HPD retired Officer John Barnes, shot in the elbow when he confronted the Santa Fe active shooter, believes medical trauma training and presence of a tourniquet enabled another officer to save his life
Officer training in recent years at the HPD has emphasized critical medical steps that can be taken to ensure that a wounded officer knows his or her chances of surviving a wound are much better “in a trail of blood rather than a pool of blood.”
The lesson of this particular training episode centers around one word that now should be permanently branded in the common-sense compartment of an officer’s brain: TOURNIQUET!
Currently, every HPD officer is issued a tourniquet and requested to keep it at the ready in case of any emergency involving a heavy loss of blood. Officers have to have it with them, preferably on the belt.
A recent case history underscores the need to keep it out of the shop or the trunk and readily at hand.
Our purpose here is to clearly and concisely stress the importance of each officer carrying on his/her belt a tourniquet. This story here demonstrates how that crucial first aid device can save the life of a partner or a colleague in an exceptionally dangerous situation.
It’s John Barnes’ story. A retired HPD officer, Barnes was the first Santa Fe Independent School District law enforcement officer to confront the teenaged shooter in the May 18 active shooter event at Santa Fe High School. Ten people were killed and 14 wounded, including Barnes.
The kid on the killing spree shot Officer Barnes in the elbow, shattering the bone and causing blood to spurt out all over the floors of the school’s hallway.
God willing, alongside Barnes was a second officer, Gary Forward. We’ll let Barnes tell you what happened.
“Had Gary not had that tourniquet on him I wouldn’t have made it,” Barnes told the Badge & Gun. “It was as if a knife had been stuck inside my neck. How fast you can bleed out! It does not take that long for your heart to pump that blood out of your body.
“He literally got out the tourniquet after I was shot. Within 20 or 30 seconds he had that tourniquet on me. Without that first measure those other measures wouldn’t have worked like they did. I would have been long dead.”
The history of this life-saving event and the arrest of the shooter is highlighted by expert police training and preparation. Barnes had his own tourniquet – the result of his HPD training – while Officer Forward, himself a 25-year police veteran of the Saratoga Springs (New York) PD before beginning his stint at Santa Fe ISD, had no problem carrying the helpful, life-saving device on his belt.
Of course, it also helped that the school district’s police chief, Walter Braun, “made us all carry one a few months ago,” Barnes pointed out.
Officer Forward responded with Barnes, who took the lead around a hallway corner and – as Forward put it, “he got hit immediately. He never saw what hit him.”
Forward had his tourniquet handy and said he immediately recalled his training experiences: “Go high or die. You use the tourniquet as high on the limb as you can get it. Do not put a tourniquet right at the wound. If you severe the artery, the artery could retract.”
He attached this great life-saving device between Barnes’ elbow and shoulder. “I did what I could. I didn’t do anything that John wouldn’t have done for me. I did what our training told us to do.”
All this took place in crucial seconds with the armed teenage just around the corner. It turned out he was barricading himself in a nearby classroom.
. “While Gary was applying the tourniquet that guy could have come around the corner and shot both of us,” Barnes said. “It was pretty nerve-racking. He got the tourniquet on me and then we got inside a room. Gary went out there and confronted the gunman and I waited for the cavalry.
“I was still bleeding quite a bit. Basically, they dragged me from the room They say you know when you’re going to die when you’re in that situation. I knew Life Flight was there and knew I had a lot more time. I knew I would not survive an ambulance drive.”
A nurse from Clear Lake had hurried to the active shooter scene to help the wounded. Barnes doesn’t know her identity except that she is the wife of a firefighter. He was grateful to her but was insistent, telling her, “If you don’t get me on that (blanking) helicopter, I’m going to die. A minute later I did.”
Yes, it was the first of two Barnes flatlines that day. The second came a little later in the emergency room. Once on the helicopter the medical personnel “couldn’t get a pulse.” They restored his breathing and gave Barnes two bags of blood, the first of six he received in the immediate aftermath of the shooting wounds.
