Every Christmas there are those who would not be around to celebrate Christmas if not for the courageous actions of police officers. Since I wrote the first of these “12 Knights of Christmas” columns, PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie has asked me to reprise it every year.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of heroism every year by our law enforcement brothers and sisters from which I may choose as I write each year’s installment. In fact, I’ve always had a hard time keeping this list down to just 12 individual people, so this year I’ve decided to give myself some latitude — some artistic licence, so to speak. This year I’ve chosen to highlight one incident per month — many of which have more than one officer involved.
Here are the “Twelve Knights” of 2013. There are many, many others — although they may not be named here, each has proved to be the tipping point when lives were in the balance.
January 9, 2013 — St. Paul, Minnesota
St. Paul police released dramatic video from an incident that occurred on October 23, 2012, showing a squad “on normal patrol” entering the lot of the Hope Academy. The 22-year-old Chue Xiong stepped from hiding and ambushed Officer Daniel King and his partner Brian Wanschura, firing at them with a stolen shotgun.
King was incapacitated immediately, but Wanschura rolled out of the moving squad car and landed on his back. Instantly he was on his feet, advancing while firing, eliminating the threat permanently. Sometimes the lives we save are our own.
January 10, 2013 — Los Angeles
When Los Angeles Police Officers Jennifer Cohen, Cindy Herrera, and Valerie Lancaster stopped to check out a crumpled pit bull hit by a car five hours earlier, the officers discovered the dog was looking at them, but could not move except to wag his tail. They carefully loaded the severely injured animal into a squad and transported it to a vet clinic.
A tracking chip allowed them to locate its owner, who said, “Put it down.” Instead, the officers had the owner sign the dog over to them. They told the vet to do “whatever it takes” to save the dog and they would “work it out.” The good-natured dog, named “Philly” after their sergeant, was saved at a personal cost of $10,000 plus.
April 10, 2013 — Suwanee, Georgia
The incident started when five Fire Department paramedics were taken hostage by an armed man after responding to a false report of a medical emergency. The Gwinnett County Police Department SWAT Team was called to the scene, and as negotiators attempted to reason with the man, one of the firefighters escaped. He related that his colleagues left inside were in imminent danger.
The SWAT team, including Sgt. Jason Teague, feigned a food delivery, and while doing so deployed distraction devices and entered. Teague’s call for surrender was met with gunfire. Teague was hit in the arm, but returned fire, controlling his weapon with one hand. After the smoke cleared, it was apparent this gunman had taken his last hostage. Sergeant Teague has since returned to duty and continues to serve the good people of Gwinnett County.
May 24, 2013 — La Crosse, Wisconsin
Brooke Privet of the La Crosse Police Department was just two blocks from the Brookstone Inn when she received the call for assistance. As she arrived at the hotel pool, desk clerk Elijah Goldstein was attempting to revive five-year-old Alec Sebben, whose lifeless body had been pulled from the pool. Privet and Goldstein teamed up, and together they breathed life back into the small boy.
June 17, 2013 — Midwest City, Oklahoma
Convicted felon Sammie Wallace entered the Walmart in Midwest City, Oklahoma and abducted a 2-year-old girl from a cart right in front of her mother. Wallace handed a cell phone to the mother and demanded that she call a Dallas police officer he knew. Local police were dispatched, and Captain David Huff arrived.
He spent the next 34 minutes trying to convince Wallace to drop his knife and release the child. Wallace refused, stating he had “nothing to live for” and “nothing to lose.” Huff had no illusions about success, for at one point he ducked out of sight and did a press check on his handgun. When Wallace put the knife to the child’s throat and started a count down from 60, Captain Huff fired, killing Wallace instantly with a head shot. Huff returned the child to her mother unharmed and then said a prayer for the family of Sammie Wallace.
September 11, 2013 — Brentwood, Tennessee
At 1700 hours Officer Colin Lane was dispatched to a suicide in progress at Crockett Park in Brentwood. He found a drunk, despondent female brandishing a knife. Lane, a martial artist, was able to distract, disarm and take the female to the ground. Even though Lane sustained a minor cut he was happy about the “positive outcome.”
October 23, 2013 — Durham, North Carolina
It was 0900 hours, and Traffic Services Officer Gabriel Munter was at the scene of an accident investigation. Suddenly a car pulled up and a frantic driver exited shouting that his wife was about to have a baby. Munter calmly applied gloves and went to work. During the delivery process K-9 Officer J. J. McDonough arrived on the scene to assist. As Officer Munter delivered a baby girl, he discovered the umbilical cord precariously wrapped around the baby’s neck.
Unshaken, Munter untangled the cord and later said, “I bundled the baby in towels and laid it on the mother’s chest.”
Munter added this was “the coolest thing that ever happened to me on the job.”
November 16, 2013 — Granby, Missouri
On November 16 Abbi Hines, a nine-month-old little girl, managed to lodge a plastic bottle cap firmly in her airway. Her distraught mother dialed 911. Abbi stopped breathing, lost consciousness and turned cyanotic. Sergeant Ron Greer of the Granby, Missouri Police Department arrived on the scene and took immediate action. He carefully placed his index finger down the child’s airway and after a cautious but intense effort was able to extract the cap from the child’s airway. The child spontaneously began breathing again.
After an interviewer called Greer a hero, he concluded, “It was the grace of God. I was the vessel and he was the driver.”
December 13, 2013 — Centennial, Colorado
At 12:33 p.m., Karl Pierson — an angry 18-year-old student wearing a tactical vest and bandoliers bristling with shotgun shells — entered the Arapahoe High School Library. He carried three Molotov cocktails, a pump action shotgun, and a machete, with the Latin phrase written on his arm meaning “The die is cast.”
He tossed a fire bomb and opened fire immediately, seriously wounding a young student, who later died from her wounds. His intent was clearly to kill many more, but the on-scene School Resource Officer heard the shot and without a moment’s hesitation drew his weapon and sprinted down the long hallway toward the gunfire — shouting warnings to the innocent students he passed.
The shooter reacted immediately to the approach of this honorable gunfighter and turned his shotgun on himself. Countless lives were saved by the courageous response of this Deputy Sheriff.
Looking to 2014
Never forget that you — all our modern law enforcement knights — make a positive difference in your communities on a daily basis. Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate, recognized the importance of what you all do, when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
May all of you courageous peacemakers have a blessed and Merry Christmas.