I am a lover of written words. And today I despise them. For I’ve tried and tried, and they can’t in any way describe wrecking sorrow, nor tremulous agony. No matter the efforts I put in arranging and rearranging them, I can’t adequately describe feelings or what I saw that night. Some things can not be contained within the structure of measly letters formed into words then sentences. Some things are just too massive, too much. And far too painful.
Never knew this kind. Not ever.
Distraught, and that is that, for now. Maybe the salty tears falling from cheeks to a phone screen as I type will penetrate these words and somehow equate to the sadness and devastation of my heart. But that is wishful thinking.
It was peaceful. As peaceful as it could be I suppose. Officers and protestors taking pictures together side by side. Officers yelled at here and there, cursed. But that was expected. Given the recent most tender of circumstances and events in our country, no rifles strapped to officers because we wanted those using their voice to be at ease and comfortable around those in blue and a badge. And so officers who had rifles did not have them strapped on and around considering the sake of others, given the nature of the event. This was in the midst of several protesters HAVING rifles around their bodies while marching and exercising that right.
A dreadful radio transmission no officer ever wants to hear in their career: “OFFICER DOWN!! OFFICER DOWN!!”
Heavy rounds from an assault rifle began unleashing from behind. And that agonizing radio transmission would come through several more times.
For one with an intention to slaughter and annihilate merely because of the badge in the most tragic of ways, the echoes between buildings and skyscrapers camouflaged the precise location of the shooter, delaying intel–this made for great advantage of the shooter.
Rifle shots unloading, mags emptying in return and the sounds bouncing off each other, bouncing off of buildings.
And he was moving. Moving very tactically, very skilled. That’s what was terrifying. He knew what he was doing.
Trained very well, and he was good at what he did. This wasn’t some messy drive-by I’m use to, he was engaging hard, unloading without cease until he saw a body drop then on to his next target– the kind with the badge over heart.
Out the car door, I’m sprinting through crowds of people, they’re sprinting towards me. Other officers running beside me, screams in my ear and trying to listen to the radio too, yelling comes through:
“Need you here!”
“Need officers on the northside!”
“Watch high, watch high!”
“Check that garage!”
“Got eyes on him!”
“Ey, WATCH YOUR SIX!”
“Stay low, stay low!”
Building to building, gun up.
Dead sprints, corner to corner. As fast as my legs could carry my body. Faster than rifle rounds? No. Hell no. And quite frankly, the vest around my chest can not stop that type of weaponry.
Officers Hanna Velazquez and her husband, Adrian Velazquez, of the Dallas police, attended a vigil on Monday near City Hall. DAVID RYDER/The New York Times/Redux
Running toward the noise, blind. Hunting with eyes for other officers within the crowd, yelling for civilians to ‘get back!’ Running through people, people running toward us.
Officers with fresh scratch and claw marks on flesh arms from crowds clenching terrified, yelling, “Please save me! I don’t want to get shot!”
Officers pushing off hands and arms to make their way toward shots and yelling, ‘run that way, get behind a building now!’, directed away from gunfire. Woman not letting go and officer turning toward her with a voice stern and abrupt, real and raw, ‘Mam! They are shooting at me! If you stay with me you are more at risk of getting killed, run behind that building now! I have to go in!”
“Another injured officer, need an ambulance now!”
Officers dropping, number rising–Where is he now?! Teaming up and moving in.
“Stay focused, we have a job to do”–officer consoling officer while taking cover behind building walls. Such small moments crouched down beside each other became the biggest moments of all. Moments for another breath when we weren’t sure how many more were left once we moved from this wall to that wall. 9mm pistols don’t have nothing on an assault rifle, I’ll tell you that much right now. And that’s all most of us had. The shooter had heavy body armor on, more resilient than most of ours. That was a horrifying feeling–he can put us down, but pistols aren’t penetrating. Keep going, keep pushing. If there is no fear in bravery, well then I was not brave at all. And all the while we hover together, moving in teams close contact, I’m hearing tones of cellphones in officers pockets. Families and friends scared, watching the news, not knowing if ‘one down’ meant one of their own. And all they had was the answer of a phone call, a text message to depend on for relief. One they couldn’t get for a long time.
