Long before the events of 2001, Sept. 11 had significant meaning for Dep. Tony Parrish of the Cochise County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Department. For on that date in 1997, he handled a call that changed his life and very nearly ended it.
The call came in just before 9 a.m. An armed man was attempting entry into the informant's residence in an outlying area of Douglas.
A mere nine miles north of the Mexican border, the mining town had proven a popular layover for generations of migrant workers and others making their trek into the American heartland. Dep. Parrish was accustomed to their occasional detours: the usual residential and commercial break-ins and such. Most of the time they stole food or jewelry—portable objects that allowed them to move on down the road as quickly as possible. The fact that this guy was trying to break in while the resident was home put him at the top of Parrish's priority list. Another deputy—one who was actually closer to the call—did not deem the matter so pressing and rolled off in another direction.
But one deputy's half-assed approach to the job wasn't going to dictate Parrish's, and he requested a Border Patrol agent to roll.
As Parrish pulled onto an access road to the remote property, the female informant exited the house to meet him. She explained the events preceding Parrish's arrival. A strange man had shown up on horseback, asking for some water. She allowed him use of her hose. His thirst sated, he then made his way about the exterior of the house, trying to open doors and windows and demanding entry.
Though terrified, the informant refused, and repeatedly asked the stranger to leave. But her cajoling, entreaties, and even threats of a Border Patrol husband returning home any second—not that she had one, but it was worth trying to convince the stranger to go—failed to get the man to leave.
Nothing did—until the sight of Parrish's distinctively marked patrol Tahoe pulling onto the property caught the man's eye. With that, the man led the horse off into the sagebrush behind the house. The frightened woman described the man as a male Hispanic, 5-foot, 8-inches tall, 170 pounds, with brown hair and "not looking right."
The attractiveness of the informant did not go unnoticed by Parrish, and there was little doubt in the deputy's mind that the suspect had something far worse on his mind than the usual freeloading visitation. He knew he had to find the man before he made good on his intentions elsewhere.
Tracking him down
Some 15 minutes later and in response to Parrish's request for backup, Border Patrol Agent Todd Tryon arrived on scene.
Tryon proved a good tracker. So venturing off the woman's property, the two lawmen picked up the man's trail in good time, tracking it from where the man apparently dismounted the horse before leading it deep into the ravine where the sagebrush was thickest.
The Cochise County landscape is dotted with arroyos, mesquite, Manzanita bushes, Creosol bushes, and cactuses. Man and horse had left their mark upon it, as well. The deputy and the agent tag-teamed their way through the overgrowth, cross-tracking the suspect's progress with Parrish moving to higher bluffs and buttes or standing atop his Tahoe at various intervals to use a spotting scope to get the lay of the land. Between the broken foliage, intermittent foot and hoof prints, and even an occasional sighting, the two lawmen were getting a good read on the man's progress.
But the terrain was difficult and time consuming to navigate and, for the better part of three hours, the two officers skirted snakes and scorpions and tracked the man under the withering Arizona sun. Even in more pleasant circumstances there would be no rushing the enterprise. For in closing in on an armed man, neither officer wanted to rush into a desert ambush or needlessly precipitate a shooting.
Emerging into a clearing just before noon, they happened upon a hacienda-type estate on Dry Branch Road.
The single-story brick structure was one of the high-end properties that dotted the outlying Douglas area. Both lawmen had difficulty reconciling any notion that their quarry might have any more of a legitimate claim to this property than he had the last. Scouting various structures on the estate, they noticed a large offset garage to the left of the house not far from where the man's footprints ended.
Dep. Parrish made a cautious approach to a side garage window where he took a split-second glance inside. Two things immediately registered: the owner maintained shotgun re-loaders and powder, and a mare was parked inside.
As far as equine confines went, the structure wasn't exactly creature friendly: No feed or water in sight. But where was the horse's owner?
Smart money would say he was inside with the horse. But should the deputy's suspicions prove correct, exposing his face at the window a second time would be tempting fate.
Opening up...Opening Fire
The deputy and the border agent decided to check for another means into the garage.
They tried its front door.
Walking to the rear of the garage, the officers found a vertical roll-up door. Through whispers and hand signals, the two coordinated their attempt to get inside. With Parrish taking a position to the left of the garage door and providing cover with his pistol, Tryon moved to the center of the door, gripped the roll-top handle, and pulled upward.
The door was only three feet off the ground when an unseen assailant inside the garage let loose with a 12-gauge
The blast blew the agent's sidearm off his belt, parts of the disintegrated gun flying about him. He staggered back from seven additional pellets that entered his side, turned toward Parrish, and smiled sheepishly.
