By Jannine Templeman
The Philadelphia Daily News
Officer Robert Wuller was in a bad spot.
Lured by a woman's screams, Wuller, 30, charged into a Frankford apartment and found himself face-to-face with his own mortality.
Three gunmen were in the midst of torturing and robbing a man they had bound to a chair as a woman and her two children watched in horror.
One of the thugs pointed his weapon at Wuller, and the veteran cop shot back. Wuller survived; the gun-toting creep did not.
A month later, Wuller's colleague, Officer Gary Skerski, found himself in a similar situation, trying to save innocents from a gunman who had taken over a neighborhood bar.
Unlike Wuller, Skerski never had a chance to fire. He was shot and killed, leaving behind a wife and two children.
Months have gone by.
Wuller's bravery has led to a great honor. He is the first Philadelphia cop to win the 40-year-old Parade magazine Police Officer of the Year Award.
Yet to Wuller and Skerski's former captain — the soft-spoken woman who nominated Wuller for the accolade — the moment is bittersweet.
"If Gary was here he would say, 'Captain, he [Wuller] is a hero,' " sobbed Capt. Deborah Kelly, commander of the 8th District, as she looked at Gary's framed picture sitting in her office.
"Gary would be so proud that his district won this award." Wuller, whose story will be featured in Sunday's issue of Parade, "put himself on the line that night," she said.
On April 22, Wuller was in his police car just before 3 a.m. when a radio dispatcher sent him to check a report of a woman's screams.
Wuller sped to Frankford's Northwood Courts apartment complex on Oxford Avenue near Large Street. He was one of the first officers to arrive and was met by a locked door.
"I could hear screams ... and I just started pressing all of the buttons," Wuller said, referring to the row of apartment buzzers in the lobby.
When that didn't work, he got permission from his dispatcher to break into the building. Wuller whipped out his nightstick and smashed through the glass pane next to the front door.
Two officers joined him and the trio raced towardthe shrieks.
"I was about three feet into the apartment when I saw a male with a gun in his right hand, and he appeared to be hitting someone with his left hand," Wuller said.
When the thug saw the officers, he ran at them, pointing his gun at them, Wuller said.
Wuller fired at the gunman as another suspect, clutching a knife, charged the cops. Wuller shot him. A third suspect managed to escape the bloody melee but was later arrested.
When the SWAT team arrived, the apartment's sole male resident, Andre Jenkins, was on the floor in a pool of blood. He was hospitalized in stable condition.
Police said the suspects tied up Jenkins and stabbed him multiple times. Police said the drama was over missing money.
Wuller said he left the complex in a daze. "I thought to myself, 'Did this really happen?'... It was so surreal," he said.
Wuller was taken to a nearby hospital for a cut on his elbow.
Now that Wuller has won the national award, beating out hundreds of officers from across the country, he is still quite humble.
"I just did my job," he said.
Copyright 2006 The philadelphia Daily News
Risk-defying Penn. officer named "Officer of the Year"