On the worst day in the city’s history, Santa Fe’s police officers rose to the challenge, officials said Thursday.
When the call came May 18, they put themselves in harm’s way to help people who were injured and afraid and they tried to save lives at Santa Fe High School.
They did all they were able, officials said.
The city council Thursday evening honored five police officers, the city marshal, a police dispatcher and a municipal court assistant for their actions on May 18.
The group was awarded commendations and given pins during a ceremony at city hall.
“I have an outstanding department of young men that love their community and work every day to protect their community,” Santa Fe City Manager Joe Dickson said before the meeting. “By their actions on May 18, they proved that.”
Santa Fe’s police officers were among the first to arrive at the high school after shots were fired. The department is separate from the Santa Fe Independent School District Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the city’s school campuses.
Police Capt. Philip Meadows, Sgt. Robert Shores, detective Mike Gray, and officers Bryan Barnard and Jesse Cannon were honored for putting their own safety at great risk to approach and enter the school, officials said.
Meadows assisted in the capture of the suspected shooter, and was the first person to interview him on the day of the shooting. That suspect, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, was indicted on felony murder and aggravated assault charges Thursday.
Shores and Barnard assisted in pulling Santa Fe ISD police officer John Barnes to safety. Barnes was shot in the arm during the incident, and survived after being flown by helicopter to University of Texas Medical Branch hospital in Galveston and undergoing hours of emergency surgery.
Cannon and Gray took gunfire during a shootout near the high school’s art room, and helped to find and contain the shooter, Dickson said.
City Marshal Robert Wood helped fleeing and wounded students and teachers reach safety and obtain medical treatment, Dickson said.
Telecommunications officer Leigh Scofield was the only dispatcher on duty on the morning of the shooting. She remained “poised and calm” as 911 calls began to arrive. Some of the calls came from inside the art classroom where the shooting was taking place. Scofield relayed the information to police and other emergency responders.
Municipal court assistant Katy Edinburgh went to the call center and helped Scofield answer telephone calls.
“It was an extraordinary job by several officers,” Police Chief Jeff Powell said. “Even though we’re recognizing five of my officers and two from other departments, really everybody that came out contributed to the investigation in some form or fashion.”
The group is part of the relatively small police force that watches over Santa Fe, Powell said.
The department has about 20 officers who are split between four shifts, Powell said.
All of Santa Fe’s police officers have been provided counseling since the shooting, Powell said.
The department was holding up well despite the atrocities some of the officers and staff witnessed that day, Powell said said.
“It was tough on a lot of guys,” Powell said. “I’m seeing signs of normalcy return over the last few weeks and months where officers have a better outlook than they’ve had.”
The officers and staff members have been encouraged to seek help if they needed it, he said.
“Law enforcement has come a long way in the last 15 or 20 years by being able to provide the counseling,” Powell said. “Back in the early days, there just wasn’t a lot of counseling done. You picked up and went about your business.
Those days have passed, he said.
The officers’ dedication to the community did not just appear during the shooting, Dickson said. Just months before, some of the same officers dropped everything to help rescue people from flooded homes during Hurricane Harvey.
Despite the combination of tragedies, the officers continued to carry on, Dickson said.
“After dealing with Harvey, then dealing with this, they were exhausted,” Dickson said. “They still come to work every day and go out there and do their duty.”