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LEO Near Miss: Not a real search and rescue

‘From the sound of the bullets passing by my head, I would say I was inches from injury or death that evening.’

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Believing this was a medical/search and rescue call, I activated my emergency lights to be more visible.


Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows law enforcement personnel to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.

Event Summary

I was working countywide the night of the incident, meaning I was working alone and covering the entire county. I received a call for service for a subject lost in the woods who was unable to move due to being too weak. The male subject had called using his cell phone and gave a general location.

It was beginning to get dark as I arrived on scene. I located the subject’s vehicle and knew I was close. Believing this was a medical/search and rescue call, I activated my emergency lights to be more visible and began yelling out the subject’s name. I was on foot when I heard what I believed was someone hitting a tree with a stick or rock. I put out the info on my vehicle radio. Our portable radios are hit or miss in our county.

I began walking into the forest in the direction of the sound, using my flashlight to be more visible. Every time the sound stopped, I stopped moving to regain my bearings. I would yell out and would hear the sound repeat. Every time, there were 3 to 5 bangs, which sounded like something hitting a tree. My thought was the male subject was signaling for help and couldn’t talk.

I was approximately 75 yards away from my vehicle in the woods when I yelled out again. This time, I heard the banging sounds followed by the zip of a bullet passing by my head. And then I heard two more. I turned off my flashlight and took cover behind the nearest tree. The sound I had been hearing was the male subject shooting a .22 rifle in my direction. He could see my lights but just couldn’t see me. Later, I was able to confirm that I was probably within 25 yards of his location. I did not return fire because this area is known for campers and I couldn’t see the individual or what direction he was firing from.

I attempted to put out a shots-fired call on my radio approximately three times before finally being heard by dispatch. I used the trees to retreat back toward my vehicle. I could still hear the .22 being fired.

Once I got to my vehicle, I grabbed my shotgun and was met by a federal LEO. He had driven up with his lights on as well, trying to be visible. I advised him of the situation, believing this was an ambush and not knowing the whereabouts of the suspect. We were very visible due to our vehicle lights, and the suspect was not. The other office grabbed his rifle, and we both retreated further down the road after locking up the patrol cars. I decided to leave my lights activated on the patrol car as we took cover in the dark woods. I was hoping this would draw the shooter out into the lights and toward our vehicles. The cars were locked.

We stayed in our positions until the cavalry arrived. A neighboring agency’s SWAT team arrived on scene and located the subject inside his tent. The subject had fired approximately 30 times. The subject claimed he was in the woods to commit suicide with his rifle but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He then decided to stay out there until he starved to death. He claimed he got too weak to move, and that’s when he called for help. He claimed he was shooting in the air so we would find his location. However, that story was inconsistent.

He claimed after an hour he figured we weren’t coming, so he put the rifle away and went to bed in his tent. Evidence and his statements show he could see the lights from my patrol vehicle and he was actively moving from tree to tree within his camp spot shooting. I believe he was moving from spot to spot to get a better line of fire on me as I was moving toward him. I believe he wanted suicide by cop and he gave up on that when he realized I wasn’t going to run into his location, guns blazing. From the sound of the bullets passing by my head, I would say I was inches from injury or death that evening.

Lessons learned

  • If in a similar situation, I may use my vehicle lights to stay visible, but I will maintain light discipline with my flashlight to not give away my exact location. It is hard to deviate from the normal response when you believe it is a search and rescue, but this is a good example of how calls are not always as they seem. Keep officer safety in mind on every call, even if the initial call isn’t for a criminal matter.
  • Always remember you have backup available, whether from your agency or another law enforcement agency. It may not arrive quickly, but it is available. Time is often on your side, so wait for additional help to arrive to improve the likelihood of a safe outcome.
  • This is a good example of how to use cover and distance to mitigate a threat.
  • If it hasn’t already been done, have communications attempt to ping the caller’s phone to see if an exact location for the caller can be determined. In this particular case, a ping may not have been accurate enough to locate the caller in the woods, but it is a tool that can help.
  • Especially in rural areas, keep your cell phone with you to call communications if your radio transmissions can’t get out.


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