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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Palm Desert, California 03•30•1996

A quiet shopping trip ended in a furious gun battle when Dep. Jason Hendrix tried to stop an angry man from killing several hostages.

November 19, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Play PodcastPlay Shots Fired Podcast

You're Making it My Problem

Hendrix's hand went to the snub-nosed Smith & Wesson.

Model 36, five-shot revolver he'd stashed in his back pocket while inside the store. Pulling it out, he adopted a Weaver stance and took aim at the suspect. For the benefit of all present, Hendrix loudly identified himself as a police officer.

With Hendrix's announcement, the suspect-Robert Ripley-swung the female between himself and Hendrix. The male hostage took advantage of the distraction to dive onto the ground.

Hendrix couldn't believe how quickly things were evolving-and not necessarily for the better. He'd succeeded in stopping the gunman from firing into the man's head, but now another nightmare was playing out: The man was holding a female hostage as a shield and preventing Hendrix from getting a clear shot.

Further complicating Hendrix's situation was all manner of seemingly clueless people walking around them, between them, and behind the suspect. Hendrix had a clear shot on everyone but the suspect. Figuring the oblivious throng about them was a lost cause, Hendrix tried to reason with the man, advising him again that he was a cop and asking him to put the weapon down.

"It's not your problem!" Ripley yelled.

Hendrix wished it wasn't.

"But you're making it my problem," Hendrix told Ripley. "I can't just let you shoot these people. This is not the way to handle this."

That's Gonna Hurt

The female-who Hendrix later learned was Ripley's ex-wife-started to struggle, pulling the suspect to the ground with her. But as soon as he hit the ground, Ripley rebounded, yanking the woman up with him before opening fire on Hendrix.

Having already drawn a bead on Ripley, Hendrix immediately returned fire when he saw the first muzzle flash. His aim was true and both rounds tore into Ripley's torso.

Unfortunately, Ripley's aim had proven accurate, as well.

A bullet struck the earpiece of Hendrix's glasses before deflecting through his left ear and out the backside of his head. Reflexively, Hendrix reached up and touched the side of his head. As he did, he glanced down. Blood was seeping across his T-shirt above the abdomen, and Hendrix's weird sense of cop humor struck him then, too. Chuckling under his breath, he mused to himself, "Shit, that's gonna hurt."

Yet Hendrix felt no pain-not in his stomach, at least. His head was another story. It felt like Mike Tyson had beat him with his fists then done that Holyfield thing with his teeth to his ear.

Ripley had been hit, too, but one wouldn't know it to look at him. Incredibly, the man was moving toward Hendrix.

Hendrix had seen a big pillar in front of the store. In a bid to put some distance and cover between himself and Ripley, he ran for it.

Ripley stalked after him. Both men exchanged more rounds as they moved. Hendrix's third shot hit Ripley just as one of Ripley's rounds stuck him in his right lower leg, causing Hendrix to collapse onto his back as his fourth round went wide of Ripley, striking the store behind him.

Lying on the ground like some upended tortoise, Hendrix knew he had but one round left. From the outset, Ripley hadn't had to concern himself with conserving rounds, and was even still shooting at Hendrix. Desperate, Hendrix raised his gun once more at Ripley and fired his last round. It struck Ripley in his left leg, severing the femoral artery.

Still the man kept coming.

Hendrix was in a state of terrified disbelief-why weren't his rounds doing what they were supposed to do? Why was this crazy son-of-a-bitch still on his feet? How was he still able to advance?

As he dropped his spent revolver to the asphalt, Hendrix could only hope that Ripley might still retain some vestige of humanity and show some mercy.

He didn't.

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