Courage under fire: Officer Conway's amazing survival story

Katie's name will forever be linked to police courage and survival

Sometimes a police officer earns a right to a place in history because of an incredible career. Some are remembered because of how they handled — in a manner that will probably never be duplicated — one unimaginable call.

Officer Katie Conway’s story of survival is not only worthy of the retelling, but it also should never be forgotten by any police trainers looking to give context to survival training.

Katie’s name will forever be linked to police courage and survival. It all happened one night unlike any other...

A Night Unlike Any Other
February 2, 1998, 23-year-old Officer Conway was working a beat in one of Cincinnati’s toughest neighborhoods — “Over-the-Rhine.” 

She had just completed a “prison run” and was slowing for a traffic light at an intersection near the Cincinnati Police Division. Suddenly a man carrying a “boom box” stepped out in front of her squad. This unexpected movement caused Katie to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting the wayward pedestrian.

The man was 41-year-old Daniel Williams who had been arrested 17 times in the past and had a history of mental illness. Earlier in the evening, his family had called the police to report that Daniel — who was off his medication — had threatened to kill his 71-year-old mother.

After Katie stopped her squad short to avoid hitting Williams, the man moved quickly to the driver’s side and slammed the boom box into her face. Katie was knocked to her right side and before she could recover from the sudden assault, Williams was shooting her as he screamed, “I’m going to get you!”

He hit her four times in the legs and hip area. Even though she felt burning pain, she could not move her legs.

Katie was slumped to her right and was losing blood rapidly. In spite of the violence of the assault, she managed to maintain her tenuous hold onto consciousness. Williams opened the driver’s door of the squad pushed her over and slid behind the wheel.  He slammed the door and began accelerating the squad car down Central Parkway in Cincinnati.

As the suspect drove northbound at high speeds on Central Parkway heading towards oblivion, Katie struggled to remove her 9 mm Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun from her holster, which she was lying on top of.

Overcoming the excruciating pain, she managed to work her firearm from her security holster and fire twice at the suspect, who instantly slumped forward against the steering wheel.

With a dead man driving, the squad immediately began to careen out of control until it slammed into a wall at the Sam Adams Brewery going from 50 mph to 0 mph in a violent millisecond.

Calm in the Eye of the Storm
At the start of the assault, Katie had managed to get off a transmission, which was broken up, because the suspect was shooting her at the time.

Approximately 40 seconds later, after the shooting, the theft of the patrol car, a midnight drive to nowhere, return fire and a car crash, Katie made one of the most amazing radio transmissions in the history of law enforcement.

Like a seasoned veteran, the seriously-wounded officer — who was in unimaginable pain — keyed the mic and as quietly as someone talking in a library reported, “Distress. I’ve been involved in a shooting on Central Parkway North of Liberty. I need some help.”

The dispatcher asked, “Are you hurt?”

Katie, who had eight entrance and exit wounds in her body, answered calmly, “Affirmative.”

Investigators discovered that Katie had fired at the suspect twice and since there was only one hole in the right side of the head of the deceased, they reasoned she missed him once. Under the circumstances, who could fault her?

However, the autopsy revealed that Officer Conway, while lying prone next to a raging lunatic, in a moving car, her life blood spilling from multiple gunshot wounds had fired twice, but had not missed once at all.
Both bullets had entered the head of the suspect... through the same hole.
Officer Conway’s injuries were serious and she was able to survive, but had to retire from law enforcement for medical reasons. Her courageous story was documented in an In the Line of Duty, Volume 5 Program 9 “The Iron Will to Survive.” 

Let’s take a few moments to watch that now.

In Her Words
During an interview after her life-and-death incident, Officer Conway shared some valuable insights with officers whose life-threatening challenges still lie ahead.

Katie made it clear that she had been prepared to prevail by her trainers in advance of the ambush. She said she actually heard her trainer’s voice in her head during the assault urging her to, “Call on the radio, let them know where you are. Get your gun out! Get your gun out! Get your gun out!”

She also emphasized that if a potential police officer thinks they can’t strike someone with a baton or shoot someone when they have to, then they are choosing the wrong career.

Officer Conway stressed to any officer, who finds themself having to fire their weapon to save their life, “Don’t think twice, because if you think twice about it, maybe that was the round that killed you.” 

Referring to the attack by Williams, she said, “Someone was going to die that night and it wasn’t going to be me...”

Katie is as tenacious and courageous as any warrior, whoever survived a battle. She not only personally survived, but her example serves to inspire police officers all over the nation to train hard and stay positive, when facing adversity.

Every officer now and forever has the example of Katie Conway to inspire them to victory, even when the fight is at its most desperate. Officers must do whatever they have to do to go home. They may have to spit out broken teeth while striking back with an intense fury.

A wounded officer may have to return fire after being shot, dragging themselves to cover, with Katie Conway’s mantra ringing in their ears, “If someone is going to have to die to night it’s not going to be me!”

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