Even if the bright September sunlight hadn't been refracted in prisms of colors, the windshield of the white four-door Pontiac Bonneville would have still caught Officer Sean Kilbreth's eye. It was the nature of the windshield's defect that captured his attention: A bullet hole.
Officer Kilbreth had just pulled into the Hannaford Supermarket parking lot when he'd spotted the parked Bonneville, a white male and female seated inside.
Curious as to the origins of the bullet hole, Kilbreth circled around the vehicle, running its plate as he did. His only reply was that the New Hampshire crime information computer was down.
Kilbreth glanced back at the car. Inside, the two occupants were hunkered over the center console, their postures and close proximity to one another suggesting some manner of narcotic interlude—rolling a joint, cutting up some cocaine.
Stopping behind the car, he called in the stop. As he did, the occupants suddenly got out of the car and walked away as though to disassociate themselves from it.
Normally, Kilbreth could have been counted on to get out of his own car right then and immediately confront the two. But a back injury earlier that morning at the gym had left him feeling sore and a little lazy and he remained seated in the patrol car.
Rolling down the driver's side window, he called to the two people.
He called out a second time, more assertively.
Hesitantly, the two turned around and faced him.
"Can you come back over to your car?" Kilbreth asked.
The two began a lackluster backtrack. Given what he'd seen so far, Kilbreth knew this wasn't going to be a contact that could be handled from the driver's window. Sore back or not, he exited the patrol cruiser.
Red Flag Warning
As the three met near the front of Kilbreth's patrol car, two red flags immediately registered with the officer. First, the male subject was looking around the parking lot as if canvassing for a point of escape. Second, the female subject took two lateral steps away from the male suspect to distance herself from him.
Kilbreth asked what they were doing.
With clipped words and a nervous smile, 23-year-old Donald Bedard explained that he and his girlfriend had driven from up north to have breakfast.
Kilbreth tried to reconcile Bedard's story with the fact that there were no eateries in the direction the two had been walking, and what stores there were were closed for business. As he considered this, dispatch advised him that the driver was from a town located some distance north. To arrive in Manchester for breakfast, Bedard would have had to have left his house at 6:00 a.m., four hours earlier. Things weren't making sense.
Bedard seemed to know it, too. New beads of sweat blossomed on his already damp forehead.
Another dispatch transmission followed: a ten code notification that the registered operator was known to use drugs and had prior drug convictions.
Kilbreth was now reasonably certain there had been some manner of a drug transaction or consumption going on in the parking lot.
"Hey, can you do me a favor?" Kilbreth asked. "Can you take your hands out of your pockets?"
Bedard's hands came of the pockets of his baggy pants, but only for a few seconds before gravitating back inside. Kilbreth repeated the request, garnering the same momentary compliance before the hands went back in. When the situation played out a couple of more times, Kilbreth decided that he'd had enough.
"Hey, listen pal." he said. "Can you do me a favor? I want to pat you down for my safety. You're refusing to keep your hands out of your pockets, so put them on the cruiser."
With several warrants hanging over his head, Bedard's mindset wouldn't have been conducive for a chat on the best of days. And what Kilbreth didn't know was that the young man had just burglarized a correctional officer's home earlier that morning, had the homeowner's stolen firearm in his waistband, and had a vested interest in not going along with Kilbreth's program.
"What the f__k did I do?"
"Calm down," Kilbreth said. "You haven't done anything yet. But you need to do what I'm telling you to. Now put your hands on the cruiser."
Bedard's eyes were once again scanning the lot, apparently to see if Kilbreth had any backup coming. Everything about Bedard's actions and escalating demeanor told Kilbreth that a physical confrontation was imminent. In anticipation of it, he pulled out his expandable baton with his right hand.
His strong hand.
His gun hand.
Held at Gunpoint
Just as Kilbreth was about to extend the baton, Bedard suddenly produced a semi-automatic handgun from his waistband. In a split second, the weapon was pointed at Kilbreth's head.
A mere two feet separated the men. Bedard screamed at Kilbreth.
"Lay down on the ground! Lay down!"
Eight years had passed since Kilbreth's academy days. But the officer remembered something that an instructor had communicated to him: If somebody ordered you to the ground, it was probably because they didn't have the courage to shoot you face-to-face. Laying face down would probably embolden them to take the shot, execution style.
"I'm not going to lay down, dude."
Kilbreth's calm assertion seemed to throw Bedard off for a second. He moved closer, putting the 9mm semi-auto three inches from Kilbreth's forehead.
"Lay down, mother f____r! Lay down!"
Kilbreth knew he had to get to his sidearm. But his gun hand was still occupied with the baton. As subtly as possible, the officer began working to transition the baton to his left hand. At the same time, he began using the same hand to try and deflect the barrel of the weapon from his forehead. Each time, Bedard countered Kilbreth's hand away with his free hand.
But between Bedard's screaming demands and mutual hand jousting, Kilbreth succeeded in making the transition. He held the baton up in front of his face in an attempt to block his face from the gunshot he anticipated would come at any second.
It was then that Kilbreth noticed that Bedard's eyes were trained on the baton. What it was about the baton that riveted the man's attention, Kilbreth didn't know. But he was determined to exploit it.
