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Mo. deputy wounded in shooting honored with Purple Heart

Nolan Murray was shot while serving a warrant at a motel along with other deputies last month

By Koby Levin
The Joplin Globe

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The community behind the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office had already given Nolan Murray, a sheriff’s deputy who was shot on the job last month, a standing ovation many times over in the forms of food, money and prayer. On Monday night, it got a chance to applaud in person.

Murray was honored in a ceremony at Memorial Hall in Carthage, including the presentation of a civilian Purple Heart award from the sheriff’s office.

Deputy Nolan Murray (Photo/Jasper County Sheriff's Office)
Deputy Nolan Murray (Photo/Jasper County Sheriff's Office)

Sheriff Randee Kaiser, who presented Murray with the award, highlighted the unity that the March 1 shooting produced in the law enforcement community. When the call went out, he said, roughly 100 officers showed up at the scene.

“What it did was cement an already close bond among brothers and sisters in law enforcement,” he told the crowd. “What that act of cowardice did was to unite an entire community toward our cause.”

Members of the community were out in force, filling the hall. Among them were Glen and Karen Honeycutt, who have known Murray through their church, Hillcrest Church of Christ in Neosho, since he was born.

When they heard he had been shot, Glen Honeycutt said, “it was like it was our own kid.”

“We couldn’t be prouder,” Karen Honeycutt said.

Pat Bearden, of Alba, came simply because she admires police work — she almost became an officer herself — and she is grateful for their work.

“He almost gave his life for us, so we should be here for him,” she said.

Murray was honored as part of an annual sheriff’s office event celebrating new or newly promoted employees. The event is not usually so well-attended, Kaiser said. After nine new officers were welcomed into the force, Murray was first mentioned only by his first name.

Greg Dagnan, chief of the Carthage Police Department as well as the chairman of the Ozark Drug Enforcement Task Force, also honored the officers who were with Murray at the time, asking, “Who else was heroic in this event?”

He presented plaques to five officers assigned to the detail, which operates undercover to flush out drug deals. They accepted in jeans, cowboy boots and beards, for the most part, with the occasional gun showing from a waistband.

Like his colleagues, Murray wore a beard and civilian clothes; his motions were without apparent difficulty.

Murray briefly took the microphone after receiving the award to thank the sheriff’s office and the community for having his back.

“We can’t express what it’s meant to us to have their support during this time,” he said.

He declined to give his account of the events of March 1 because the incident is still under investigation.

News of the shooting was greeted with immediate public support. Deputies and family members waiting at the hospital for news of Murray’s condition were kept well-fed by donations of food from restaurants and church groups. Businesses and restaurants held fundraisers for Murray’s family. A call for donations on the fundraising website GoFundMe raised $2,700.

Murray was shot while on assignment with the drug task force. He was serving a search warrant to a second-floor room in the Joplin Econo Lodge motel along with other deputies when the bullet flew from a window, passed through the armhole of his bulletproof vest, and lodged in his back. After a stint in an intensive care unit, the bullet was removed, and Murray returned home. He is expected to make a full recovery, and officials say he plans on a full return to the department.

The charged shooter, E.F. Fitchpatrick, surrendered to police after injuring himself with his gun and was taken to the hospital.

The ceremony absorbed some of the gravity of the military Purple Heart, a decoration bestowed by the president on soldiers in any branch of the armed forces who were wounded in combat. A veterans group has boosted public awareness of the award, helping make it a widely recognizable symbol of military valor. The group, Military Order of the Purple Heart, dubs roadways across the country Purple Heart Trails.

In Missouri, the spread of the symbol has been propelled by John Dismer, a commander with the group.

The organization has given out five other civilian plaques to law enforcement officers in the state who survived shootings.

“I don’t care if you’re a civilian or in the Army, if you get shot, it hurts,” Dismer said.

Fitting quote

Sheriff Randee Kaiser closed the ceremony with a quote from John F. Kennedy. The words were written for a different scenario, he said, but they seemed fitting:

“We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”

Kaiser did not mention that JFK never delivered the speech; he was on his way to give it when he was shot.


©2017 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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