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Departments : In the Hood

When Tragedy Struck, the Army Was There to Help

As police officers, you’re no stranger to tragedy, but that doesn’t make it easier when it comes knocking on your door.

May 01, 1998  |  by Al Valdez

During the first week, we were literally escorted every day by members of the 43rd engineers and the rest of the soldiers at Fort Carson. It was so comforting to know that so many people cared about my son. The young men and women in my son's unit even took up a collection and gave us a cash gift to help pay for expenses.  I felt bad that I'd never had the honor of meeting any of these people before, and here they were now, helping my family.

My son got stronger and stronger and began to regain the use of his mind.  He gradually became conscious and remembered his family. He knew who I was and wanted to eat pizza! By the end of the third day, though still a bit disoriented, Josh could actually talk, using small sentences.

There is a cost to everything and the price for my son's survival was his diagnosis: triplegic, which meant my son only has use of his right arm. As soon as he was stable enough, he was transported to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C., for the long and difficult recovery.

The Army has taken my son under its protective cover. The members of his unit have not given up on him.  Their positive attitude and faith in Josh's ability strengthen our hope for a good recovery.  More importantly, they helped give Josh the courage and strength not to give up. My son was devastated when we described the extent of his injuries to him. No one knows if his injuries are temporary or permanent. All we can do is take one day at a time.

The Colorado Springs Police Department started investigating the case immediately and thoroughly. As a family member, I have been given case updates in a timely manner. The case is still under investigation and I am confident that there will be a successful conclusion to this investigation.

The Colorado Springs PD has a very high solve rate in their Major Crimes unit.  Being on this side of the fence, I now clearly understand the frustration which is caused by not knowing information. I appreciate the candor of the detective assigned to my son's case. He provided me with the details of what had happened, and this information, as horrifying as it is, helped me cope with the situation.

My son had driven a van to a popular under-21 nightclub, a hangout for young people from the post and the city.  When a gang fight erupted, Josh got caught in the middle.  Before he even got out of the van, he was hit.  The gunshot wound to his head caused his foot to slam down on the accelerator.  The van flew off with him and the other soldier inside.  It crashed into a concrete embankment and flipped twice, landing inverted on the front end.  It took the paramedics 20 minutes to rescue my son and his passenger.

As tragic and as ugly as this incident is, it is yet another painful reminder that gang violence can happen anywhere, any time.  I work in this field and my family and I had developed a sense of security.  This would never happen to us.

I am writing this three weeks after the incident and we all still have bad days.  Josh's youngest brothers, ages 5 and 8 were never told the truth. They believe Josh was in a car accident.  How do you tell kids about gunshot wounds to the head?

Enough can never be said about the compassion and empathy displayed by the soldiers stationed at Fort Carson. The kindness and gentle support offered by all the soldiers and, especially, Sergeants Cole and Sarracino, First Sergeant Cline, Lt. Stinnett and Capt. Benson, will never go forgotten or unappreciated. Without the help of the United States Army, my son's incident would have become just another statistic.

Thank you to the United States Army for going above the call of duty. I never realized until now that when my son joined the Army, my family grew by about 5,000.

Be safe!

Al Valdez is an investigator with the Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's Office and author of the book, Gangs.

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