“If I were to go into the fires of hell, I would follow him because I know he would bring me back.”
Sandy, Utah’s Police Chief William “Bill” O’Neal, 48-years-old, died last week after suffering what’s being called an “unfortunate medical event.” O’Neal “subsequently died of natural causes.”
A department spokesman said no further details would be released until the medical examiner’s report is received.
O’Neal had been with the Department since 1996 and served as Chief since July 2018.
You may remember him from his involvement in the 2003 rescuing of then-14-year-old Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City, who had been kidnapped from her bedroom while her sister pretended to sleep. As a reminder, Elizabeth was taken by Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell, who were said to be married. Apparently, the couple was polygamist because Mitchell “performed a ceremony” to marry Elizabeth as well, and raped her daily for the remainder of her capture.
Elizabeth was starved, tethered to a tree, force fed her drugs and alcohol, and pushed his “religion” on her, calling himself a prophet named Immanuel.
After the incident, O’Neal told reporters, “Being able to rescue her was a monumental thing in our careers. When she was talking, I could see her teeth and from the fliers and the smile, I recognized her teeth. I know that sounds strange and that’s when it hit me. Wow, this is Elizabeth Smart.”
Elizabeth is now a motivational speaker, among other things, and released the following statement upon notification of O’Neal’s death:
“I am profoundly grateful for the courage and bravery of the law enforcement officers, especially Chief Bill O’Neal, who responded to the call and helped rescue me almost 17 years ago. Chief O’Neal was a leader who provided tremendous service to our community for nearly 25 years. I express my deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”
Sandy Police Sergeant Jason Nielsen said of O’Neal, “The first moment I met him he was always just friendly, outgoing, very loud and vociferous. Just a great character. He was kind of larger-than-life, actually. An icon of the city, I would say. Especially with the police department.
“It’s crazy how much of an impact and an influence he had on each individual officer and citizen that he encountered.”
Nielsen continued, “When I first found out the news, I was in disbelief … he was young, it was completely unexpected and tragic. It’s a tremendous loss we’re going to feel for a long time. He was strong. He was a big guy.”
Even Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn shared kind recollections of the Chief. He said, “From working as a lifeguard at Alta Canyon Recreation Center in high school to serving and leading almost every department at Sandy Police, his impact on the community cannot be measured.
— West Jordan Police Dept. (@WJPD_PIO) January 13, 2020
“Bill O’Neal embodied what it means to protect and serve. Sandy residents have enjoyed a safe community over the years due in large part to his efforts and his influence.”
On O’Neal’s Facebook page, Mayor Bradburn wrote, “It was an absolute honor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with this man through many ups and downs the past few years. I will miss him greatly. Till we meet again Chief … rest easy and thank you.”
Among many other accolades and awards, Chief O’Neal received the Sandy Police Medal of Valor.
Flags flew at half-staff outside City Hall following O’Neal’s death, and American flags lined the police department parking lot.
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Sgt Nielsen said the officers of the Sandy Police Department were pressing on despite their sadness.
“We’ve got a job to do,” he said, “and we can’t just quit, we can’t just take the day off. We have to keep doing our jobs. And that’s exactly what we’re doing today and we’re pushing forward and doing exactly what he’d want us to do.”
Nielsen added, “If I were to go into the fires of hell, I would follow him because I know he would bring me back. You don’t see cops cry a lot, but there were a lot of tears today.”
Also this week, we learned of a K-9 who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
An amazing K-9 named Gabo, who served the Jonesboro Police Department for seven years, died on Thursday after battling to recover from an undisclosed ailment.
While his passing comes with great sadness, this was no ordinary K-9 by any means – as his legacy and story of triumph will remain a pivotal moment within the department’s history.
The 8-year-old German shepherd had made his way into the department after being brought to the United States from Hungary. He was approximately a year old when he was enlisted in the ranks of the JPD, and found himself partnered up with Jonesboro Police Investigator Erik Johnson during his entire career, according to a press release.
The partnership led to Investigator Johnson and Gabo specializing in areas like patrol, narcotics detection, building search, tracking, suspect apprehension, and handler protection.
One of the most remarkable stories about K-9 Gabo was that he was shot five times at point-blank range on a SWAT callout on December 11th, 2018 – he survived and returned to duty within months.
Gabo and Investigator Johnson had reportedly responded to an area where police had reports coming in that a 56-year-old woman had shot a maintenance worker at an apartment complex. The story, which was featured on Inside Edition, stated that after five hours of negotiation attempts proved to be unsuccessful, they made the hard decision to send in Gabo to retrieve the suspect.
While the decision didn’t come easy, Gabo was wearing equipment unlike any other K-9 in the department at the time. Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliot stated during the interview:
“Gabo was the only dog at the time that had a vest.”
Investigator Johnson, while knowing that Gabo was wearing a bullet and stab-proof vest, was still worried that the worst was going to happen to his partner. Yet, he was also aware it was the only means to ensure the other officers would make it home safely to their families.
K9 Team of the Day – #K9TeamOfTheDay
Officer Erik Johnson and Medal of Valor K9 Gabo, Jonesboro PD, AR.https://t.co/6QRYYiGaSI#K9 #dog #WarOnDrugs #LivePD @LivePDNation @OfficialLivePD pic.twitter.com/Y8o6LH2Zmf
— Tactical Dog (@TacticalDogLive) February 13, 2019
During the course of the interview on Inside Edition, Investigator Johnson began to well up in tears when remembering that emotional confrontation.
“I told him I was sorry for what was going to happen. Told him I loved him. I had one of the other handlers call the vet, because I knew in my heart what was going to happen.”
When K-9 Gabo was released to get the suspect, the woman opened fire on police, hitting the K-9 five times during the hail of bullets. Police responded with fire, killing the suspect.
Gabo was rushed into surgery after being struck. Investigator Johnson told interviewers that he remained by K-9 Gabo’s side all night after his surgery was completed.
“I wasn’t leaving my partner,” he said.
The vest that K-9 Gabo was wearing during the time of the shooting saved his life. If it weren’t for the amazing work and donation by Vested Interest in K9s, Gabo would have realistically succumbed to his injuries that night.
Merely two months after being shot, K-9 Gabo was back on the beat with his partner. After the amazing heroism and recovery, K-9 Gabo found himself the recipient of Medal of Valor. The duo was also named as the Crimestoppers Persons of the Year in 2019, as well as attaining the Officer of the Year award in 2019.
The passing of K-9 Gabo was summarized with the following sentiment by the JPD on their press release on Facebook:
“JPD’s K9 Unit is dear to all of our hearts. When they hurt, we hurt. We will never be able to express how appreciative we are for Gabo, Erik, and the entire K9 Unit. Their work does not go unnoticed and we grieve with Erik at the loss of his irreplaceable partner. Rest easy, Gabo. We’ll take it from here.”
According to the JPD, there will be a memorial service being held on Monday, January 20th, to commemorate the life and awesome work of K-9 Gabo. We want to extend our condolences to Investigator Johnson, as losing a partner is never easy.
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