Suburban Heroes: How forest officers made split-second decision that saved man
In the parking lot of a DuPage County forest preserve, a distraught man sits in the driver's seat of his car with both hands to his face and a semi-automatic handgun at his side.
Outside, four forest preserve district police officers are positioned around the vehicle.
The officers don't want the man to harm himself or anyone else. But their attempts to talk him out aren't working.
Then they hear the click of a car door being unlocked.
What happened next earned Sgt. Krist Schroeder and officers Nathan Waldo, Mike Ryan and Laura Michael a lifesaving award from their department. They also were recognized during a recent forest preserve board meeting.
"They all deserved to be honored for doing their job," Chief David Pederson said.
The action took place on June 27 when forest preserve police received a report of a missing man who might want to harm himself. They found the 54-year-old in a parked car at Mallard Lake Forest Preserve near Hanover Park.
Waldo, the first officer to arrive, carefully approached from the passenger's side and started speaking to the driver.
"The man was extremely distraught and would not listen to any orders or direction that he was being given," Pederson said.
It was determined the man had two handguns in the car -- one along his right side and a second on the passenger's seat.
Within minutes, Schroeder and Ryan were positioned on the driver's side of the car. Michael, meanwhile, stood by her patrol vehicle with her gun drawn.
Pederson said the man had closed the windows and was becoming "very agitated" when the doors -- perhaps accidentally -- unlocked.
Schroeder and Waldo made the split-second decision to simultaneously open the doors on both the driver's and passenger's sides.
As the doors swung open, the man reached for the loaded gun at his side. But Schroeder grabbed his hands, and Waldo got the firearm.
Schroeder said he and Waldo acted on instinct when they heard the doors unlock.
"There was no communication between us," Schroeder said. "There was no signal given. We just knew it was time."
The man was safely taken into custody and transported to a hospital for treatment. He wasn't charged with a crime and he recently thanked the officers.
Pederson said the situation was intense and dangerous and could have ended tragically.
"I'm very thankful that all of our officers are safe," Pederson said. "I'm also very thankful that this individual did not take his life or harm anyone else."
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