Moving the baton hand lower and to his left so that Bedard's eyes would track it there, Kilbreth kept talking to the man, keeping Bedard's other senses as occupied as possible so as to prevent him from formulating a game plan while Kilbreth proceeded with his own.
"Hey, listen, dude," the officer said. "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you did. Frankly, I don't give a shit what you did. It's not worth it. Put the gun down."
Bedard's profane tirade continued. Part of Kilbreth was happy for it. For he was able to slowly bring his right hand up to his triple retention holster and unsnap it.
To Kilbreth, the sound was deafeningly loud. He was sure that at that point Bedard was going to open fire.
But Bedard didn't.
Instead, he continued staring as if transfixed by the asp now in Kilbreth's left hand.
"Here, dude, just take it." Kilbreth held out the baton for the mesmerized Bedard. He stared at Kilbreth for a second. He was clearly bewildered.
"Take it," Kilbreth repeated. "I don't know what you did. I really don't care. Take this and leave."
For some reason, Bedard complied, grabbing the asp out of Kilbreth's hand. Turning around, he darted back for his car.
Kilbreth was hot on his heels as Bedard jumped back into the Bonneville. Nearing the back of the suspect's ride, he saw its brake lights go on and off as though Bedard was trying to start the vehicle.
Kilbreth yelled for Bedard to come out and drop the gun as Bedard's female companion circled behind the officer, screaming, "No, no, no!"
At that moment, Kilbreth thought it must be nice to be a chameleon, with eyes capable of rotating independent of one another so as to keep an eye on two things at once. Kilbreth decided that while she was an unknown commodity, Bedard and his gun weren't and he fixed his attentions accordingly.
Again, he ordered Bedard out of the vehicle. Again, he got no compliance.
I've got to create a little bit of distance between us, Kilbreth thought.
Backpedaling for his cruiser, Kilbreth took cover behind its engine block, blading himself to the back of the Bonneville and watching the suspect through its rear window.
He considered his backdrop.
To the front of Bedard's vehicle lay a Panera Bread restaurant, a grocery market, and a couple of other businesses that at that time of the morning were packed with people. Bedard's backdrop was just a huge expanse of parking lot, leaving Kilbreth with a decided advantage if the situation devolved into a shooting.
Kilbreth prayed it wouldn't come to that. But if it did, he knew he'd have to make his shot count. It came down to this: Bedard was either going to give up, or come out shooting.
As Kilbreth took a half step from the vehicle, he saw Bedard's left hand and the gun come over the roof of his car, pointing at him.
As Bedard fired, so did Kilbreth.
The simultaneous exchange of gunfire found Bedard getting off three rounds. Bedard's first and second rounds blew out the back window of Kilbreth's cruiser and struck its front grill and radiator. The third skimmed the hood of the patrol car before entering Kilbreth's right hip and exiting the back of his right buttocks.
Kilbreth put rounds through the back window of Bedard's Bonneville, at a furious pace, knowing that if he fired any place else, anything that would have missed the suspect would have gone into a restaurant full of people.
From inside the car Bedard cried out, "Oh, f__k!" then flinched forward slightly as though hit.
The next thing Kilbreth remembered was tripping on the ground and falling backward. He wasn't consciously aware of it, but he'd fired until lock back, expending 12 rounds of his Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-auto, model 4036.
Kilbreth reloaded and jacked another round, getting back up on his feet and on target in only a couple of seconds. He could see Bedard seated in the car, facing forward and moving around.
Standing there, Kilbreth suddenly became aware of a stinging pain in his hip, as though someone had smashed a pool cue against it. He looked down and saw a little rip in his pants with some blood dripping out of it. He realized that he'd been hit.
Kilbreth could tell from Bedard's movements in the car that Bedard had been hit, as well. The man was looking up toward the sky and gasping for breath.
Kilbreth called for an ambulance, more for Bedard than himself.
As other officers descended upon the scene, Kilbreth made sure that Panera Bread was evacuated in the event of a second engagement.
But there would be no further shooting. In the end, Kilbreth had fared much better than his assailant. The Gold Dot Hydra Shok rounds had done their job. Donald Bedard would be transported to an area hospital where he would be pronounced dead of a bullet wound to the head. Kilbreth would eventually return to full duty.
Looking back, the Medal of Valor recipient believes that the years spent conditioning both his gross motor skills and mindset paid off. One thing that stood out was his conscious and deliberate effort to control his breathing during the firefight, and after.
"I knew going into the shooting that if I was hit, I'd have to slow down my breathing. It doesn't matter if you're shot once or four times. Breathing rhythmically allows you to focus on what's going on and stay in the game. It slows down your heart rate so that you're not pumping out any more blood than you need to."
In the end, this and Kilbreth's ability to zero in on the things that he needed to allowed him to get out of the situation alive.
Which is something that can't be said of the man who shot him.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Put yourself in the shoes of Officer Sean Kilbreth, having stopped a suspicious vehicle with a bullet hole in the windshield and a driver and passenger with holes in their story.
Officer Kilbreth went to work, despite having sustained a back injury earlier in the day. Do you report to work when injured? If so, why?
Have you considered what you would do if you found yourself at gunpoint? What would you do? What do you think of Officer Kilbreth's response?
What do you do to prepare for the possibility of being shot and having to continue to engage a suspect? Have you incorporated such considerations into your tactical training?