Our Best Friends
Lieutenant Brian Murphy: An Interview by CAL FUSSMAN
What I've Learned
Lt Brian Murphy was the first to arrive at the scene of the Gurdwara in Wisconsin where a gunman killed six people on August 5, 2012. He was shot fifteen times. He served in the Marine Corps from 1980 to 1985.
The following interview was conducted on October 5, 2012 for the Esquire Magazine.
It was the most ordinary of Sunday mornings. That's a word you don't want to use in police language -- every cop will tell you that. Don't ever come in and say, "Gee, it's quiet." Then dispatch said there'd been a report of possible shots fired at the Gurdwara. Listening on the radio to where everybody else was coming from, I knew I was going to arrive first.
There's a very long driveway that goes in off the main avenue to the gurdwara. My thought was Shut off your lights and siren just before you get there. Pull in quiet. Park sideways, give yourself some cover just in case. We have AR-15's in the squad car. But there was a malfunction with the switch that releases the AR-15. That's Murphy's Law. If I'd had that semiautomatic rifle ...
Anyway, when I pull up, I see two guys lying on the ground. There's a ballistic shield in the back of the car. I should've grabbed the shield. But I wasn't thinking that way. When I came upon the men, I went straight to them to see if I could save them. I got within ten feet. Two male subjects, one lying on top of the other. Top subject, his eyes were open. They were fixed. Both guys looked deceased to me. At that point, I thought, I'm gonna try to get that AR-15 out of the car.
As I started, I caught a movement out of the side of my eye. A guy was running in front of the gurdwara. He wasn't Indian. He wasn't Sikh. He had no headgear. He was a white male, wearing a white shirt. He was all inked up, and he had a holster on his right side. I knew that was the guy. No question. He's running to his truck, which is in the parking lot. I already had my gun out. I raised up, yelled at him to stop. His hand came up. We probably shot at the same time. The distance was thirty to forty yards. I missed. He hit me right in the chin. It felt like a hell of a punch to the face and it ripped up my larynx.
After that first shot, goddammit, I put my head down for an instant and lost him. I got behind the car and ducked down. I turned to where I thought he was gonna come from, went to attack him, but he flanked me. I shouldn't have let that happen. I kick myself in the ass for letting that happen. I heard more shots. They were getting closer, but they were echoey, and it was hard to tell exactly where they were coming from. I stopped for a second, looked back to where I thought he was. But he was behind me.
He shot, and hit my left thumb. Here's the crazy part: I'm thinking, Man, that's gonna leave a mark. He shot some more. I went down. I couldn't tell you if that shot knocked the gun out of my hand or didn't. Probably did. He came around. At that point I'm faceup. He shoots, starts hitting me. Once in my thigh, in my upper arm. And I'm thinking, Better get small.
If you look back at my grade-school pictures, I was always a front-of-the-line kid. I was always small. So I learned that you have to be able to take a beating and still come back, because if you give up, you're just gonna get picked on. That was part of surviving in Brooklyn. When the big guys gave you charley horses, if you started crying, they'd just give you more.
So I flipped over, started low-crawling. I had my vest on. If I tucked my head, stayed small, maybe he just hits the vest. He does, hits me right in the back. At that point, I'm probably hit half a dozen times. It got very quiet. It got nice and warm. Cozy. I started closing my eyes for a second. I thought, This is going out....
And then I thought, Fuck you.I'm not going out in a parking lot. I'm not going out like this. I'm not gonna let my wife down. I'm not gonna let my daughter down, and I'm not letting my stepkids down.
I started crawling again. There was a lull. That lull was him reloading. I'm crawling, and he hit me again in the back of my arm. Back of my leg. Then he hit me in the back of my skull, just behind my right ear. That felt like somebody stomping me on the head. I thought, Jesus Christ, are you ever going to run out of bullets?
I'd gotten a chance to look him in the eye. There was nothing. Pure nothing. Not hate. Not anger. Not emotion. Now I think, How did he get to that point? He made himself to be someone who thought life didn't mean anything. I mean, he was at a gurdwara, shooting at worshippers, old men, women, and children. Who does that? Who really does that?
He was not a human being at that point. He was less than human. He wasn't an animal. Animals only kill for food or for protection. He was less than an animal.
We later found out that he'd been in the Army. So he understood the paramilitary set of law enforcement. While there's a separation between military and law enforcement, there's still a kindred feeling for doing the same type of job. You wouldn't kill one of your own. He knew exactly who I was. He didn't care at that point. You could see that in his eyes. He didn't care about anything.
My mind was thinking, If he gets close enough, there's a knife in your pocket. Stab his ass. Kill the son of a bitch. But that was out of the question, because he stayed at least six feet away. He never talked. Never made a sound. Neither did I. At one point I thought, I'm not gonna give you the satisfaction of hearing how much it hurts when I get hit. But when I thought about it later, I realized he could've had a sandwich in the other hand while he was shooting. He was going through what he had thought out. And that's why this wasn't as upsetting as you would believe it to be. You would think at some point there's excitement and panic and all kinds of aggression on his part. But no. It was cold. That's all.
