Joplin police Officer Rick Hirshey said his memories are clear of the shooting more than three months ago that claimed the lives of two other Joplin officers and left him with serious injuries.

Monday was Hirshey’s first day back at Joplin Police Department headquarters after he was shot in the face and Cpl. Benjamin Cooper and Officer Jake Reed were shot to death.

Hirshey said he’s been cleared by his doctors for light duty as he continues to heal from damage caused by the bullet that hit him in the face March 8 and will remain lodged in his neck likely for the rest of his life.

He said he had a short conversation with God in his head as doctors started treating him for his injuries.

“The things is, when I got shot, this whole side of my face went numb because of nerve damage,” Hirshey said Monday. “It didn’t really hurt. I was cognitive of what was happening, and I ducked behind my engine block. I remember doing the whole self-assessment, saying I know I’ve been shot in the face, but I moved my fingers and said, 'Yup, everything works.'

“We get to the hospital, and I walked into the ER. They weren’t ready for us, they were waiting on the ambulances and I walked into the ER. While they cut my gear off and were checking me for secondary injuries, I was actually laying there on the table and thinking, 'OK, I think this is why you brought me back to Joplin, so if I’m done, bring me home. If I’m not, I've got a grandbaby that’s on the way due in early August. I would really like to meet that grand baby. If you’re not done with me, leave me here.' I’m still here, so apparently my work here is not done.”

Light duty

Hirshey said he’s been assigned to the department’s community policing division to help catch up on paperwork and reports.

“We’ve been so short on officers, they’ve gotten behind on some reports just because they’ve been called to help on the streets more,” Hirshey said. “So I’m going to be sitting at a desk for the next couple of months helping to put some reports together they’ve fallen behind on and assembling some information like that.”

Hirshey said doctors have ordered him to stay on light duty for at least two months while a vertebra in his neck heals.

That bone was chipped and cracked when it was nicked by the bullet that Hirshey said took “the only path it could have taken and done the amount of damage it did” without killing him or disabling him for life.

“The path this bullet took was unbelievable,” Hirshey said. “It entered my face in my cheek under my eye, and it’s currently in the soft tissue of my neck. If I didn’t have the X-ray, I wouldn’t even know it’s there. It went under my ocular bone and missed my orbital bone. It shattered my cheek and broke my jaw, but it went under my brain, above my throat, to the right of my carotid artery, to the left of my vertebral artery. It threaded a needle.”

Hirshey said he’s been blessed by the support of his wife and children, his law enforcement family and the community.

“I had tons of support,” he said. “My family, my son and daughter-in-law, they came down, and they were here until I went home from the hospital. Of course, my wife was there, the police department family; I had officers coming out on a regular basis to visit with me and just see how I was doing and bringing me stuff. My doctors have been great. They’ve been working with me, figuring out if I need anything, how fast can we move this along. I’ve had a tremendous support system. ... My church, they’ve been there to help me along. My neighbors ... we’ve got a great neighborhood.”

The incident

Hirshey said he was with the Crime Free team when the call went out over the radio that an officer was pursuing Cooper’s stolen patrol car.

He didn’t know at that time that Cooper and Reed had been shot.

“Initially, we were in our office in City Hall in the basement, so we missed the first part of the call. We don’t have real great radio reception down there,” Hirshey said. “We’re running out to our cars. We have a car in pursuit of Cpl. Cooper’s stolen car, and Capt. (Trevor) Duncan and Capt. (William) Davis were way out by Petro. Capt. Davis decides I need to go help, so he hits lights and sirens, and here he comes. I get in my car and got to the area. By then, the suspect had started firing rounds at our pursuing vehicle. A round goes through that pursuing officer’s windshield and embeds itself in his headrest. The only reason it missed was he had bent down to reach his radio to radio in that the tire was coming off the car.

“The suspect bails out of the patrol car and runs. I get into the area, someone is pointing in his direction, I see him and radio in. I go over that way and as I cross over to block him in as he was trying to steal a car. We didn't know if there were hostages or not, so we couldn’t let him go mobile. So I went in there to block him in as he lifts the gun to fire a round. He fires a round; that bullet goes through the windshield and gets me, so I was down in my car doing the self-assessment when Capt. Davis arrives. He sits there in the driver’s side of his car and engages in a gunfight with the suspect from there.”

Davis’ gunfire killed the suspect, Anthony R. Felix, 40, of Joplin.

Hirshey called Davis his hero in the incident because his intervention stopped the suspect’s fire on him.

Davis said he was just doing his job.

“My very first week here was spent in a car with Officer Hirshey, so he’s responsible for helping to mold me into the officer I am,” Davis said. “I’m forever grateful for that. I don’t think of myself as a hero. I think it’s a job, and I look up to him and I’m thankful for everything he’s done for me and my career and everything he’s done for the department. I couldn’t be more thankful for him today.”

Both officers said the entire department was still mourning the loss of Cooper and Reed.

“Cpl. Cooper was actually a trainee of mine going on 20 years ago, so I’ve known Coop for a long, long time,” Hirshey said. “Jake, I got to interact with him quite a bit, both great guys, great cops. ... They were warriors, so we mourn their passing, but for me, it’s not as much of a goodbye as it is 'I’ll see you on the other side.'”

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