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

Posted Friday, Feb. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Statement from officer John Bell's family

"We sincerely appreciate the tremendous outpouring of well wishes, thoughts and prayers. Johnny is doing well and looks forward to being able to thank you himself in the near future. It is both humbling and comforting to experience the sense of family from the many officers throughout the area, the excellent medical staff, as well as the businesses and citizens of this great city.

"Johnny was very proud to serve the City of Fort Worth before the events of Tuesday, he is now even more honored.

"He will face some difficult moments in his recovery but will no doubt see it through with your continued support and prayers."

Source: Fort Worth Police Department

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

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

Among the highest priorities for the organization, he told Cornyn, is working 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 time, his concerns were being played out at a Haltom City auto shop, where one of his 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 the search.

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

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

Halstead learned 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 after the shooting, Halstead said, he was initially given the wrong name for the injured officer.

He said he did not learn that the officer was Bell -- a friend with whom he and his wife have vacationed -- until he realized 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 lifelong 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 asking the owner. "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 police traffic division. He said Bell recommended 2nd Opinion to him when he was looking for help restoring a 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 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," Halstead recalled.

With no flights returning to Dallas-Fort Worth on 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 Halstead 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, his trademark humor still intact, replied, “If you think you’re worried, you should have been standing there taking bullets from this guy.’”

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

Halstead said he went to the hospital immediately after arriving at the airport. but could not talk to 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.

Bell “is extremely tough and full of courage,” Halstead said.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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