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“I got shot in the face": How I survived and healed

In Police1 “First Person” essays, Police1 Members candidly share their own unique personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line


Pictured above, from left to right: Investigator Steve Hough, Investigator Todd Watkins, Investigator. John Merchant, and Investigator Jeff McGill. (PoliceOne Image)

Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Steven Hough, whose partner Jeff McGill, shared his story of the same incident in last week’s featured First Person essay. In PoliceOne “First Person” essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.

By Steven Hough, Police1 Member

Sixty rounds fired in ten seconds — 60 rounds, 10 seconds. That sounds like something out of a movie, but it isn’t — it wasn’t. Tactical training and a proper mindset had prepared me for a day like this, but I quickly learned I hadn’t prepared enough.

It was interesting to read my partner’s story last week in this space — how he felt like he was collateral damage.

I don’t see it that way.

Everyone was shot that day, even though I was the only one to take a bullet.

The Incident
Friday, December 9th, 2011 started off with four of us planning to go out for dinner and ended with all four of us in a hospital. The house we had surrounded was quiet until just before 1400 hours. The suspect initially exited the residence and made a loop into the front yard — an obvious attempt to scope out perimeter units.

As quickly as he re-entered the residence, he exited again with a gun in each hand, and he was firing at me and a friend of mine. My friend yelled twice for me to move as the suspect advanced on our position.

It was the second time he yelled — when I started to move — that I took a round to the face. I’ve been punched in the face before and this is exactly what it felt like.

As I lay on the ground it took a second to figure out what had happened, but when the blood came I knew it wasn’t good.

I remember hearing in my head “get up” so I scrambled for cover. Soon thereafter, the shooting stopped and the suspect was down.

I lay against my buddy’s patrol vehicle — I realized I was combat breathing at this point. I was calm and focused. I could remember most everything.

They asked me if I was OK.

I replied, “yes.”

As others tried to remove my rifle from the single-point sling I quickly and easily hit the clasp and the rifle dropped. I was breathing, talking, and had fine motor skills — bottom line, I was alive.

I could hear a commotion. I heard one my guys giving directions: “He’s moving! We’ve got to go, Steve!”

I said OK, and we made the jog about 60 yards away to a staging area. My little “run” amidst chaos furthered my resolve: I would be fine.

My partner was steadily by my side, talking the entire time.

What Happened to You?
The decision to load-and-go was rapidly made, so into the back of a patrol car I went. After a quick but treacherous ride — transport took less than three minutes — I was at the hospital, where I was surrounded by cops checking me for other wounds.

I heard, “Got another one.”

Then another.

And another.

Four additional holes were found in my left leg.

The funny thing is, I didn’t feel a thing, but at that point I was really scared.

That’s when I told someone, “Tell my wife I love her.”

I could see everyone scrambling — doctors, nurses, and cops. They all had “the look.”

If you haven’t been close to meeting your maker, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it; It is the look of death. I can’t really describe it, but I will tell you that it still pisses me off to this day when I see someone with “the look” on their face, regardless of the situation. I get angry just writing about it.

That’s when the question came, asked three or four times.

“Steve, what happened to you?” the nurses asked.

I replied “I got shot in the face.”

I was asked again, and with rhetorical answer I grew angrier. The final straw was when the ER doctor came up, introduced himself, and asked what happened.

Although I don’t recall the exact answer, I do remember that it started with a biblical reference, and went downhill from there.

Everyone laughed at my response, and “the look” disappeared from their faces

Problem solved.

The last thing I remember in the hospital was telling them how much I weighed, after that it was lights out.

The Healing Process, Inside and Out
I awoke several days later in the ICU. The first thing I saw was a cross on the wall. The next was my brother. And finally, I saw my wife.

I made it — I knew I had survived. Five days later the suspect died from his wounds. I thought that was the hard part, and that it was over, but I was wrong.

Living afterwards still proves to have its challenges.

My partner and I had grown up together in the department. He started about five years after I did but we were partners for most of our careers.

We were no strangers to critical incidents — cleaning the blood from a fallen brothers’ gear will quickly get your mindset right.

Even as we knew what was coming there was very little we could do to stop it all. We understood it is part of the healing process but it is a whole different animal when you are going through it.

Flashbacks, anger, memory issues, you name it, we probably had it.

I would attribute our recovery to our ability to talk about our time in combat. My jaw was wired shut so I wrote, but nonetheless we talked about what each was going through.

I’ve come to accept what happened and I’ve come to understand things will never be the same again. I hold no ill will toward the suspect for what happened to me. Business is business.

But for my partner, my friends, and my family who have been greatly affected by my shooting, I say, “I’m glad he’s gone.”

We have tactics for everything; from eating out with your significant other to going to the bathroom when you are working. Tactics are an integral part of our jobs so take a little time and incorporate post-incident tactics in your arsenal.

Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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