Massachusetts Cop Forum banner
1 - 3 of 3 Posts

· MassCops Angel
121,617 Posts
Wounded Texas officers' long road to recovery

By Lomi Kriel
San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - On a chain around his neck, one San Antonio cop wears a bullet, one that pierced him on a January day more than five years ago.
David Evans' driver's license and insurance card, which on that morning were inside the shirt pocket of his uniform, are laminated, the bullet holes in them a stark reminder of how close he once came to death.
To this day, a bullet remains lodged in his pelvis.
Evans, 57, tells the story often, and at length, even to strangers, of how a burly parolee shot him and three other San Antonio police officers at a Northeast Side Denny's. The Glock that the parolee, Jamie Lichtenwalter, wrestled from Evans and used to shoot him in the arm, chest and stomach was later purchased by Evans and framed. It is displayed prominently in his dining room.
Even the last four digits of his new phone number spell SHOT.
Often, Evans returns to the restaurant, where, until it recently closed, he called many of the waitresses by name.
Those five minutes on that day in 2003 - which mark the most violent assault on police in the city's recent history - have stretched into a lifetime of remembering, reliving and retelling for Evans, who has since been divorced twice and who retired in November from the department.
As three police officers continue to recover from two harrowing shootings two weeks ago, Evans' story, and those of other officers injured in the line of duty, illustrate the aftermath of a police shooting and the arduous physical and mental journey to recovery.
They also spotlight what some have deemed archaic policies that don't require injured police officers to seek psychological help before returning to work. And they emphasize how, long after the media coverage fades, officers can struggle to reclaim their lives.
All who have been shot are irreparably changed; some in positive ways, as they cite a deeper faith, stronger commitments to their family and a renewed gratitude to be alive. They have said the shootings made them better cops.
But other changes, such as lasting physical disabilities and failed relationships, can be impossible to undo.
The four officers injured in the Denny's shooting offer the most extreme example of how lives can be unraveled - or rebuilt - after such trauma.
Besides Evans, one of those officers, John Bocko, was killed last year in a motorcycle accident. Another, Nathan Murray, was forced to retire after injuries from the shooting led to a debilitating stroke that left him with partial brain damage. Soon after, his wife left him.
The final officer, a rookie who fatally wounded Lichtenwalter, eventually returned to the streets, and last week, scored well on a promotional exam to become a detective, considered a wondrous feat because doctors initially told Michael Muniz that he might never work again.

Having to 'relearn'
Muniz was the last of the four to return to work - 20 months after Lichtenwalter drove his stripper girlfriend to the eatery to confront a man with whom she'd gone out earlier. There, Lichtenwalter erupted into a violent rage.
Nearly six years later, Muniz is the only one still on the force.
Later recognized as a hero by President Bush, Muniz was hospitalized for six months, and then he recovered at his parents' home in Schertz. When he returned to the department, he worked a series of light-duty office jobs for a year before he resumed his role as a patrol officer.
Because of injuries from four gunshot wounds, Muniz initially struggled with small tasks. Putting on socks required intense focus. His parents installed rails in the bathroom and on staircases, and for a while, he was in a wheelchair.
The first time Muniz moved his arm - in a pool - he celebrated.
"I had to relearn everything," he said. "It was like, 'this is how you're going to brush your teeth.'"
The physical recovery is wearying, frustrating. It's a solitary process, he said, filled with empty time where "it's easy to go to the dark side." Muniz tried to draw strength from dire medical predictions, vowing: "What I was before, I want it back."
Muniz overcame many roadblocks. But even today, he limps, and notes wryly, "I'm in my 20s and I already hurt when the weather's changing."
Still, he knows he's fared better than others.
Twenty months after the shooting, after Murray had returned to work, the young patrol officer awoke unable to move the right side of his body. He had suffered a stroke.
Murray was the first to arrive at the scene at Denny's.
Lichtenwalter had punched Evans and Bocko, before wrestling away their guns and shooting at them. As Murray knelt to tend to a bloody Evans, who had crawled outside for help, he was struck in the cheek by one of Lichtenwalter's bullets, shattering his jaw. For months, he could consume only liquids.
But the bullet had also damaged an artery, which over time restricted blood flow to the left side of his brain, eventually causing the stroke.
Four years later, Murray has regained some use of the right side of his body. He can walk and drive. But the brain damage impaired his speech. The part of the brain that allows an individual to keep a schedule and prioritize tasks also was affected, and so in 2006, Murray was forced to retire.
Once muscular, the 38-year-old now is pale and slender. After his wife left, he moved to Spring Branch, where he lives alone. He's active with his church. Often, he hangs around the police gym, or at cop events, still wanting to be part of it all.
For his mother, Joann Murray, even now, talking about the injuries that permanently affected her only son makes her cry, though she catches herself quickly.
"You have to accept it because that's just the way it is," she said. "Nathan's done very well with it. He likes to say, 'You work with the cards the way they've been dealt.'"
Nathan Murray hopes to attend community college next semester. But he said his ultimate goal is to return to work, though he knows that's a "long, long shot." He misses the camaraderie of the department, he said. But most of all, he said, referring to the suspect, "I don't want Jamie to win."

