Honors for Aurora officers but also others, like records clerk and calm telecom operator
The five Aurora police officers who were wounded in the Feb. 15 shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. received the department's highest honor Monday: the Blue Star Award.
But one of the recipients, officer Marco Gomez, made it clear the honor should be shared with everyone involved that day.
"This is not mine. This is yours," he told the dozens of officers honored at the "Celebration of Courage" event at the Paramount Theater. "We go out every day. It could be anybody any day, and we still go out. We go out for each other. This is not for me."
All five wounded officers - Gomez, John Cebulski, Adam Miller, Reynaldo Rivera and James Zegar - attended the ceremony, with Cebulski using crutches and wearing a brace on his right leg.
"I'm so glad you are all here today," Chief Kristen Ziman said, before placing the medals around the officers' necks and hugging them - and drawing laughter when she jokingly jumped up while trying to bestow one on much taller officer Adam Miller.
"Thank you for standing up, when you had the right to sit down," Mayor Richard Irvin told the officers.
The five officers were among the first to respond Feb. 15, when a man who was being fired shot and killed five Pratt Co. employees, in a building on Archer Avenue.
In all, 26 officers received Medals of Valor, given for showing "exceptional courage" at the risk of their own safety while trying to save a life during the Pratt shootings.
In addition, two telecommunications operators received Medals of Merit. Five officers and a records clerk received departmental commendations, for exemplary work or work done outside their normal duties. One telecom supervisor and five operators received divisional commendations, and one director, five operators and a trainee received unit merit awards.
Presenters noted what each person or team had done, whether it was entering the building to find the shooter, rescuing fellow officers, aiding a wounded truck driver or providing cover as other officers prepared to break into the building with an armored vehicle.
"Without their lifesaving efforts on that day, I might not be here," Zegar said of the other officers who rescued him from the building.
Some members of the department were honored for behind-the-scenes work, such as records clerk Marina Shields. When relatives of police officers started showing up at the station, Shields took care of them, collecting and relaying information.
"Marina was the perfect person for the job, knowing her husband, officer Brian Shields, was on the scene," Deputy Chief Keefe Jackson said.
Sgt. Thomas Hinterlong, off for the day, saw the stream of police vehicles on Route 25, figured something was up and headed into work. He ended up supervising all non-Pratt patrol operations that day.
Police officers jumped to their feet to give one of the first, quickest and most raucous standing ovations to telecom operator Stephanie Shaffer, whose calm handling of simultaneous tasks during the chaotic call, including maintaining a "mental picture" of where each officer was, amazed them. She gave them confidence, Cmdr. Michael Doerzaph said.
"Your composure in your voice became a tether to officers that they tightly clinged to," Doerzaph said.
Scott Hall, president and chief executive officer of Mueller Water Products, the company that owns Pratt, also thanked the five injured officers, giving them symbolic gifts that included a clock - because of their timely, rapid response.
"Nobody goes to work expecting to be injured," he said. "Nobody goes to work expecting bodies in the workplace, except maybe you. It is time for us and our society to recognize the sacrifice you make."
Aurora bestowed awards Monday on police officers and department workers for their actions during the shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in February.
<b>Blue Star Award</b>Officers John Cibulski, Marco Gomez, Adam Miller, Reynaldo Rivera and James Zegar
<b>Medal of Valor</b>Lts. Rick Ahlgren, Rick Robertson, Joseph Weber and Jeffery Wiencek; Sgts. Mark Moss, Angel Nieves and Matt Ziman; officers Christopher Arbet, Christopher Bosson, Matthew Bowman, Wesley Boyer, Cristofer Conard, Edwin Doepel, Michael Ely, Nicholas Gartner, Bryan Hammond, Robert Hillgoth, Nathaniel Isaak, Thomas Maguire, Joshua Poynton, Danny Rios, Jason Russell, Cory Walden, Nicholas Walters, Christopher Weaver and Jason Woolsey
<b>Medal of Merit</b>Lead Operator Tara LaFan and Telecom Operator II Stephanie Shaffer
<b>Departmental Commendation</b>Chief Kristen Ziman, Cmdr. Jack Fichtel, Lt. Matthew Thomas, Sgt. Michael Corrigan, Sgt. William Rowley and records clerk Marina Shields
<b>Divisional Commendation</b>Sgt. Thomas Hinterlong, Telecom Supervisor Dan Wennmaker, Lead Operator Melissa Johnson, Telecom Operator II Kelley Gruca, Telecom Operator I Adam Afshar and Telecom Operator I Cayla Budd
<b>Unit Merit Award</b>Telecommuniations Director Jacqueline Hobday, Lead Operator Traci Whalen, Telecom Operator II Staci Keyes, Telecom Operator II Anthony Murcio, Telecom Operator I Stephanie Pekich, Telecom Operator I Heather Ramer and telecom trainee Samantha Marrero