I was in a gunfight last night.
I survived. The other person that I don’t know did not. It was strange. Heck, everything about the event and the gunfight was strange.
Gunfight Last Night
First, I have no idea who this person was, or why he wanted to shoot me. I’ve never interacted with him and I don’t know his name. Moreover, I couldn’t even tell you how old he was. He was a complete stranger.
Like many of the prior gun battles I had been in, this one came out of nowhere. You could say that I was relaxed and not anticipating violence. Yet, even compared to others this one was very strange.
Before going into the events of the gunfight last night, I should tell you that I am a retired Baltimore police sergeant. During my career with the Baltimore Police Department I was involved in four different gunfights. In two of those I returned fire, the other two I did not. I was retired after a little more than 11 years on the job due to line of duty injuries from a gunfight. Consequently, I suffered permanent injuries, but it is important to clarify that I wasn’t shot.
There were also two very close calls, where the suspect was reaching for a firearm but was physically subdued before he could fire the weapon. Those were fights, but gunfire was not involved.
“Seven have tried and I’m still alive,” is something I jokingly tell people.
Even compared to the past gun battles, last night’s was very odd. I was dressed in civilian clothing while walking in a crowded shopping mall to pick up a gift for a relative.
As previously mentioned, I am a retired sergeant, so I haven’t worn a uniform in more than two decades. I’m told that I still look like a cop and somehow people can tell when they look at me, even though I retired more than 25 years ago.
As I was weaving through the crowd at the mall, a young man walked towards me. His gait was at a normal pace and he didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
Suddenly, when the young man—sorry, I don’t know his age—looked at me, his expression and demeanor changed. Abruptly, and without warning, he reached under his shirt to the waistband of his pants. In doing so, he retrieved a semi-automatic pistol. He then took aim and began firing at me.
As has occurred in past gunfights, time seemed to slow down and I lost all focus on everything other than the young man and his firearm. It was a two-tone, semi-automatic handgun, with a black or dark base and a silver light colored slide. It produced a sound like a cannon and what seemed like a huge fireball every time it was fired.
Almost by instinct, even after years of retirement, all that training kicked in. I immediately pulled my pistol from my cargo shorts pocket and began putting distance between the shooter and me as I squeezed off my first round.
I continued to return fire as I sought safety, yet the rounds did not stop. So I moved away and also laterally, to minimize the amount of target I presented to the shooter. Meanwhile, I was looked for cover with no luck.
Quick Mental Flashes
As we continued to fire rounds at each other, two thoughts came to mind. When I say thoughts, they were more like quick mental flashes. First, why in the hell does this guy, whom I don’t know want to kill me? Second, I didn’t seem to be hitting him, or he wasn’t being effected by the shots I was firing.
Training Kicked in
At that point, I didn’t know how many rounds were exchanged, but it was a lot. I also knew that I was getting low on ammo and had no position of cover. So, I made a decision—maybe it was all those years of training that kicked in—to slow down and focus on the basics of shooting. As a result, I took a combat shooting posture in the middle of the mall walkway, about 15 feet from the shooter. He was still trying to turn in my direction with the weapon raised. … Remember, I had been moving laterally away from him towards my left side, while the firearm was in his right hand.
I then slowed down, did my best to get a good sight picture, and fired my final three rounds. Those apparently hit the mark, center mass on the shooter, since he went down as I began to reload.
I didn’t approach him as I was in the process of reloading. However, before I could get to him, a young, male bystander approached the downed-shooter, grabbed the handgun and ran out of the building.
What the …
It’s a Blur
What happened next is a blur. The crowd at the mall was in a panicked, very loud state. Shoppers were yelling, screaming and I could hear people say they were calling 911.
After a brief time, I too called the police to report the shooting. I told them that I was a retired sergeant, that the suspect appeared to be dead, and that someone had stolen the shooter’s pistol.
Finally, after I aimlessly wandered in the area for few moments, responding officers and EMS arrived. The next thing I knew I was being separated from the crowd by the homicide detectives on scene.
Engulfed in Fear
Then came a moment that engulfed me in fear and despair. The investigators began reading me the Miranda rights as I wondered what and why this happened. Worse yet, I quickly filled with fear that I would spend the rest of my life in prison, all because some stranger tried to kill me for reasons I will never understand.
Then I awoke!
I was in bed with my wife as our cats and dogs were peacefully sleeping on the floor of our room—completely unaware that I had just been in another one of the countless life and death gun battles that have plagued my sleep for the past 30 years. Although they occur much less frequently, they still happen on occasion.
Today, besides being tired, I have what can best be described as an emotional hangover after the vivid nightmare. However, I am extremely grateful that I am here and am able to live the rest of my life as I please. So many of our brothers and sisters in this Blue Family are not as fortunate. Over the years countless law enforcement officers were murdered by people they didn’t know, simply because they were cops.
I try to be there for the families of fallen officers and do my best to help the injured too. Everyday seems to bring more stories of peace officers who were killed or severely injured in the line of duty.
Debt to Pay
Like thousands of peers, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a debt to these officers that I can never repay. The best way I can do this is to live and enjoy my life as much as possible and loudly proclaim that I’m proud to be a retired cop.
– John “Jay” Wiley, radio host, Law Enforcement Today