Fort Worth officer who was shot 3 times says he never gave up hope

Posted Thursday, Feb. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- He arrived at the hospital Jan. 29 with three gunshot wounds and some questioning whether he'd live.

But on Thursday afternoon, more than a week after being shot at a Haltom City auto shop, Fort Worth officer Johnny Bell left the hospital -- his body still somewhat broken but his positive attitude intact.

Outside, the Fort Worth police honor guard and his fellow motorcycle officers stood at attention and saluted a surprised Bell as he was wheeled toward a waiting car.

Applause broke out among other patients, hospital employees, and visitors who had stopped to watch.

For Bell, leaving Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth in a car and not a hearse was never a question.

"You can't think that way," Bell said.

"As long as you're breathing, you're living. That's the bottom line, and you've got to tell yourself you're going to be OK and you will be."

Though usually reserved for an officer's funeral, the honor guard appeared at the insistence of Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead.

"If he were to have died, we would have had his funeral this week. We would have had hundreds, if not thousands, celebrating his service," Halstead said. "I think we need to celebrate his life. ... He deserves it."

'I fired seven.

He fired eight'

Before his discharge Thursday, Bell talked about the shooting -- and the long road ahead -- in an exclusive interview with the Star-Telegram.

Bell and his partner that day, officer George Rusnak, had stopped by 2nd Opinion Auto Center on Carson Street to check on some motors for Fort Worth's Beat the Heat race team and chat with the owner, a close friend of Bell's.

Haltom City officers came into the business, searching for a suspect.

"They came running in there asking if we had seen a guy running through the yard, which we hadn't," Bell said.

The men stayed inside while Haltom City police searched the auto yard.

One of the Haltom City officers later explained that the suspect had a pound of methamphetamine and had run from police.

After the search ended and Haltom City police left, Bell said, he told the owner, Dan Harris, that the suspect might have hidden his drugs in the auto yard.

"I said, 'You know the last place he was seen was in your yard. If he had a pound of meth on him, he probably stashed it someplace here and he will probably be back for it,'" Bell recalled. "I told Dan, 'We probably should see if we could find it, before he does come back, as evidence.'"

So Bell, Rusnak and Harris began searching the yard.

The officers didn't have their guns drawn because they didn't perceive a threat.

"We weren't looking for him at all," Bell said. "... I think actually he probably came back to hide and we didn't know it.

"We had gotten pretty much to the end of our search and we'd found where he had jumped the fence," Bell said.

"There was one little pickup there -- you couldn't see in hardly at all. It had been there a long time. Dan opened the door and I was standing there and [the suspect] shot me. He started shooting. He was inside the truck."

Though struck in the right eye, Bell drew his weapon and returned fire.

"It just took a matter of seconds," Bell said. "I fired seven. He fired eight."

By the end, two more shots had hit Bell.

One severed his left middle finger.

The other struck his right groin area, lodging in his hip socket.

"If you're involved in something like that, you can't run," Bell said.

"You've got to go forward. You have to stand your ground and you've got to win the fight because if you don't, then you are in trouble."

'He should have

been in prison'

Bell's wife, Barbara, a Mansfield police detective, was at work when Fort Worth motorcycle officer Walter May called.

"He goes, 'Johnny is at Dan's and he's been shot,'" Barbara Bell recalled. "That didn't compute that he's at Dan's and he got shot. If he had said he's on a traffic stop and he got shot, that would make sense. It didn't make sense."

May told her that her husband had been shot three times but was alert and talking.

"I asked in not-so-polite words if the other guy was dead," Barbara Bell said.

The other guy, Cody Loron, was a convicted bank robber wanted on drug-related warrants. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at John Peter Smith Hospital.

"I'm mad because he should have been in prison but that's not the way it always works. Being in law enforcement, I know it's not the way it always works, but he should have been in prison," Barbara Bell said.

Johnny Bell, an officer in Cleburne for 10 years before spending the next 21 years in Fort Worth, broke in.

"But that's why we're here," he said. "There's always going to be people like that out there. So that's why we do the job we do."

'It's a family'

Bell underwent surgeries to repair his hand and remove the bullet lodged in his hip and shrapnel from his eye.

David C. Smith, medical director over trauma services, said the outcome could have been much worse.

"His left hand was the only one that wouldn't have been life-threatening," Smith said of the injuries. "The bullet could have easily entered his brain, which would obviously have been very bad. And the bullet could have easily gone through the large blood vessels in his groin, which he could have bled to death from, so he got very lucky."

Bell said he knows he has a long rehab in front of him. He's walking with the use of a cane. It's questionable whether he'll ever regain any sight in his right eye.

And he can't say yet whether he'll return to the streets as an officer.

But he praised the hospital staff, the community, and his brothers and sisters in the Fort Worth Police Department for their support.

"You've got to remember the police department is not just a police department. It's a family. It's the biggest family you're ever going to have," Bell said, pointing out the many Fort Worth officers who have visited.

"You can see how everybody has come to see me -- hordes of people. People I haven't seen in years have come down here.

"It humbles me. It makes me feel a little bit embarrassed about it, but it's great. That's where you get the strength -- the people you're around."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter @deannaboyd

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