I saw George Joseph, one of my cousins. He pushed me toward one of the lifeboats. Sailors armed with revolvers drove the men away from the boats shouting, "Women and children first!". They shot into the air to frighten the men. Many passengers were overcome with fright. A woman I had met on the ship held a small child in her arms. Her five year old son, Tommy, was lost."
- Steward Edward Brown, who was questioned almost solely about his actions at Collapsibles C & A, mentioned nothing.
What guns were used?
Before departure, First Officer Lightoller was demoted to Second Officer and he forgot to hand over the key of the gun cabinet to Murdoch. That's why it was Lightoller who was called from the lifeboats to go and, against his will, hand out the guns. He later recalled that the guns were Webley revolvers, still packed in greaseproof paper. But if that's true, the revolvers could only be used after intensive cleaning and there was no time for that.
Fifth Officer Lowe, who got involved in another shooting affair on board that night, recalled he used a Browning gun instead of a Webley revolver. It has been suggested that the Browning was from himself.
Who fired the gunshots?
The survior's accounts match at certain points, but not the details. After all, the Boat Deck was poorly illuminated and it was hard to see everything.
Only the officers were given guns and one of them must have fired the shots. Captain Smith, Chief Officer Wilde and First Officer Murdoch were the three officers present at the loading of Collapsible C, and none of them survived the sinking.
The testimonies of Daly & Rheims strongly suggest that an officer committed suicide after shooting the passengers. The only three candidates for this suicide are Smith, Wilde & Murdoch.
There is little chance Captain Smith was the self-murderer. He was seen multiple times after the shooting by various survivors. Also, Smith would have been very recognizable among the officers, with four stripes and a white beard. Neither Daly nor Rheims speak about "the captain"; they're only referring to "an officer".
Also, regarding Smith's personality and reputation, he does not seem the type of man to first shoot at people then himself.
Wilde was also seen by quartermaster Rowe in Collapsible C after the launching. Wilde ordered him to send other lifeboats back to the ship to take more people. There is also evidence that Wilde had a lifebelt and was last seen smoking a cigar.