What is the clearest memory, or thought you had, during the shooting?
My clearest thought was of my family. I was under the car, after getting the first volley of shots. It stopped for a moment. I can still clearly see the moment. I saw my family in my head; I knew I was not going to go out in that parking lot. I knew I was going to fight and find a way to not leave my family alone.
How important was listening to your instincts when you came upon the situation at Oak Creek?
Instincts and training are intertwined. When I arrived on the scene, there wasn’t anything visible or audible. From the calls that came in, I knew this was a highly volatile situation. I had been expecting something to happen. It did, very quickly. I instinctively knew the shooter was out of place. I just couldn’t get a good enough look to see the gun in his hand as he was fleeing to his truck. You should always trust your instincts and work hard on using your experiences on a daily basis to hone your skills.
How did your law enforcement background influence how you handled the situation?
I was very fortunate the both the United States Marine Corp and the Oak Creek Police Department placed training at the forefront. I learned to maintain my composure during any event understanding that the calmer I was, the better decisions I could make. This played a great part in my shooting. I was able to maintain myself enough that even though I had received 15 shots, 12 in my body. I helped regulate my breathing and when I arrived at the hospital, I was in relatively good shape. We trained and practiced and do so seriously. I knew my equipment, knew my capabilities and trusted my fellow officers. Having been through an active shooter incident prior to the Sikh Temple also helped me a great deal.
Do you think the situation would have been worse if you and other officers hadn’t responded as quickly as you were able to?
At the time of my arrival, there were 15 women and children in a pantry in the temple’s kitchen area. He had just fired approximately 6 shots at 3 women who had come out to shut off the stoves, fearing a fire. I have talked to several of the people who were in the pantry. If I had not arrived when I did, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would have shot them all. They were trapped with no way out. He saw my squad through the temple windows and came out immediately, leaving the people inside alone. Had the arriving squads not arrive when they did; it was only a matter of time before one of his rounds would have proved fatal for me.
What can law enforcement agents and, indeed, ordinary members of the community do to prevent situations like the Oak Creek shooting?
It is imperative to report behavior that is out of the norm to the authorities. I know page was visited days before the shooting. I know the person who talked to him knew his behavior was both erratic and wrong but they failed to notify the authorities.
It is incumbent upon both citizenry and law enforcement to have a good relationship. Law enforcement should have good ties with everyone in their community. There is a point to law enforcement, know the people in your community, the places they go and the times they do them. From a community standpoint, keep open the lines of communication. It is not us vs. them. We are all in this together.
How important was the knowledge that the rest of your team was close behind you? Did that change how you handled the situation (versus being entirely on your own)?
Once the shooting started and my gun was out of my hand, I knew I had to try to buy myself time. I knew the other squads were not far away. As it turned out, they were 1:51 minutes away. Knowing how quickly they would come changed my mindset. If I knew they were further away, I would not have attempted to buy time, but put myself further into the fray. In hindsight, if I knew they were not coming, I would have tried to attack page even while unarmed.
What lessons did you learn about yourself as you recovered from your own injuries?
I learned first and foremost, I am one lucky man. God allowed me to live. One large lesson for me was that I am better able to take things slower now. I realize more that it’s not worth sweating the small things that used to allow aggravate me. The recovery process has been long and at times, extremely painful. I learned that we are all much more capable than we think we are. I have found a deep well of pain tolerance having to go through many hours and days of rehab.
You’ve been resistant to people labeling you a hero, and yet to many people you are indeed a hero. Has this experience led your life in a new direction in terms of your career, or the involvement law enforcement has in communities around the United States?
I was forced from law enforcement due to the extent of the injuries I received. I am fortunate that doors have opened for me. I work for the BAM Training Group, speaking to officers around the country about my incident and the will to survive. We contract with Armor Express. I was wearing an Armor Express vest and was able to withstand 3 shots to my vest which saved my life. I also contract with the Bureau of Justice Assistance. I am part of a team that brings free training to law enforcement throughout the country. We teach officer survival and resiliency. I enjoy being able to speak with men and women who put their lives on the line every day.
Has this experience changed your goals for your future? In what ways?
My goals now are to work with others to bring the line of duty deaths down in the United Sates. It is important to get the word out about wearing your vest at all times. Teach officer’s to train as though your life depends on it, ultimately it does.
Do you have any words of advice you would share with members of the military and law enforcement based on your experiences, both in the Oak Creek shooting and from your life as a whole?
Every day you when you go to work you need to ask yourself, “Am I Ready?” You need to be not only for yourself but for your family, your colleagues and your community.
The last thing you should remind yourself of is simply this: “I WILL NEVER GIVE UP”!