'We go out for each other': Wounded Aurora officers reflect on Pratt workplace shooting

Aurora police officer Reynaldo Rivera was minutes from the end of his shift Feb. 15 when the call came of an active shooter at the Henry Pratt building.

Like hundreds of law enforcement officers that day, he immediately tried to help.

“I flew down there. I knew I had to get there as fast as I can,” said Rivera, one of five officers wounded by gunfire as they initially stormed the 29,000-square-foot building.

“There's a day, a time in your life, when something's going to define you,” he said. “It defined the department that day — what we mean to this community and what this community means to us.”

Rivera was one of 40 law enforcement officers honored Monday at the department's “Celebration of Courage” for their response to the shooting, in which five Henry Pratt employees were shot and killed by a disgruntled co-worker.

Speakers including Mayor Richard Irvin and Chief Kristen Ziman expressed their thanks and support, while others such as Lt. Tammie Reeder of the Oklahoma City Police Department urged officers to “prepare for warrior encounters and embrace anything less.”

Aurora police were prepared for the warrior encounter as they pushed to get inside the Henry Pratt warehouse.

“The ultimate goal was to get inside there and save lives,” said officer Marco Gomez, who was at an active shooter class at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora that afternoon and rushed to the scene. “The goal was to get in there no matter how many bullets were flying.”

Gomez never made it inside to confront the shooter; he was shot once in the right hip and was evacuated from the scene by fellow officers. Gomez didn't know how long the ordeal took; he was fearful of bleeding out and his main goal was to “stay awake” and aware until a fellow officer drove him to a hospital.

Officer John Cebulski was hit in a left kneecap once inside the building and the bullet is still lodged in his leg. Cebulski and officer Christopher Weaver fell back into a nearby room, where Weaver applied a tourniquet to the wound and the pair monitored a hallway to ensure the shooter didn't escape.

“I guess it was 29 minutes, but it seemed like three days,” Cebulski said.

Added Weaver: “I knew we were going to be there awhile.”

Gomez said Monday's recognition ceremony for officers and dispatchers was a heartening show of support.

“We go out there every day and this could happen to any officer. Every officer that works in this country goes out there every day with the knowledge that you may not see your wife and kids anymore, you might not come home.

“To see the support of the city has been amazing, really,” he said. “It makes our job a lot easier to get out there and really protect and serve. As corny and cheesy as it sounds, it's what we do. Those guys proved it. They could have easily hunkered down and not tried to make it into that building. But they went in there. Just to have the support of the city and obviously the state and the country — we've gotten letters from people throughout the country. That makes our jobs worth doing and doing right.”

Rivera, who is still in physical therapy and doesn't have a set return date for duty, said support from the community and beyond has been nonstop and heartening.

“It's been a whirlwind,” he said. “The community, my family my friends have been so supportive.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

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