Editor Note: This story is graphic and may be difficult for some people to read.
Drew Stokes was shot in the line of duty. He survived and joined us at our studios recently to tell his story on camera and join us on episodes of both Law Enforcement Today and Behind the Uniforms, which will soon be released here.
The entire reason we launched LET Unity was to give a voice to officers like Drew who have never been able to tell their stories. It’s a tragic story – but also one filled with hope. With lessons. And with a dose of reality that America needs. Proceeds from LET Unity memberships go directly back into telling the stories of warriors like Drew. We hope you’ll consider signing up. The mainstream media isn’t giving them a platform. Social media is censoring them. Help us to help them.
It was beautiful afternoon on Tuesday September 26, 2017. I was shopping at a Publix grocery store just outside of Jacksonville, FL preparing for a flight to Puerto Rico the next day.
Hurricane Maria had just devastated the island, I made one trip already a couple days before and we brought survivors back with us to Jacksonville so they could escape the mass destruction. On that flight I met a young girl, probably around six years old and her grandmother. They were scared and hungry.
The aircraft, a 1960’s era maritime patrol aircraft known as a P-3 Orion is loud, cold, and dark inside. It was obvious they were uncomfortable, we comforted them as best as possible with food and drink, then offered the beds in the back of the airplane for their comfort during four hour ride to Jacksonville.
I was scheduled to fly on September 27, 2019, my intentions were to have subsistence available to passengers that could be prepared with the equipment in the airplane. I never made it back to the office.
While walking to my truck I was near the first two handicapped spaces on the left side of the one-way isle, the only vehicle traffic should be approaching me, not from behind. I was about twenty five feet away from my truck when I hear the piercing scream of an insane 18-year-old kid behind me.
“I FU*#ING HATE COPS.”
I immediately drop my groceries and reach for my weapon, I work in aviation and we mostly wear shoulder a holster, this was a cross-draw and I immediately learned why this set-up is a terrible idea.
While reaching across my body bullet number one impacted my rib cage under my right armpit, the bullet broke two ribs traveled through my liver and stopped within two millimeter of my T-12 vertebrae.
I was turning my body towards the threat, as trained. While turning the second bullet impacted my right buttock, traveling through my colon internally and stopped in my left pelvis, next to my bladder.
Bullet number three went in the top of my right leg and stopped in my pelvis, bullet number four was in and out of my left leg, and bullet number five went in and out of my left arm. The gun was a stolen Glock 19 and all bullets were hollow points.
At that time I only knew I was shot, I had no idea of the extent of my injuries. I only knew the impact was burning hot, staggeringly powerful, and I was in significant of pain. I saw the last two or three muzzle blast, the shooter was a young white male and he sped off in a black BMW Z3.
I was on the ground and I was able to get my weapon pointed down range and start scanning for targets. The first wound I saw was the two holes in my left forearm, the meat was hanging out of both holes and there was a lot of blood.
As I’m scanning for a target I notice the blood running beside me like a river, I know I am in bad shape and I needed to start making some decisions in a hurry. Bystanders started flocking to me telling me the shooter had killed himself and started helping me.
For a brief moment I told myself that this could really be the end, but I got that thought out of my head and began a self-assessment. I knew I needed to start setting small goals and achieving those goals if I was going to have a chance.
I said out loud:
“Drew, wiggle those toes, wiggle the damn toes”.
When I felt my toes move in my boots it was a huge morale boost which I desperately needed. With all the chaos around me, my thinking was clear as a bell.
I directed someone to call 911 and ues the term officer down and gave them our location. I gave another man the number to my office and told him to contact the Command Duty Officer and relay the events that had just happened. I told the others:
“Keep the blood in the container, keep the blood in the container.”
It was a term I had learned in my agency’s survival school which I guest instruct and had just completed as a student about six weeks before. I needed them to keep in the blood inside of me.
While processing the information, I remembered the equation PMA+98.6=life.
Positive Mental Attitude plus normal body temperature equals life. I knew I had the body temperature because it was about ninety degrees ambient temperature and the asphalt temperature was boiling hot on my skin.
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I made the decision that I was not going to die I that parking lot, that day. I knew eventually it would be out of my hands, but I was going to fight as hard as I could until there was no blood left in my body.
The next goal was to hear sirens approaching, a few minutes later the blaring sirens of a 2017 Dodge Charger from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office closing on my position was music to my ears. The cavalry, my brothers and sister, were on the way, and they were going to save my life. I knew they would do everything they could to save me.
Two patrol cars arrive on-scene, I never get a visual on the deputy running towards me. I simply start screaming:
“I’M A COP, I’M A COP, I’M A COP”.
The reason is I work for a federal agency and our uniforms are brown, the local sheriffs wear green. I had a gun in my hand and did not want him to see the gun and shoot me. I felt his hand on my back and hear calm voice say:
“I’m Jacob Hawkins from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, you’re golden, and you’re going to be fine”.
Deputy Hawkins and others placed a tourniquet around my leg and my left arm. Between the gun shots and tourniquets, I have had enough pain at this point, but knew I needed to keep the will to live until the Fire Station 26 paramedics arrived.
When the paramedics arrived on-scene they rolled me over on my back and I saw the concern in their faces. Deputy Hawkins later told me I was completely grey, all the color had left my body. As I was loaded into the ambulance my will to live was still strong, but I knew my body was running out of blood, on the ride to Orange Park Medical Center (OPMC) I blacked out several times.
I remember arriving at the trauma center and seeing my supervisor and another co-worker, their encouragement and kind words boosted my will to live, I remember nothing after this short chat until I wake-up a couple weeks later. The will for to live was taken out of my hands and placed into the hands of the trauma staff at OPMC.
During the next several hours I wavered between life and death, I received nineteen trauma units of blood which was pour from my liver faster than in could be put into my body.
My wife, Amanda, was prepped by the lead trauma surgeon Dr. Elias Tsirakoglou that I was probably not going to make it through surgery, but he was going to try. Dr. Tsirakoglou was carrying my will to live and was not giving up on his abilities to save me, after multiple fail attempts to sew up my liver failed my time of death was near, he just needed a couple more attempts.
Those attempts were successful, the hands of God guided the young trauma surgeon that shared my will to live and I received another chance at life. Because of the will to live, I am living on borrowed time and I need to spread the word as far and wide as I can to never give up.
The will to live is hard, sometimes we feel that death is the easiest way out of whatever situation we may find ourselves in. Pain hits humans in different ways, sometimes it can be in physical discomfort, other times in can be in paralyzing psychological pain from a career full of horrible images, physical confrontations, and losses of brothers and sisters which we form an unbreakable bond.
These situations finding the will to live is hard, dark, and hopeless. If you find yourself with these feelings and emotions, please reach out to organizations that are here to help, not judge.
Your family, friends, brothers and sisters towing the line need you to be there for them as well. I know what it feels like to be on the brink of death, I know what it feels like to have your family and friends by your side when you wake-up.
The will to live can feel like a cinderblock of burden, it is okay to share the cinderblock to others so they can help you carry your burden. Someday you may have to help carry their cinderblock as well. This important story taught to me by an Army veteran named Earl Granville whom I have not yet met, a cinderblock helped him through rough times after the loss of his brother.
Never give up.
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