Wearing a ballistic vest can seem like a chore, as they can be hot and constricting even with advanced technology that enhances comfort while maintaining effectiveness. But a vest can't protect you if it's not on, and you never know when you'll need this life-saving protection. Officers who have survived shooting incidents thanks to their vests are quick to share this wisdom. And they want every officer to believe it and live it. Here are the stories of several officers who lived to tell the tale because they wore their vests.
Deputy Joe Tortorella, Niagara County (NY) Sheriff's Office
Armor Express Halo II
On the afternoon of April 17, 2015, Deputy Joe Tortorella of the Niagara County (NY) Sheriff's Office was dispatched to check out a 911 hang-up call in Wheaton, NY. When he arrived and knocked on the front door, it took a long time for someone to answer it. A 25-year-old man finally opened the door a crack and said he'd be just a minute. Right before the door closed, Tortorella heard a woman moaning as if in pain. Something was going on, but he wasn't yet sure what.
When the man didn't return to the door, Dep. Tortorella walked back toward where his patrol car was parked near the house, and was confronted by the same man, Duane Bores Jr., whose hands were covered in dried blood. Tortorella drew his gun and told Bores to get on the ground, but the man would not comply and instead began shooting at the deputy. Bores took cover behind Tortorella's patrol vehicle as the two exchanged gunfire. The deputy took cover behind a tree and the firefight continued.
Tortorella worried that Bores was planning to attack the elementary school positioned directly next to the Bores residence. So he positioned himself between it and the shooter, and radioed dispatch to lock down the school, where his children were students and his wife was teaching.
Struck multiple times, Bores retreated into the house, where his two parents lay wounded. Bores had apparently shot them both through the mouth over a financial dispute. Both were seriously injured, but narrowly survived. Bores shot and killed himself before responders entered the home.
Tortorella was struck in his ballistic vest during the shooting. He took a round to the upper chest right near his heart, but the Armor Express Halo II vest he was wearing stopped the round.
"I wouldn't be talking to you if I hadn't had my vest on," says Tortorella. He had been wear testing the Armor Express Halo II ballistic vest and decided to keep using it on duty after the test was over because he liked it so much. He was glad he was wearing it that day.
Tortorella has always been a big proponent of wearing ballistic vests on duty, but he now has a greater appreciation for the people who make them. "I've gotten all these awards, but probably the greatest thing I've done besides having my kids and family, is I was able to go to the Armor Express factory in Michigan and meet the people who made my vest," Tortorella says. "It brought out more emotion than I can describe."
Lt. Paul Kotter, Utah Highway Patrol
Point Blank Alpha Elite
Around 2 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2015, then-Sgt. Paul Kotter of the Utah Highway Patrol was working an overtime shift in a construction zone. He and two other troopers were there to keep traffic out of the area closed to the public. When a car entered that area and stopped next to Kotter's vehicle, the sergeant approached the driver on foot.
Kotter smelled alcohol coming out of the car and asked the initially compliant driver, 21-year-old Drew Morgan Moyer, to exit the vehicle. Instead, the man drew a handgun and began firing out the car window at Kotter.
Kotter fell backward onto his left hand, breaking bones with the impact. As he was falling, he drew his duty weapon and began returning fire. As he was scooting backward toward his vehicle, two rounds ricocheted off the ground and hit Kotter in the buttocks. He would later find out that one lodged in his abdomen and somehow didn't hit any internal organs. But those rounds didn't stop him. He kept returning fire, emptying his weapon and reloading to stay in the fight.
As Kotter was standing up, Moyer started driving away, and fired two more shots at the sergeant, both of which hit Kotter in the back. His Point Blank Alpha Elite ballistic vest stopped them. "The body armor definitely stopped the bullets that should have entered my chest cavity or upper torso," he says.
Kotter fired two more shots and Moyer drove down the road and crashed his car, then shot and killed himself, according to detectives.
Now a lieutenant, Kotter prides himself on following the officer safety tenets of the Below 100 program, for which he is an instructor. As such, he has been a longtime advocate of wearing body armor. But that day, he was going to attend his son's football game before his shift. He contemplated not wearing his vest because he would be sitting on the bleachers in the hot sun for the game and he didn't anticipate much danger at work that night.
