12/03/2007

Pursuing a gunman after taking a bullet? 'It's my job,' says Philly cop

By Nancy Phillips
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA When a gunman fired at Officer Mariano Santiago, the slug hit him squarely on the shoulder, next to a tattoo of St. Michael the Archangel.

"My guardian angel was with me that night," Santiago said. "He caught the bullet in his hand."

As he ducked for cover in his cruiser and reached for his gun, two more bullets pierced the driver's headrest.

"I thought he might come back and finish me off," said Santiago. "That's what they do nowadays."

Santiago, an 18-year veteran, was a survivor of an unparalleled spate of shootings at Philadelphia police officers. He was one of six shot while on the job in recent weeks. The next day, a robber executed Officer Chuck Cassidy in a North Philadelphia Dunkin' Donuts.

Santiago was luckier; the shooter fled. The officer pursued him, first by car and then on foot, firing one shot before the bleeding and pain in his arm overcame him.

"At that point my arm just dropped," he said. Other officers took over the pursuit, which ended when the shooter jumped into the Schuylkill and drowned.

It took a day or so for the gravity of the shooting to sink in. One night, at home with his wife and 1-year-old granddaughter, "It just hit me," he said. "When I saw my little granddaughter, calling me Papa, tears started coming to my eyes.

"I said, 'Wow, I just got a second chance. I could be six feet under.' "

Santiago, 44, is still recovering and has yet to return to work. He's eager to get back.

"People ask me, 'Would you chase another criminal?' Yes, I would," he said. "It's my job."

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