I choose not to share specific details of all that had happened on this terror-filled night. Our culture is becoming so desensitized with quick phone recordings and video clips, media exploiting all. I don’t feel it helpful for my friends or family nor public to know certain things we had to endure or had to see. Also for the sake of my fellow officers/friends, and their families.
I will say, however, that the phrase “injured officer” through media doesn’t quite depict the severity of rifle rounds through and through a body, backs and limbs, all that well. Nor the devastation and aftermath by those blows. And there were “injured officers” driving other sisters, other brothers in blue far worse–unimaginable–loaded in the back of squad cars because moments to wait for ambulance were moments far too long. Racing for hope.
There were officers that night who drove on metal rims the entire route to the hospitals because the rifle shots blew the tires out when he opened fire.
And I am utterly overwhelmed to tears by the hospitals. For their preparation, fast paced squaring away. For when they got word, handfuls and handfuls of nurses and doctors alike–rushed together to gear up for operation procedure, lining side by side, one after the other, after the other– standing behind sliding entrance doors of an emergency room awaiting trauma-drenched arrivals they knew were coming . Then more. Way more. They were ready.
And while still taking cover, behind a concrete wall. I’m getting the numbers of officers confirmed death relayed to my post. Two.
“Stay focused. Stay focused. We have a job to do”–
When the gun battle was over. And eery quiet filled the now early hour night sky, behind a concrete building officers begin sliding down the wall, seated on ground. Removing helmets, sweat rolling down faces. Uniforms, drenched salty. Unstrapping rifles. I’m drenched in sweat. And I gaze at long faces filled with terror, eyes that pierce with ‘defeat’ because, regardless, we knew of loss already and were awaiting on word of others. I guess that’s what my face looked like to them too. And I’m looking to my left and to my right. And I see brothers and sisters with ballistic vests over their civilian clothes because they were driving home when they got the word of the shooting, no time for even the uniform, they just came running. I see others standing beside me, it was their weekend off duty, they were spending the night with their families and when they heard– grabbed guns, their uniform, kisses to wife and babies. Husbands and children. Not knowing of certain return, leaving serenity to run to chaos and danger. It was a birthday of another officer, head in hands now. My Sgt beside me with an arm wound loosely treated from a rifle round that scathed his tricep. He had said no to hospital, and yes, to staying. Standing beside us still working while wounded. There are heroes everyday. I just happened to be surrounded by a pool of them on this night. Many emotions over the love represented here–for me, her and him; for others and for peace. Here, in this concrete jungle filled with gunfire, evil, violence–death– this night into an early morning. Lots of death.
And trying to process what just happened. Because my mind can’t seem to put it together, having a difficult time remembering things chronologically. Mind twisted. Tired and wide awake. It was ugly, so very ugly.
I look at my phone with so many texts, missed calls, messages from family. I’m certain it was a dreadful hoping– ‘please not him’ , ‘ please not her’ as they watch the numbers of the fallen rise on breaking news. I answer up to parents finally,’I’m ok’.
And with sobs, all I can think about are the cellphones still going off the hook from family, friends, fiancées, wives–ring and tones which will never be responded to.
We are exhausted, devastated, confused and with the heightened adrenaline and senses for that extended period of time, I feel like I could knock out standing up. But too wide awake as well. No water for hours, no food. Just fighting for life. Then another officer looks at me and says, “See you tonight, Hanna.”
We would be coming back in a few hours to work our shift until the next morning after that.
And I’m not sure how to make it through the shifts to come. How do I answer 911 calls hours after this? Or even in the days to come? No, honestly. How do we do this? How do I stay professional? How do I regain a genuine concern for someone who got their car stolen.. Or beat up or even shot, after we just watched the most agonizing and heinous violence of all. I don’t know how to feel for anything or anyone else right now. I don’t know how to go right back.