'Very traumatic'
Raul Alonzo has a 5-inch-long scar on his left arm, a remnant of the bullets a man fired into him after Alonzo, an undercover officer, pulled the suspected robber over for a traffic violation in 1990.
But the physical reminders of the shooting pale when compared to some of his nightmares.
"Sometimes, it seems like it happened yesterday," said Alonzo, now a 45-year-old community relations officer at the Police Department's Prue Substation. "I wake up expecting to be in the ambulance or the emergency room."
His trauma, perhaps, was enhanced by events afterward. As he awaited surgery in the emergency room at University Hospital, paramedics wheeled in his assailant, parking the gunman next to the officer. Later, the shooter posted bail and was on the lam for two years.
"I actually thought there might be some danger there, for a while," Alonzo said.
Dr. John Price, who oversees the Police Department's psychological services division, said shootings are very traumatic to police officers because, though they know their jobs are dangerous, they're "just like the rest of us. They think they're invincible, until they're shown that they're not."
Last year was one of the deadliest for police officers in the country. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Concerns of Police Survivors, 186 officers died, up from 145 in 2006. Texas led the nation, with 22 officers killed in the line of duty.
After Alonzo was shot, he considered changing professions. But with six kids and no college degree, it wasn't viable. So, after months of physical therapy, Alonzo returned to work, even making it to the department's SWAT unit - a physical achievement he was especially proud of, given the injuries he had suffered to his arm and leg.
But mentally, Alonzo suffered.

Post-traumatic stress
Psychologists say officers injured in the line of duty can experience post-traumatic stress akin to that felt by soldiers wounded in combat. Nightmares are common, as is obsessive Monday morning quarterbacking.
Alonzo worried whether he could have done something differently or whether he did something wrong, even whether the shooting was his fault. Though he briefly saw a psychologist, he now wishes he had received more counseling.
"I regret not keeping up with it," he said. "I think it could have helped me deal with it better."
Officers say it's common to shirk therapy. Muniz, for example, saw a psychologist just once. And though myriad policies exist for officers who have shot a suspect - a police psychologist must debrief them that night - no rules dictate that officers must receive psychological services after being injured in a shooting.
"There's no policy that says (officers) have to see us," Price said. "There's policies for everything but there's no policy for this."
Price said he or a colleague typically speak to most of the injured officers at least once. But officers could decline and return to the streets without ever seeking counseling.
He said that is something he would like to see change.
"Officers by their nature are people who have a good locus of control," Price said. "Though that makes them good police officers, it also makes it harder for them to say, 'I need help.'"
Richard Ruiz, a West Side patrol officer whom a mentally ill gunman shot in an apartment complex in July 2007, said he still thinks about it "almost every day." He returned to the department in January - five months after the shooting - and now teaches cadets at the training academy. He credits his faith for "helping me to control the feelings so I can at least continue my life."
But, he added, "I know there's probably going to be a day when I'm going to sit here and it will just hit me like a ton of bricks."

