Saturday, Dec. 30, 2006, is a day that Major Trevor “T.J.” Wild Sr. of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department thinks about often, arguably every day.
It’s also a day that he is quick to talk about with others, especially new cadets in class or new officers on the force, to share his firsthand knowledge of what it is like to be shot in the line of duty.
“I talk about it from an officer survival standpoint, just what I went through so they know that this can happen, that it really can be brought to you personally,” Wild told The Missourian, in an interview about the 10th anniversary of the incident.
Wild tells them about the auditory exclusion he experienced. After he was shot, his car was shot 17 or 18 times, and “I did not hear one of those,” he said. “Your body is an amazing thing. It said to me, ‘For survival, you don’t need to know that.’ ”
Lying on the cold asphalt after he was shot, Wild recalls how some action seemed to be happening in slow motion.
“The glass from my passenger side windows shattered from one of the bullets . . . the shards of glass fell on the ground and when they bounced up, to me they bounced up in slow motion. I remember it vividly — there was the prettiest rainbow from the light, and I remember thinking, ‘That is so pretty’ . . . When your body is in fight or flight mode, your vision is really important, and the speed with which you process things, the threats coming at you, they are very important, that’s why it slows that down, for your benefit,” said Wild.
In his new office at the sheriff’s department, Wild has a copy of The Missourian with the front-page news story about the armed standoff that led to him being shot tacked to a wall.
A shadow box that his wife, Erin, made for him to hold a flag and medals he received — the Medal of Valor from Crusade Against Crime and a Purple Heart from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department — also holds what’s left of the bullet, which entered at the top of his shoulder and came out at the shoulder blade, where his bulletproof vest stopped it.
On that day in December 2006, Wild was part of the response team to a domestic dispute call in New Haven. Those can be some of the most dangerous calls for officers to respond to because emotions are always high, said Wild.
He doesn’t get shaken up recalling or retelling his experience that day.
“There were a lot of great things that day,” he said. “No police officers were killed. That’s a great thing.”
According to Wild, the couple had gotten into an argument a couple of days prior, and that morning she went to the house to try to reconcile some things.
“He met her at the door with a shotgun,” Wild said.
She went to the New Haven Police Department, and those officers contacted the sheriff’s department to inform them what was going on, “so if you have some people in the area, it might not be a bad idea to have some people come by,” Wild recalled.
After formulating a plan, the officers went to the house and tried to reach the man by phone, but he wouldn’t answer. The officers used the loud speaker on the patrol car to ask him to come outside to talk with them.
The young man hadn’t been in much trouble with the law before, just typical teenage boy-type stuff, said Wild, who was crouched behind the door of his cruiser when he noticed a window of the house being opened. It was right in line with where his car was parked on the street.
Wild said his first thought was that the man “was going to come out and start yelling at us. That was my experience up until that point.
“There was an officer (New Haven Officer Meg Parks) right below the window because she was taking a perimeter position there. He couldn’t see her, but I was making sure she heard the window open because if she’s down there and he’s going to come out the window, she needs to know.
“In the middle of me telling her that, a rifle shot comes out from the dark,” said Wild, noting it was the middle of the afternoon. “I saw the muzzle jump from the darkness. He never presented himself. True sniper fashion. He stayed in the back, fired the shot. I just fell right there.
“It felt like a sledgehammer hit me in the chest,” he added.
Officers came running to his side, immediately making assessments, calling for help and taking first steps to save his life and get him to safety. Grabbing Wild by his arms and legs, his fellow officers carried him to a New Haven ambulance on the scene.
“They have no idea where the shooter is, and for this rifle, that (path) was just homerun alley. To reach out there and shoot all those guys would have been nothing,” said Wild.
The Missourian reported in the Jan. 3, 2007, issue that “Deputy Jason Schuster and Chad Sloan, an off-duty Washington police officer who lives in New Haven, risked being shot and dragged (Wild) about 40 yards to the cover of an earthen berm where he could be treated by New Haven ambulance personnel.”
“All of those guys really put it out there for me,” said Wild.
At the end of the standoff, the officers learned that the young man had been killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
When Wild talks about the incident with other new officers, or anyone really, he makes a point of telling how his wife urged them to go to counseling afterward and how truly helpful that was, although at first he was opposed to the idea.
He remembers their discussion and how she explained it was better to be proactive in going to a counselor right away, rather than wait 10 years to realize there were unresolved issues and they had lost all that time.
“She’s smart that way, very intuitive,” said Wild. “And it was really good for me. I had some really big lightbulb moments within that, and it helped.”
Wild describes his wife, Erin, as “an amazing woman, very strong” for how she handled the aftermath of the shooting.
It was then-Sgt. Steve Pelton (now sheriff) who came to the Wilds’ home that afternoon to deliver the news to Erin that T.J. had been shot.
“No one ever prepares you for that news on a Saturday afternoon,” said Wild. “Everybody always prepares you for a knock on the door at 12 midnight, or Friday, it’s always the middle of the night, never the middle of the day.”
It felt like a surreal moment until Erin saw Steve’s wife pull up to their house ready to watch after their children so Erin could go to the hospital.
Suddenly the experience became very real.
The Wilds had been married 11 years at the time, the same amount of time that T.J. had served as a deputy. They had four children when the shooting occurred. They’ve since had their fifth child.
Only their oldest daughter, who is now 21, was old enough to really remember much from the shooting. What the other children remember is spending 11 days with the Pelton family, who were caring for them while Wild was in then-St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur with Erin by his side.
“They remember jumping on the bed, swimming in the pool, having a good time,” said Wild.
‘God Didn’t Want Me to Die That Day’
The bullet that hit Wild missed his aortic artery by just 3 millimeters.
“No doubt that God just didn’t want me to die that day,” he remarked. “Three millimeters? That’s only one-eighth of an inch! And that bullet traveled so fast.”
After 11 days in the hospital, Wild’s recovery took several months. He doesn’t remember exactly, but he believes he spent six to eight weeks at home before returning to work at the sheriff’s department on light duty.
Some bullet fragments remain in Wild’s body. He described the path that the bullet followed and the damage that it caused.
“As (the bullet) traveled, it separated . . . the main portion went straight and broke four ribs. The separated portion went through the top portion of my lung and damaged it.
“Two of the ribs broke and came back together. They just kind of healed themselves. The other two broke and separated; about an inch between them turned to dust. You can’t fix that . . . so that same process encapsulated these fragments and just keeps them there,” said Wild.
Wild doesn’t harbor any ill feelings toward the young man who shot him, although in the moment of the shooting, as he was lying on the ground, he remembers feeling intense anger at the possibility that he could die, leaving his wife to raise their children alone.
One of the things that helped Wild achieve complete forgiveness of the man was meeting the young man’s parents. The meeting was requested by the parents, and Wild and his wife met them at their home.
“That was probably the most nervous I have ever been, walking up to that door,” said Wild. “It was very personal and intimate and authentic. We had a very blunt conversation, honest, but not sarcastic. The truth is the truth, but for them, the truth of their son’s life was more than that one day.”
The meeting allowed Wild to dispel rumors the parents had heard about what the officers’ purpose was that day.
“I hope that was beneficial for them. I know it was good for me to listen to the family on what kind of a kid he was,” said Wild.
“I’d like to think I would have reached the forgiveness stage without that meeting; I don’t know. But it did help me get there.
“My heart goes out to that family,” Wild added. “It was important for them that we know that was not a normal day in their son’s life. And everything that I have learned about him since then tells me that is true.”