How Ranger Brody Young survived a ‘blindside ambush’
Shot nine times while patrolling alone in a remote location, Young shares the survival lessons of his brutal attack
Just after sunset on November 19, 2010, Brody Young, a ranger with the Utah Parks and Recreation Department and his lieutenant, left Moab, Utah. On this night, they chose to split up, planning to look for any large parties and identify trouble spots in the high desert area outside Moab they patrolled, then regroup and investigate together.
One of the first canyon-lined areas Ranger Young wheeled into was Poison Spider Mesa Trailhead where he spotted a lone car in the back of the parking area. Young parked his truck defensibly with his driver’s door wide open, as he always did on contacts in these remote areas.
As Young approached the vehicle he saw a lone man sleeping in the back seat. Brody knocked on the back window several times before the man finally stirred and sat up. The man opened the back driver’s side door and calmly conversed with Ranger Young, who explained to him he could not sleep at that location. Brody directed him to other places where he could sleep.
The man identified himself as “Michael Oher.” The alias he chose proved to be ironic since it was the name of the pro football player whose story was told in the movie “The Blind Side.” Ranger Young would later say, “Little did I know I was about to get blindsided.”
As Young walked toward his squad, he looked back over his shoulder and saw the man was out of his car advancing with a .40 caliber semi-automatic in his hand. Suddenly, “Ba-oom!” The first round slammed into Brody, shattering the humerus of his left arm. The impact spun him, causing the next three shots to strike him in the back.
All three shots struck Brody’s vest, with one round penetrating the vest, hitting his vertebrae. Brody dropped and the suspect now stood over him firing repeatedly. Brody was struck nine times in total by the shooter and then the shooter paused to assess the damage he had done.
This fusillade caused a lot of damage, but the indomitable Brody was not about to surrender to death.
The fight of Ranger Brody Young’s life
As Brody lay on the dusty ground, he asked himself, “Do I die, or get up and fight?”
The answer was, “Fight!”
It must have truly shocked the shooter when in a moment Brody was up and moving to the cover of his vehicle. The ranger tried to draw and return fire but could not make his badly wounded left arm work. Since he was left-handed, he cross drew his weapon with his right hand as he had pre-trained for this possible eventuality.
Brody returned fire with his right hand causing his attacker to duck behind Brody’s truck for cover. Brody later said the renewed gunfight turned into a “cat and mouse game” as both combatants positioned themselves on opposite sides of the ranger truck for cover.
During the fight, Brody said that he consciously thought of a conversation he had during the previous summer with his chief about what the rounds they carried could penetrate on a vehicle and what would stop the round. This conversation reinforced that his rounds would penetrate all parts of the vehicle except the engine block.
With this conversation in mind, Brody returned fire shooting at his assailant through sections of the ranger’s truck that the wanna-be-cop-killer was hiding behind. Unknown to Brody at the time, some of his rounds were striking home.
Young was counting his rounds and realized he needed to reload. He practically applied one more drill he had done often in training. In spite of his severe wounds, he secured his weapon between his legs, stripped the magazine from his duty weapon with his one good hand, dropped the magazine to the ground and acquired another. He dropped that full magazine also, but was able to get yet another and inserted it into the magazine port of his weapon. Without a pause he hooked the rear sights of his weapon on the bumper of his truck and with one hand racked and charged his weapon, slamming a fresh round home. In an instant, he was back in the fight.
After the reload, Brody continued firing, now advancing on the suspect, causing the suspect to retreat to the opposite side of his own vehicle. Brody continued his advance until suddenly he sensed he was losing consciousness. He held tenuously onto consciousness as he retreated back around to the rear of his vehicle. He continued firing during the move, but fell backward onto the ground, still firing.
The suspect, who unbeknownst to Brody was badly wounded, fled.
Visions of his family
As Brody lay on the gravel-covered ground, he tried to get back up, but he couldn’t. Later he said, “It felt like someone poured concrete over me.”
He lay motionless until some very specific thoughts of his wife and three children came to him. Each of their faces appeared. He realized he wanted to see them grow old, and knew that if he did not conjure the strength to get to his radio he would die because he had not yet even radioed in the contact. No one knew where he was, or what had happened to him.
Ranger Young managed to drag himself across the rugged ground to his truck door. Because he had left his driver’s door open, he found just enough strength to pull himself up into the truck far enough to reach the radio. As he did, he understood he would have to be controlled in the use of his voice for his transmission to be understood. As he calmed himself, he thought about what to say in his message to make it short, but urgent. He keyed his mic and in a normal tone reported, “Price to Alpha 6-9, I’m at Poison Mesa Trailhead. I’ve been shot. Please hurry.”
The message was sent and received. With that done the wounded lawman set down the mic and his weapon and laid down on his back.
