Fort Worth police chief was in D.C. talking gun control when officer was shot

Posted Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- The timing, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead would later remark, was "eerie."

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Halstead was meeting with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in Washington D.C. to discuss gun control concerns of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Among the highest priority for the organization of police executives, he told Cornyn, is to work with federal officials to ensure that those illegally possessing guns are prosecuted to the fullest extent under laws already on the books.

"We almost see every week where we have officers being ambushed by people who have absolutely no right to possess these weapons," Halstead said.

About that same time his concerns were being played out at a Haltom City auto shop, where one of his own officers and personal friend -- 21-year veteran John Bell -- was shot by a convicted felon being pursued by Haltom City police.

Officials say Cody Loron, a convicted bank robber wanted on drug-related warrants, was hiding from Haltom City police in a car on the lot when he opened fire on Bell, who had been visiting the auto shop owner and was helping Haltom City with their search.

Bell was struck in the head, hand, and hip area and remained hospitalized in serious condition Thursday.

Loron was shot in the return fire and pronounced dead a short time later at John Peter Smith Hospital.

Halstead would learn about the shooting in a phone call from a captain while walking from Capitol Hill back to his hotel.

"While I'm there, a personal friend of mind actually gets shot in the line of duty," Halstead said. "That's when it became very overwhelming and not just emotionally. It's also the fact that I'm over 1,000 miles away and I can't get there to do my job and be with them."

'Johnny's been shot'

In the chaos and confusion following the shooting, Halstead said he was initially given the wrong name of the injured officer.

He said he did not learn that the injured officer was Bell -- a personal friend with whom he and his wife have vacationed with -- until realizing the shooting had occurred at the 2nd Opinion Auto Center.

"For the last three years, I've developed a very close personal friendship with both (auto shop) owners," Halstead said. "They helped me and my wife achieve a life-long dream of restoring my uncle's car."

Halstead said he immediately called the owner.

"'Dan, are you OK? I just got a call there was a shooting there," Halstead recalled of the conversation. "Dan had trembling in his voice. He said, 'Oh my God. You wouldn't believe it. Johnny's been shot."

"I go, 'John Bell?'," Halstead recalled. "He said, 'Yeah, he's been shot in the head and I was with him and they just took him off in an ambulance."

Halstead, a former motor jock himself, said he had bonded with Bell, a Vietnam veteran who had served in the Special Forces, over their love of muscle cars, motorcycles, and the traffic division. He said it was Bell that had recommended 2nd Opinion to him when he was looking for help restoring his beloved 1967 Camaro that he and his wife bought from his uncle in 1995.

"I didn't have a way to get it over there. John said, 'I'll come over with my trailer and take it over there for you,' " Halstead said.

On Valentine's Day last year, Bell and one of the auto shop owners surprised Halstead by delivering the finished convertible Camaro to the Ridglea Country Club, where the chief was competing in Stage West's Acting with the Stars event.

"When I came out, John was polishing my Camaro," recalled.

'Full of courage'

With no flights returning to Dallas Fort Worth Tuesday night, Halstead was left getting updates by phone about Bell's condition until he and Deputy Chief Rhonda Robertson could fly out Wednesday morning.

"That was painful -- to be so far away and so helpless," he said.

Early Wednesday, another officer at the hospital held his phone up to Bell so that the chief could talk briefly to his friend.

"I said, 'John, you have no idea how worried I was. Not just as your friend, but as your chief,' " Halstead said.

Bell, with his trademark humor still intact, replied, "if you think you're worried, you should have been standing there taking bullets from this guy.'"

"I knew then he was going to be OK because he was joking with me," Halstead said.

Halstead said he went to the hospital immediately upon arriving at the airport but could not talk with Bell because he was asleep, resting up for surgery. He settled for patting the sleeping officer's hand and offering his support to Bell's wife, a Mansfield police detective.

"He is extremely tough and full of courage," Halstead said.

Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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