"Ultimately I decided to wear my body armor, because of my ingrained training, even though I was going to be working a low-risk detail," says Kotter. "No one ever gets shot on construction detail, except for now." After his shooting, many people at his agency who had previously been lax about wearing their vests started to wear their armor even when just working in the office. He says it was a wake-up call for the department.
"In fact, there were two people on that shift with me that night who didn't have their body armor on. I think it was fortunate for me to be the one who was ready and able to take the fight, and win the situation," says Kotter.
Deputy Michael Hockett, Troup County (GA) Sheriff's Office
Propper 4PV 2BFA
Just before noon on Jan. 9, 2017, Troup County, GA, Deputy Michael Hockett was performing a welfare check on a man after his father called concerned about his mental state. Hockett arrived at the large property and, because the gate was locked, he had to jump over a fence to approach the front door of the residence. He knocked on the door but no one answered. Then Matthew Edmonson arrived in his truck with his mother in the passenger's seat. He exited the vehicle and began shooting at the parked patrol car.
Hockett heard the gunshots and took cover behind a stump. Edmonson drove closer to the house and began shooting at Hockett. Hockett yelled at the suspect, "Drop the gun now!" but Edmonson kept firing, and Hockett was worried he would hit the suspect's mother in the vehicle if he returned fire. Hockett ran and jumped back over the fence as the suspect fired, striking the deputy.
From this position, the deputy was able to return fire and hit Edmonson in the shoulder. Hockett was hit in the forehead, elbow, and waist by shotgun pellets.
Edmonson entered the house with his mother, and the incident led to an hours-long standoff involving multiple agencies.
The deputy was able to get into his patrol car and drive away to safety. He was wearing a Propper 4PV 2BFA vest, which includes side panels that stopped and held the pellets as they entered the vest. He was released from the hospital just one hour after arriving.
Officer Angel Padilla, Linden (NJ) Police Department
Safariland Second Chance Summit SM02
On Sep. 19, 2016, officers were on the lookout for a suspect who had planted pressure cooker bombs that exploded in New York and New Jersey. Officer Angel Padilla of the Linden (NJ) Police Department responded to a call of a man sleeping in the doorway of a business. He asked him a few questions and recognized him as the suspect wanted by the FBI, Ahmad Khan Rahimi.
When Padilla asked for the man's ID, Rahimi reached into his jacket and pulled out a handgun and fired, hitting Officer Padilla in the chest. Padilla called for backup. He returned fire and the two exchanged gunfire.
When responding officers arrived, the suspect shot at and grazed Officer Peter Hammer's head. Four Linden Police Department officers engaged the suspect and he was shot seven times. Officers took the man into custody and confirmed he was the suspect in the bombings.
Officers Padilla and Hammer were taken to the hospital where it was found that Officer Padilla’s Second Chance Summit SM02 Level IIIA armor stopped the 9mm round to his chest. Officer Padilla and Officer Hammer were both treated and released.
Officer Jennifer Moore, Phoenix (AZ) Police Department
US Armor Enforcer XLT Level IIIA
On the night of June 28, 2008, Phoenix Police Department Officer Jennifer Moore was working patrol with Officer Benjamin Ippel in the same car. They stopped a vehicle and asked the two occupants to get out of the car. The passenger, Aaron Baca Lopez, pulled out a handgun and shot Officer Moore.
The bullet first severed Moore's right ring finger and then hit her in the chest.
Officer Ippel returned fire at Lopez, who was uninjured and ran. Ippel called for backup and arrested the driver. Two officers drove Officer Moore to a nearby hospital where she was treated. The bullet lodged in her US Armor vest, saving her life. She had been with the department for just one year when the incident occurred.
Officer Moore is still undergoing surgeries on her hand as a result of the injuries she sustained during the shooting. But she is thankful that she was wearing her US Armor ballistic vest, and that she has been able to return to duty as an officer with the Phoenix Police Department.