Wearing his dress blues for the first time in months, Arlington Heights police officer Michael McEvoy smiled and shook hands with a long line of colleagues and admirers.
A crowd surrounded him in the middle of the European Crystal ballroom. There was a pat on the back from the mayor, hugs from fellow police officers, jokes with old friends who hadn't seen him in months.
Contact information ( * required )
Every so often he would reach up and touch the bandage peeking out from behind his necktie, the only visible sign of what many have called a miraculous recovery.
Beneath it still lies the bullet that hit him when he was responding to a domestic dispute in December.
McEvoy, 52, stepped to the microphone to deliver two short, but clear, sentences of thanks after being named the L.W. Calderwood Officer of the Year.
"I want to thank everyone for coming today, especially my mother and my fiancee," McEvoy said, referring to his mother, Lovey, and his wife-to-be, Ann.
"I'm very proud to be an Arlington Heights police officer and I'm very proud to be the recipient of the L.W. Calderwood Award."
His enthusiastic audience -- a packed house of Rotarians, village officials and fellow officers -- gave him five standing ovations.
After McEvoy -- described as private, humble and overwhelmed by the attention and well-wishes he's received since the shooting -- made his simple statement, he left the ceremony, leaving fellow officers to fill in the details of one of the most traumatic nights that the Arlington Heights Police Department has faced.
On Dec. 12, McEvoy, a 24-year department veteran, was the first officer to respond to a call that a man with a gun was inside a home in Arlington Heights.
The man, Eric Anderson of Niles, had gotten into the home of his ex-girlfriend's mother and now was threatening his former girlfriend, her mother and one of her mother's friends with a gun.
When McEvoy got there, he heard gunfire inside the house. One of the women was in the garage, screaming for help, said Police Chief Gerald Mourning.
He got the woman in the garage to safety, then turned his attention to the house.
"He knew he had to react immediately. With total disregard for his own safety, he entered the home," Mourning said.
McEvoy went into the house through the garage door and successfully got another woman out. That left Anderson inside with only his former girlfriend, and McEvoy went back in for her.
But Anderson shot McEvoy in the face as he crossed the doorway.
Three backup officers -- Kevin Sullivan, Michael Turano and Douglas Glanz -- got to the scene within seconds of the shooting. A woman was screaming, "Your officer is in the house. The man has a gun, he's shooting," Mourning said.
Sullivan tried to get in through the garage, but the door was blocked by McEvoy's body. Together, the officers forced their way inside and dragged their unconscious colleague to safety behind a squad car in the street. Two of the officers pulled him to safety while the third provided cover in case of more gunfire.
"It seemed as if time stood still," Sullivan said Thursday.
"We just reacted with adrenaline -- all I could think about was assisting the fallen officer, my friend."
Deputy Fire Chief Kenneth Koeppen -- recently promoted to acting Fire Chief -- was down the block visiting family when shots rang through the quiet neighborhood off Palatine Road. He ran outside when he saw the squad cars. He saw McEvoy, who is a longtime friend, lying unconscious on the ground.
He started applying pressure to stop the bleeding and checked that McEvoy's airway was clear.
Authorities said later that Koeppen likely saved McEvoy's life.
"Any police officer or firefighter would have done the same thing," Koeppen said just before he received the police department's Lifesaver Award on Thursday.
McEvoy was rushed to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, where he underwent several surgeries and would spend 16 days in intensive care.
For the officers at the scene, the night turned into a hostage situation and an hourslong standoff before Anderson walked out of the house through the garage, pointed a gun at officers and was shot to death.
But while the events were still unfolding, it was a tense scene with a lot of unknowns for the officers involved.
"I called my wife from the scene and said, 'If I don't come home, I love you,'" Glantz said, still visibly moved. "It was a very scary night."
The other responding officers -- who were honored with the Act of Valor Award on Thursday -- have all taken some time off since the shooting to deal with their emotions, which bubbled to the surface when talking about that night on Thursday.
"In due time it will fade, but it will never go away. To see a co-worker go through that traumatic situation is something that will haunt us our entire lives," Glantz said.
McEvoy was honored on Thursday not just for his injury -- from which he is on his way to a full recovery -- but also for his contributions to the department since joining it in 1989, Mourning said.
McEvoy has worked as a patrol officer, forensic technician and arson investigator. Colleagues said McEvoy is an officer they looked forward to working with and a leader on the force.
Mourning has said that McEvoy hopes to be back on the job sometime in the next year. The bullet is expected to be removed sometime next month.
"When I saw him today I got tears in my eyes," Glantz said. "He looks phenomenal with all he's been through."
Glantz and other officers visited McEvoy on Christmas Eve, but for many, Thursday was the first time they have seen the injured officer.
"It just shows how strong his will is to survive," Sullivan agreed.
"It's a miracle that he's here, that he's standing," Glantz said. "He was lifeless at the scene, so to see him up and alive and walking is just a miracle."