12/21/2001

Ind. officer recovering from gunshot wounds

By Bill Moor
The South Bend Tribune

When Bud and Ray Wolfenbarger were growing up in LaPorte, they loved to play cops and robbers.

"And Ray always had to be the cop," older brother Bud says. "He never wanted to change places."

Bud wishes he could change places with his kid brother now.

"I would do it in a minute and I have told him so," Bud says. "If only I could."

Cpl. Ray Wolfenbarger, 27 years old and a four-year veteran of the South Bend Police Department, lies in a Memorial Hospital bed with tubes in his mouth and bullet wounds in his shoulder and stomach after being shot three times early Sunday morning. According to witnesses, the gunman fired several shots at Ray after they both exited their vehicles following a brief car chase on the city's west side.

"When I first saw Ray, I really didn't think he was going to make it," admits Bud, a police officer in Las Vegas. "But he wasn't going to allow himself to die in the street and he keeps on battling. He always has been a fighter."

Ray lost several pints of blood when one bullet severed an artery in his shoulder and then infection from his two stomach wounds also became a grave concern.

"But he has recently taken a turn for the better and has been upgraded from critical to serious," Bud adds.

As family, friends and fellow police officers flock to Ray's side, the mood remains hopeful.

For now, Ray communicates with his wife, Amy, his parents, Al and Lucille, and so many other relatives with a notepad, hoping the ventilator will be removed in the next couple of days.

"He actually has joked around at times with his notes writing 'liposuction' once when he referred to his stomach that has really swelled up," Bud says. "And then other times, he just writes how sorry he is. Of course, we tell him that he has nothing to be sorry about that he was doing his job the best he could."

Ray has pictures of his 2-year-old daughter, Bailee, near his bed, but she must wait out in the waiting room. "Ray looks so much better than he did, but he's still not himself yet, and it would be a shock to her," Bud admits.

So she sees her dad on the TV news and excitedly yells, "Daddy, Daddy." Then when the picture of the man suspected of shooting Ray comes on the screen, she knows enough about what happened to point to him and shout, "Bad man!"

Bud has tried hard to push that man out of his mind. "I don't know what I would do if he had not been apprehended. I'm just so glad that the South Bend police apprehended him so quickly."

South Bend officer Steve Noonan and his canine partner, Loki, helped apprehend the alleged shooter, who was hiding not far from the scene in between parked cars. Ironically, Bud had trained Loki when he was on the South Bend force before moving to Las Vegas four years ago.

"I probably want to give Loki a pat on the head before we leave," he says.

Bud's own 6-year-old daughter, Zoe, is staying with the family of South Bend police officer Jeff Rynearson and calls a stuffed German shepherd in their home Loki. She remembers him. "All German shepherds are Loki-dogs to her," Bud says.

It was Noonan and Rynearson who picked up Bud, his wife, Joy, and their daughter after their flight from Las Vegas to Chicago Sunday morning.

"The South Bend officers have done everything they can for us," Bud says. "It's the ultimate fraternity. Like me, they all would trade places with Ray if they could."

The community has responded to the shooting with overwhelming support as well.

"We've gotten hundreds of calls and hundreds of cards, and we want to make sure that people know that we thank them for their prayers," Bud says. "We totally believe that God interceded in this to help keep Ray alive."

A former LaPorte High School football player and wrestler and a graduate of Indiana State University, Ray continues to strive for improvement in his condition.

"We're just taking it day by day now," his older brother says. "We know what happened is a hazard of the job, but it's a job that both Ray and I love. He wanted to be a police officer since he was a little kid. I'm going to continue and I have a feeling that Ray will want to, too."

Pray he gets the chance.

Copyright 2007 The South Bend Tribune

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