As he lay there, he consciously slowed his breathing and took each breath very deliberately. Each breath then led to the next breath. He felt confident that as long as he connected one breath to another, he would remain alive. He listened as hope sprung from his radio. He heard the voice of his supervisor urgently reporting, “I’m en route!” Gradually the soothing voices of EMTs he had worked with also responded saying they were en route as well. Help was on the way.
Within 10 minutes Brody was surrounded by professionals. Remarkably he was still conscious and as they worked on him, he told the story of the “blindside” and described his assailant, as well as his possible direction of travel.
Brody’s wife Wendy was at home when she received the call no law enforcement officer’s spouse ever wants to receive.
Wendy immediately headed to the hospital, initially thinking the worst. However, there was a moment when that changed. Brody described that moment in this way, “A really remarkable thing took place. During her drive, or route to the hospital, she was told specifically in her heart and in her mind that, ‘Brody’s going to be OK. He’s going to live.’” Dread was replaced by the certainty that everything was indeed going to be alright.
In the chaos at the hospital, Wendy remained remarkably calm and composed. As the helicopter was landing to medivac her husband out for advanced treatment elsewhere, Wendy, who knew Brody always wanted to ride in a helicopter over his beautiful Mesas, said lovingly to her husband, “You are finally going to get the helicopter ride you always wanted.” He could not respond, but would always remember how her words soothed him, beyond explanation.
The damage done by the nine “.40 caliber bullets” was extensive. Damaged were his heart, lungs and kidney, and we shall stop there since to list them all would read like an anatomy lesson. Brody was placed into a medically induced coma and did not wake up for a month.
Amazingly, however, Brody was home by Christmas.
The investigation revealed that just days earlier, Lance Leeroy Arellano, a 40-year-old man living with his mother, had argued with his mom who had then thrown him out of her home. As fate would have it, the angry man decided to take his fury out on Ranger Brody Young.
After the wild shootout, Arellano fled the scene. Over 100 searchers set up a perimeter and followed his trail. It was clear that Lance Leeroy Arellano was badly wounded by the ranger since he left a blood trail until searchers found bloody ripped clothing, indicating he had fashioned bandages and a tourniquet for his wounds. Then nothing.
Arellano had fled down the Colorado River into the rugged semi-arid Canyonlands National Park. This beautifully unforgiving environment is the perfect place where someone can disappear forever. Arellano almost accomplished this.
Five years after the gunfight, 23-year-old college student Caleb Shumway was home on break. Interested in the $30,000 reward for finding Arellano, he decided to search an area he believed would reveal the last place of slumber for the missing criminal. During his search, Caleb spotted a bright green bag sitting out of place on top of a red rock. He checked it out and inside the green bag was Arellano’s handgun. A short distance away from the bag Shumway found one lone sun-bleached human rib. It was later confirmed to be the remains of Arellano.
As it turned out Lance Leeroy Arellano surrendered to the scavengers and mountain lions for adjudication for his crimes by a higher power than any court on Earth.
The ending was happier for the college student, Caleb Shumway, however. He was given the $30,000 reward for bringing closure to this open case. He shared a portion of his reward with his little brother.
After a long recovery and rehabilitation, Brody Young was able to return to full duty as a ranger. He was promoted to lieutenant and became an inspiration to many others for his courage and indomitability. Brody has to exercise for the rest of his life to maintain his flexibility, but he says that a lot of positives came out of this terrible situation. He now speaks to law enforcement across the country about not just surviving your career, but enjoying it as well.
Ranger Brody Young shared some insights he has received from his experience:
1. “Pay attention to premonitions.” A little voice in his head convinced him nine months prior to the incident to get back into shape. He began to work out hard, especially at cardio. After he was shot, his heart pounded at 180 beats per minute for three straight days. He explained that it was like running a marathon at a sprint for three days straight. If he had not been in top condition at the time he was shot, doctors said he would not have survived.
2. “Establish survival habits.” The simple habit of keeping his door open during parking-area contacts saved his life, otherwise, he would not have been able to reach his radio.
3. “Wear your vest!”
4. “Eat healthily. Get fit and stay fit!”
5. “Live to train and train to live!”
Lt. Brody Young shares a quote he attributes to a good friend’s father, George Newell Lewis, which he believes epitomizes the “never give up!” attitude. Mr. Lewis once said, “If people don’t like you, that’s OK, they can’t whip you. But if they whip you, they can’t kill you. But if they do kill you, they can’t eat you. But if they eat you, you don’t have to taste good.”
With that said, we shall end this story with lesson number six from Ranger Brody Young:
6. “For me death was not an option. No matter how bad it gets, never give up!”
Speaking engagements can be arranged by contacting Rangerbrodyyoung.com.