BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) – For the first time since the ambush shooting, a deputy with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office who was among six law enforcement officers shot recalled the horrific story and spoke about his recovery.
As he enjoyed a cup of coffee with his wife, things are still far from normal for Sgt. Bruce Simmons. His left arm and hand are a constant reminder of what happened July 17.
On that Sunday morning, he was enjoying a quick before-work breakfast with fellow deputy, Nick Tullier. They were literally just sips into their coffee when they heard the call.
“We heard (him) come over Nick’s radio, recognized his voice immediately – Brad Garafola, good friend of mine and Nick’s, and heard ‘Officer down. Active shooter behind the BQuik’,” Simmons said.
The two ran out and headed to the BQuik on Airline Hwy, dodging barricades and trying to get to the gunman.
“I started walking towards Nick’s unit when I heard the first shot, kind of looking around to see what’s going on, I heard the second shot and saw Nick in front of me on the ground,” Simmons said. “I immediately went to go to Nick and then I got shot, kind of spun me.”
The next few moments, Simmons said felt like time just slowed down. He went around to the side of a building and called in that he and Tullier had both been shot.
Kiran: “Was there ever a moment you thought this was it for you?”
Simmons: “No, no, no the way we train, we keep a positive attitude because you’re of no good to anybody if you think, ‘Oh poor me. I’m not going to make it.'”
“We put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our public and that’s what we do. We don’t really even think about it,” Simmons said. “I know Nick didn’t second think it. I know I didn’t second think it. When we heard the gunfire, we went towards the gunfire. We didn’t try to go away from it. Our main focus was to stop whoever was shooting.”
Simmons said through all this, he never was able to lay eyes on the gunman but could clearly make out the gunshots were getting closer.
“I noticed my arm wasn’t functioning at all. It was just hanging there. It was actually behind me and I was trying to get it around to the front and I couldn’t,” Simmons said.
Doctors cut his uniform off. An X-ray showed all the bone and bullet fragments around his elbow that are lodged in his arm because doctors cannot get them out, and doctors said he has what’s called radial nerve palsy in his hand.
“Normal functions you do with your hand, I can’t do. When I take all this off, my hand lays down. I can’t pick it up. I can’t pick my fingers up,” Simmons said.
While in the hospital, he had many visitors from LSU coach Les Miles to complete strangers. When it came time to get discharged, the hallways in the hospital were lined with doctors, nurses and so many others.
“That was so overwhelming to me that people took the time out of their day to line a hallway. They said I’m a hero, but I was just doing what I’m trained and paid to do,” Simmons said.
All the way home to Central, people lined the streets to welcome a hero home, even though Simmons refuses to accept he too is a hero.
“Brad, Montrell, and Matt to me, they’re my true heroes. They gave it all. Nick’s fighting for his life. Nick’s a true hero,” Simmons said.
However, after recovering at home only a few weeks, the floodwaters eventually made their way inside the Simmons home.
Kiran: “How much water did you take on?”
Simmons: “Four and a half feet in our house by the time it was over with.”
Kiran: “So you’re having to start all over?”
Simmons: “Yeah, we lost everything.”
The Simmons did not have flood insurance because they are not in a flood zone, but they say there has been no shortage of people stepping up and helping. Samaritan Purse Group, founded by Franklin Graham who is Billy Graham’s son, helped gut their home out. Complete strangers stopped by to drop off plates of food.
Because Simmons cannot sleep on his side or lay down to sleep, his wife Pam said prior to the flooding, Healing Place Church donated a mattress and friends donated a recliner. All that, however, was lost to the flood. Now, another friend has donated a recliner.
“Now, we have to completely start over. All we have are the studs in our home. There’s nothing, so if someone wants to donate their time, or materials or whatever to help us get back on,” Simmons said.
Pam Simmons said when President Barack Obama came to visit them, she told him she needed housing prior to her husband’s surgery.
“When we talked to the president after the flood, he asked how we were doing and he talked to him and when he asked me, I said, ‘Well, we flooded. My husband is getting ready to have surgery in a few weeks and he’s going to have bone replaced, taken out of his pelvis and his femur and he’s going to be in a wheelchair for a couple of weeks,'” said Pam Simmons.
It’s why they said they are the select few who recently received a FEMA mobile housing unit, complete with a ramp.
As they begin rebuilding, Simmons said he does think back to July 17 often.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that He was there because it would have been so easy,” Simmons said. “The shooter was very accurate in a lot of the shootings he was doing. There was constant gunfire around me when I was moving to cover so there’s only one thing that can be said as to why I’m here — that the Lord was there with me.”
He said the Lord is also with Nick. Simmons said the two of them will finish that cup of coffee they started that Sunday morning.
For now, he’s taking it one day at a time, knowing he will get back to “normal” one day, which was kissing his wife goodbye leaving out to do what he so loves — being a deputy.