Sgt said with a trembling and cracking voice, ‘We got to keep going men, women. We got to keep pushing on’
After the longest night of my life, and feeling that it has never ended still, I make it back home. I sit at the kitchen table motionless, staring. My husband sits beside me, motionless, staring. He was there too, we were split up and never saw each other and then he ended up at the hospital waiting on officers in surgery. Begging a Sgt with blood on his uniform from carrying a fallen man to a squad car to tell him the names he was giving him were ‘still just in surgery’ and we’re going to come out ok. They weren’t.
And after about fifteen minutes of nothing to say because we just can’t, sitting in a quiet home, tears stream in and down uncontrollably from both of us.
How did this happen? Is only the beginning of so much confusion and heartache.
We hug each other and weep and I have never felt an embrace so alive.
We made it home. But, you see, our friends did not. They laid still, slain on the ground, instead. When once–as alive as I am right now.
“Glad youre safe,” doesn’t feel good at all when my friends are not. Friends that were there one moment, down the next. In the most brutal of ways. Oh, so brutal. Brutal. Brutal. Brutal. You just don’t know.
One of the officers killed, my husband had just gotten off the phone with, before downtown Dallas became soaked with blood, wrung out with agony. They spoke over the phone, passing guy jokes as usual. Adrian always teased him about the yellow reflective (bike) DPD top he wore, and he teased my husband over his ways saying, ‘you should’ve been a Navy.’ My husband replies, ‘na you should’ve been Army.’ They both laugh.
They fought for the same country, they served the same country. And they were partners. And my husband loved working with him. When Adrian got to the streets of policing, ‘Z’, as we called him, saw him and immediately took him aside. Because they both endured deployments to Iraq, Z knew Adrian would need guidance learning how to be on ground level as a police officer rather than a war fighter in combat. Z had to do the same and knew the difficulty of that transition. ‘Let it go, man’ was frequent council to Adrian. They became closely bonded. He was a friend of mine, he was a good one. And he was taken.
And as a police officer and all of us beside each other, im realizing it isn’t just me..but rather, a shared inner guilt swells up behind the badge filled with a sense of helplessness thinking of ways we could’ve done more, how we could’ve gotten there faster, maybe moved in differently–beating ourselves up. I’ve spoke with officers, states away, who have voiced the same sorrowful struggle within them.
Every day, we just want to make it home. Everyday,’be safe’ is never spoken lightly between officers. It’s an ensured type of language between each other because we know the possibilities and the evil we are up against.
And the officers I know and love so very much fight for peace, even to death they will. And five of them did that very thing. In sobs and agony, wails and pain, AGAIN, I say–FIVE of them, did that on this date.
And we are still here. And I don’t know how to move on or if I’ll ever heal from this. Any of us. Could’ve been any of us. It’s hard to think about the days ahead and continuing to work and proceed with my duties knowing the ones who once were beside I won’t see anymore.
I’m still hearing sirens in my left ear and my radio in my right. Hardly sleeping. Panic is in the back of my mind. I’m uneasy, we all are. And all we can do, all I can do, is console one another. The same way we were behind those concrete walls and buildings taking cover from bullets.
And we are continuing forward–with weary broken-hearted steps and tears on our cheeks because we must–to Fight for p e a c e. We fight for it because we love it. You have to love peace to fight for it. ‘The greater the cause, the greater the risk’ as John Piper said.
And I have nothing to clench to but the only Hope there is in all of this. The only one who can truly empathize with me is one who was slain Himself for the sake of ultimate P E A C E. He loves it more than me or any of my fellow officers. That’s a lot.
“Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good •Romans 12:21”.
No hashtags for this one.
Hanna Velazquez, Chickasaw, 27, is an officer with the Dallas Police Department. Her husband Adrian Velazquez is also a member of the DPD.