If he really wanted me dead, once he knew I had no gun, why didn't he just kneel over me and shoot me right in the face? If he was looking to execute me, he had the opportunity. He saw me low-crawling away. I still have marks on my knees from crawling back to the squad car. Why didn't he? Maybe he thought I had a backup, that it was better to keep his distance. Who knows? Maybe he backed off because he knew that if I could've grabbed him, I would've.
I heard sirens and knew my guys were coming. He stopped shooting me. At one point, another crazy thought came to me: My wife is gonna be so mad. We had a vacation to the Florida Keys coming up in less than two weeks.
I rolled over, tried getting up on an elbow. I tried scooting back, but nothing was really moving well. I knew one of my guys was shooting, because I know the sound of the M16. Then it was silent. And I heard my name being called. I thought I was yelling back, but I couldn't yell much more than this whisper.
Mike was running up to me. Mike and some others. I was waving them off. "Get to the people inside," I said, because I knew that this was bad. "Get inside and help them out." I gave them a description of the guy as best I could.
Mike grabbed me. He's like a bull. He tossed me up, wrapped me in a bear hug. Kelly grabbed my feet. I could hear the high stress level in their voices. I'm the boss. I thought to myself, Calm it down. There's a thing called autogenic breathing. You breathe in a four-count, hold for a four-count, blow out a four-count. It lowers your heart rate and it calms you down.
The whole thing was, maybe, three minutes from start to finish. You know, I was just finishing up my master's degree, working on my capstone -- it's like a thesis. I had written 150 pages. Let me tell you, I learned more in three minutes than in all those years of schooling.
My brother-in-law hung up one of the thank-you cards from the gurdwara in my hospital room. I used to think that stuff didn't make a difference. But lying there in the middle of the night, when they come to suction out your trachea -- which sucks beyond belief -- you dread it, because you feel like you're drowning. So when they come in, you just think, I don't want to do this anymore.
And then you look at those thank-yous and letters of encouragement and you think, I got thousands of people behind me. My family. My friends. The entire law-enforcement community. The Sikh community. This thing went worldwide. How do you give up? How do you mail it in? You don't. You suck it up and you go on because it's the right thing to do.
My wife would go to the hospital cafeteria and bring back a salad. One day, probably two weeks in, I was watching her eat that salad and thinking of a big juicy steak. Baked ziti. Prime rib. I looked at her and said, "Let me have one of those croutons." She said, "What?" I said, "Just gimme a crouton." I had a cast on my hand. But she wedged the crouton between my fingers, and I licked the crouton. I must've looked like some broken-down homeless guy under a bridge. But it was awesome just to have a taste in my mouth. I didn't eat it. I just licked it. It was ... it was heaven. Just me and my wife in this room. Her with the salad, and me with my little crouton. It was ... it was so stupid, but it was so good. Ohhhh ...
I get card after card after card saying, "You're my hero." So I think about that word.
There was a guy in my neighborhood growing up, George. He joined the FBI. That's what I wanted to do when I was a kid -- work for the FBI. So back then, I thought, He's my hero. Because he did something that I wanted to do. Then Tom Seaver became my hero. He pitched the Mets to the World Series in '69. That was awesome. Those were my heroes as a kid, because as a kid you don't have a great concept of what being a hero really is. And it's gotten watered down a lot since. Now you can become a hero on YouTube. I look at all the cards and think, If I'd only caught one round, would I still be a hero to those people? Maybe not. Am I a hero because there are so many bullets in me that if you shook me up and down I'd rattle like a piggy bank?
That's not a hero. That's luck. There's a difference.
The people who were inside the gurdwara that day have the right to see it differently. The ones who ran into the pantry when he was coming after them. They can say, and only they can say, "You saved me by being there. You're my hero." They can say it because he was gonna kill them, and when he saw me, he left them alone.
I was just doing my job.
As published in the January 2013 issue of Esquire. Edited for sikhchic.com.
December 28, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), December 28, 2012, 1:49 PM.
His heroics are ironically the stuff of true Sikh warriors. We honour his selfless humanity.
2: Hitpal Singh (New Zealand), December 29, 2012, 6:39 AM.
He is a brave man who had a lot of courage in the line of duty and because of him many Sikhs were saved in the gurdwara. He deserves an award for bravery. Waheguru bless him.
3: Amar (California, U.S.A.), January 23, 2013, 1:40 AM.
This man is a true hero indeed. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lt Murphy for saving countless lives! I am so sorry that this madman tore up your life like this, but glad you were able to survive and be with your family. May God bless you and the dear Sikh souls that departed in that gurdwara on that awful day.