Resuming life
For Roy Aguilar, it's been 33 years since the mentally unstable brother of former U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzales shot him as he arrived to help return the man to the state hospital from which he'd escaped.
The bullet's trajectory narrowly missed Aguilar's brain but exploded in his jaw, permanently damaging sight in one eye. Aguilar returned to work, learning how to estimate distances because his depth perception was ruined. He adjusted to driving and how to shoot a gun, becoming a homicide detective who later investigated cold cases. He got married, had children and generally resumed a normal life.
But even today, talk about the shooting brings sudden tears that make him duck in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry," said Aguilar, now a deputy chief at the Shavano Park Police Department. "But I'll never forget it."
Psychologists say each officer reacts differently to the trauma. How the incident unfolded, and the severity of their injuries, can affect their recovery. Cases in which several officers are injured can be more traumatic because officers can perceive that their safety system has failed.
Price said it's too soon to predict how the officers wounded in the Sept. 8 shootings will fare.
While trying to arrest a domestic violence suspect at his South Side home, Officer Lawrence Robarts, an eight-year member of the department, was shot in his right arm, a knee and a lower leg. His partner, Officer Brandy Roell, a rookie with less than a month on the force, was seriously wounded in her back and remains heavily sedated at University Hospital.
Hours earlier, Officer Jeremy Swindells, a seven-year member of the department, was shot in a leg as he arrested a burglary suspect.
For the officers in the Denny's shootings, the violence of Jan. 3, 2003, drew them close for a time. They talked on the phone. They visited.
But then, Murray had his stroke. Bocko was promoted to sergeant, got divorced and withdrew from the group, Evans said. He never liked to talk about it. Neither does Muniz.
"It's not that I avoid it," Muniz said. "But I don't want this to be the defining moment of my life. Probably, of everything, that's what I try my hardest not to do."
Evans, on the other hand, embraced the shooting. Recently, upon hearing that the Denny's had closed, he rushed to the restaurant and convinced its new owner to leave the bullet-riddled furniture intact.
"It's a part of history," he told the owner.
He also sought solace in an unlikely place: the stripper girlfriend at the center of Lichtenwalter's rampage, who since has quit her dancing job and married. She and Evans were reunited when she reached out to him, calling him at his substation.
Now, the 26-year-old is "like my own daughter," Evans said. They chat at least once a week. She even has a key to his house.
"We have the common bond of the shooting," he said. "She understands. ... She was a victim too."

Wire Service

· MassCops Angel
121,617 Posts
Wounded San Antonio Officer Thanks City

An officer with the San Antonio Police Department who was shot in the line of duty has issued a statement thanking the community for their support during her recovery.
"I am forever thankful to the people of San Antonio for their thoughts, prayers and goodwill. To my brothers and sisters in blue, South B, and my graduating class, '08 Alpha, I am honored to be part of the family," Officer Brandy Roell said in a statement.
Roell was critically wounded Sept. 8 while trying to serve an arrest warrant on 43-year-old Andres Vargas, who police said shot at Roell and Officer Lawrence Robarts with a high-powered assault rifle before taking his own life.
Vargas' family said the suspect was distraught over an ongoing divorce.
Roell also thanked Chief William McManus, Assistant Chief Geraldine Garcia, Mayor Phil Hardberger, City Manager Sheryl Scully and members of the City Council.
"I am overwhelmed and comforted by your support," she said.
"To the doctors, nurses and staff of University Hospital, Surgical ICU and Hartman Pavilion, I appreciate your miraculous care and hard work.
"Finally, to the fantastic four, I owe you my life. May God bless San Antonio and bring us peace."

Story From:

· MassCops Angel
121,617 Posts
Wounded San Antonio Officer Recalls Shooting

San Antonio Police Officer Lawrence Robarts still can't believe what happened Sept. 8.
Robarts and Officer Brandy Roell were serving an arrest warrant on Andres Vargas, who police said was distraught over a pending divorce and who days earlier had threatened to kill his wife.
Little did the officers know that they were sitting ducks for Vargas, who police said was waiting for them with a high-powered assault rifle inside the home.
In a matter of seconds, Vargas opened fire, police said. Robarts was shot four times.
"Like many other officers, this is the kind of thing you hear about, but do not think is going to happen to you," Robarts said in a prepared statement released by the department Tuesday.
"I have never been prouder to be a San Antonio police officer. As I laid there in the yard, under heavy fire, shot four times, and requesting EMS, six officers risked their own lives and carried Officer Roell and myself to safety. For that I will always be indebted, and I'm positive that we would have never survived without them."
Robarts said that he has thanked the six officers individually and extended thanks for the citizens of San Antonio for their thoughts and prayers.
Robarts added that he has one more major surgery to go, but that doctors told him he is expected to make recovery, as is Roell.
Vargas turned the rifle on himself and died at the scene.

Story From:
1 - 3 of 3 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.