"I've just been shot."
Telling the injured agent to get behind him, Parrish quickly looked into the exposed garage. There, not more than four feet away from him, stood a man with eyes as wide as saucers. And in that split second the two men made eye contact, each knew that whoever fired first would have the upper hand. The man raised the shotgun and aimed it at the deputy.
Parrish fired his Colt 1911 .45 first. His shot was devastating.
The 230-grain Federal Hydra-Shok jacketed hollow point round struck the suspect in the chin, and traversed downward at a 90-degree angle into the man's chest near the clavicle where it scrambled his aorta. As a three-foot spray of blood spurted from a hole near the man's clavicle, his body spun counterclockwise 180 degrees away from Parrish.
Parrish's initial thought was, "That's it; he's mortally wounded and will go into shock."
The deputy was right about the severity of the man's wounds, but he was dead wrong about the man simply lying down and dying. Instead, the mortally wounded man moved toward the rear of the garage, angling for a position behind his horse. He turned and again raised the shotgun at Parrish's head.
In an effort to make himself a smaller target, Parrish dropped so hard onto one knee that he injured it.
He fired a second round.
It entered the suspect's groin and exited his lower back. The round caused the suspect to drop the shotgun and took whatever fight he had left along with it. As his horse stood impassively nearby, seemingly unfazed by the gunfire that'd surrounded him, the man lay down...and died.
Professionalism and Compassion
Agent Tryon was treated at a local hospital and returned to work shortly thereafter. He continues to carry some of the pellets in his body to this day.
When Parrish reflects back on the incident, the one thing he would have done differently was in raising the garage door. Instead of allowing Tryon to effectively maroon himself in "no man's land" in front of the garage door, he would have opted for them to fork off and raise the garage door from opposite ends.
For three days, Parrish's knee pained him and he sported a cherry on it. Then he realized just how powerfully his training had kicked in. His immediate need to make a smaller target of himself caused him to drop to one knee so hard that his pants leg was rendered irreparable.
Parrish credits his dispatchers, Sammy Rios and Carol Capas, for making quick and timely notifications of concerned parties in facilitating the investigation that followed, as well as helping him deal with the incident. Within seven minutes of the shooting, medical personnel, Cochise County personnel, Douglas City officers, and federal agents had arrived, providing enough personnel on site to adequately contain and process the scene.
Sgt. Ruben Saavedra retained Parrish's sidearm pending the FBI's response, lending him his own until Sheriff Larry Dever brought another firearm to him from the armory. Parrish says the professionalism and compassion displayed in such seemingly small actions helped lessen or avert any anxieties that he might have otherwise experienced.
The FBI agent instructed Parrish to spend a couple of days reflecting on the shooting to absorb all of the events prior to being interviewed. This, too, was instrumental in helping him on two fronts: It allowed him to give the best and most accurate statement he could, and it alleviated apprehensions that he had experienced in light of a previous officer-involved shooting.
Parrish was glad he drank some 50 ounces of water from his CamelBak and had consumed a couple of granola bars and a PayDay candy bar while on the three-hour trek through the sage. Carbo'd up and hydrated, he was alert and responsive when it mattered most.
There was no shortage of recognition for Parrish's heroic efforts on that day: He was named Officer of the Year and received his department's Medal of Valor, as well as other honors.
Still, Parrish says the shooting bothered him, mostly for its inexplicable occurrence. Why had the man, Gabriel Fierros-Grijalva, tried to kill them? There was nothing in the 19-year-old's background to have suggested the possibility and no telltale toxicology results that hinted of a chemically altered state. So just what was it that put this stranger, a man he'd never seen before, on such a tumultuous path that would end with his death at Parrish's hands?
As he observes the tenth anniversary of the incident, Parrish still doesn't know.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Consider the situation that faced Dep. Tony Parrish and Agent Todd Tryon:
- What means do you have to track outstanding suspects? How successful has your agency been in locating such individuals?
- Dep. Parrish believes maintaining nutrition and hydration while on duty played a role in his survival. How nutritionally prepared are you to deal with unforeseen circumstances of longer duration? What do you keep in your gear bag that can help you stay hydrated and give you a boost of nutritional energy?
- How would you have dealt with the garage door entry? What are some of the more creative means you've employed in safely determining whether or not a suspect was inside a given location?
- What, if anything, would you have done differently if confronted by the circumstances facing Parrish and Tryon?