A Tyler olice officer shot in the line of duty talks, for the first time, about that night. It's been six weeks since officer Kenneth Gardner was critically injured during a fatal shooting at a north Tyler apartment complex. As he and his partners had faced before, they came upon a suspected drug dealer but this time, when the suspect turned to face him, bullets started flying.
Before officer Gardner could even return fire, he felt a pain like he's never felt before. Although he can't talk about the investigation, he does talk about how he survived. "It felt like a sledge hammer hit me. I took a few more steps then I fell to the ground," explains Kenneth Gardner. It was July 31st when officer Gardner was shot. "The bullet actually went in my left arm, it hit my shoulder blade and broke it. It then bounced back and broke my second rib, passed through my left lung and it logged in my back where it still is right now," says Gardner. His uniform remains stained with blood. A tiny hole in his sleeve reveals where the bullet entered. On his arm, a scare reminding Gardner how lucky he was. He says, "When blood started coming up my throat, I knew something bad was wrong. I first thought of my wife and kids. I didn't want to leave them, but I really thought in the ambulance I was going to die." His wife Debbie goes on to say, "We always worry about him, but you never really think that's going to happen. It was hard. I could have been a widow." And three children could have been without a dad. A 16 year old, a four year old and a 10 month old.
Debbie goes on to say, "Our four year old was sitting on her daddy's lap a couple weeks ago looking at him and she said, 'daddy, next time, you shoot the bad guy first.'" "I look at my kids and I just think how it could have gone the other way, and I just know the good Lord was watching after me," says Gardner. The bullet narrowly missed any major nerves or arteries and came to rest just a half inch from his spine, which could have paralyzed him. He believes his faith and prayers from all over the community got him through. "I was supposed to be in the hospital for two weeks or more and I was out of the hospital in just under a week. So, there's no doubt the prayers were there," said Gardner.
That night, four other officers were on patrol with Gardner; Mike Saxion, Philip Johnson, Josh Green and Billy yates. "Those guys are unbelievable. When I needed them the most they were there. They saved my life," Gardner says holding back tears. He goes on to say, "We depend on each other to come home at the end of our shift. Like I told my wife, I didn't home at the end of my shift, but I came home."
Looking back on that night, Gardner is grateful for one other thing, "My parents raised me in a Christian home and I thank God for that and I'm still here." This is the second time Gardner's family has dealt with something like this. In 1977, his brother Clint, also a Tyler police officer, was shot. His bullet proof vest saved his life. The Gardner family is thankful for all the support and prayers they received from across the community from friends and strangers alike.
Kenneth is just two weeks into his physical therapy. It will be several months before he's able to return to work, but once he's recovered, he says he'll be back on his bicycle keeping the streets of tyler safe once again.