Meanwhile, Forward went back to the corner to engage the shooter at a distinct disadvantage – his semi-automatic side arm against his shotgun blasts. Santa Fe ISD has some rifles, but they weren’t present at this impromptu active shooter scene. “All I had was my pistol,” Forward explained.
“He (the shooter) had barricaded himself in a room,” Forward said. “The whole incident went on 25 or 30 minutes. We talked to him and got him to come out of the room and surrender. Some other officers were speaking to him to get him to come out.”
Now recovering at his home and reflecting on the life-saving tourniquet experience, Barnes said of his attacker, “He can’t get the death penalty because he was 17 when he committed the crimes. He’s going to get life. I hope that’s going to happen one way or another.”
Doctors provided the transfusions that replenished the blood supply and began the arduous process of reconstructing Barnes’ shattered right elbow. At the five-month mark from the date of the shooting, Barnes described this stage of his recovery.
“I lost so much blood the doctors really can’t believe I survived this,” he said. “Some medical magazine talked to them and they’re doing a medical article on me. It’ll be out in another month.
“I don’t have any permanent brain damage because of all the blood loss. I had some before with my speaking ability and reasoning.
“One of the first things I wanted to hear about when I first woke up was whether anybody else got shot. I was told NO! There were another 20 kids in the next room. Had we not engaged the guy he could have gone into that room. I’m very thankful he focused his attention on us, keeping him from getting into that room.”
Barnes recovered to the point of being able to write and to cut steak with his right hand. He could almost make a fist. Still, his elbow was so badly mangled and the nerves in his hand so damaged that most doctors were at a loss of what to do. About a month ago one exceptional bone surgeon undertook the difficult task. He attached two plates, one above and one below the bone.
“I’m in therapy now,” the officer explained. “It’ll be six or eight months of therapy before my arm will be back to where it’s going to be.
“Right now, my right arm is literally a dead stick. That’s because the surgery was so recent. Right now, I can’t do anything with my right hand. I don’t have the ability to raise my own hand up. The biceps and triceps haven’t any way to move my elbow.”
Barnes said doctors are very hesitant to provide time frames. But he dared to say that “I probably will have some use out of my arm by Christmas, where I can actually lift my arm up and put it on a pillow. By the end of spring or sometime before summer I should have my arm wherever it’s going to be. I think I’m going to get enough mobility out of it to make it functional.
“I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do. It’s going to be another six months before they (the doctors) even talk about that. I don’t know yet whether I’ll be able to go back to work full-time as far as my police work is concerned.”
Barnes said he had met “and hugged the neck” of one of the survivors of the active shooting and has heard thank-yous from many parents and other survivors.
“I cannot say enough about how I feel for the parents who lost their kids,” he said. “It was the worst thing imaginable. I can’t even begin to imagine something like that.”
Barnes’ wife Ashley is the assistant principal at a Santa Fe middle school. The couple has two kids, 15-year-old son Luke and 11-year-old daughter Riley.
The Santa Fe ISD awarded Barnes a Purple Heart and the school district police department’s Medal of Honor for his valor.
The district also bestowed on Officer Forward its Life Saving Medal. Forward was a 25-year veteran of the Saratoga Springs police department in New York before he fell in love with a Texas woman who now is in the process of retiring from the Friendswood PD. “I met her and got tired of flying back and forth,” Forward said, “so I moved to Texas 11 years ago. Her name’s Shari.”
Forward admitted he and Barnes share a special bond. “He can’t shake me,” Forward said with a smile. “I’m so happy to see him doing as well as he is. He’s a tough, tough guy, thank God.”
The two officers will remain steadfast in their advocacy for officers never forgetting their tourniquets. They should be the poster boys.
“I cannot emphasize that enough,” Barnes said. “I didn’t truly understand how important that it was. Now I’m the first one to tell everybody to please, please carry that tourniquet. Had Gary not been with me I probably wouldn’t be here. After you’re shot it takes quite a bit to get those things on. I’m not sure I could have applied that to myself.”