U.S. News

08.05.13

15 Rounds and Still Talking: Lt. Brian Murphy’s Story of the Oak Creek Massacre

One year ago, a white supremacist entered a Sikh place of worship in Wisconsin and opened fire on the congregation. Murphy, the first officer on the scene, had one of the bullets tear through his voice box, which has limited him to little more than a raspy whisper, and still has two rounds lodged in his body.

Lt. Brian Murphy wasn’t even supposed to be working that Sunday morning. He had traded days with a sergeant who wanted to attend his son’s graduation ceremony, and he was looking forward to a quiet shift. He received a call around 10:20 a.m. about a disturbance at the local Sikh gurdwara (place of worship), and as he approached the scene, he learned that shots had been fired.

He turned off his lights and sirens as he rolled into the complex, when he saw the first sign of trouble—two bodies lying one on top of the other. Murphy grabbed his weapon, stepped out of his car, and approached the two male subjects. Both were deceased, and as he called the ambulance, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

“It was the shooter,” said Murphy. “And he was looking right at me.”

As if working in unison, Murphy and the shooter, Wade Michael Page, raised their pistols, pointed them at one another, and pulled the trigger at the same time. Murphy’s shot missed the mark. Page’s shot was spot on.

“His first shot hit me in the chin and went straight down my throat and into my neck. The bullet tore through my voice box and larynx before lodging itself in my trapezius. It’s still stuck there and it’ll be there forever.”

After the initial hit, Murphy ducked behind the squad car to take cover from the additional rounds and to orient himself. Following a lull in the shooting, Murphy came out and looked in the direction where he expected to see the shooter. Page surprised him from behind, though, and opened fire again.

“The next shot took off half of my left thumb and knocked the gun out of my hand. Then I got hit in the leg, and then the arm before I took shelter underneath the car. At that point, everything started to feel a little bit heavy. The firing had stopped and I thought about getting cozy, getting comfortable.”

“But I fought the urge. I knew what would happen if I closed my eyes, even for a moment, and I remember thinking to myself—I’m not about to go out in a parking lot. That’s never going to happen.”

Murphy was determined to make it back to his squad car and retrieve his shotgun. He came out on his back and began crab-crawling across the pavement.

“As soon as I started moving, he started shooting at me again. My legs. My arms. And then we made eye contact. There was no anger, there was no excitement in his eyes. It was like he had already planned the whole thing out. I just kept trying to move quickly and told myself that I’d grab him if he got close enough.”

“I remember watching TV with my wife the day after the shooting, and we were both deeply struck by how the Sikhs of Oak Creek were able to forgive the shooter so quickly.

Page never did get close enough, though he was able to inflict further damage before other officers arrived. The last of the rounds to strike Murphy went through a layer of the Kevlar on his vest and went into his skull and brain. While this bullet also remains lodged in his body, it has not caused any permanent damage.

“I have two rounds from the incident still physically in me. They’re like souvenirs because they remind me of what happened,” whispered Murphy. “He shot me at least 15 times and fired approximately 25 more rounds at me. Two of them struck me in the head and additional ones struck me in the vest—those would have killed me.”

In addition to the bullets lodged in his head and trapezius, Murphy continues to experience sharp bursts of pain from where the bullets ripped through his flesh. He says the worst of it is in his neck, which on good days feels like someone is grabbing it rather than wringing it. His doctor initially told him that he would likely never swallow, eat, or speak again, though he shocked all the experts by abandoning the trachea tube and speaking with a raspy whisper within six weeks of the shooting. Murphy also mentioned constant soreness in his hands, which incurred a total of four gunshot wounds.

But none of this diminishes Murphy’s positive spirit and humor, which constantly shine through every single one of his interactions. He was even able to find humor in his own pain and memories by reflecting on some of the unexpected thoughts he had during the intense shootout in Oak Creek.

“It’s funny—the thoughts that come to your mind in moments like these. When he shot my thumb off, I remember thinking ‘That’s going to leave a mark’ and chuckling to myself. I also remember thinking that my wife was going to be upset because we had planned a vacation to Key West—a honeymoon, of sorts—and now we wouldn’t be able to go.”

Murphy speaks highly of his wife, and his constant reference to her illustrates the role she has played in supporting him through his recovery. He describes her role in nurturing and nursing him as being central to his well-being. He also credits the Sikh community and their principles of love and optimism for inspiring him to respond in a positive way.

“I remember watching TV with my wife the day after the shooting, and we were both deeply struck by how the Sikhs of Oak Creek were able to forgive the shooter so quickly. That really impacted me and taught me that I really needed to reconcile this and forgive Page, even if he had committed such a heinous act. That was huge for me.”

“All things being relative, I’m in a good spot,” Murphy explained. “Obviously, I realize how fortunate I am to even be alive. I don’t know why, and I don’t think I’ll ever know why, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am extremely lucky, and I’m just so happy to be here. Even being in pain is OK because it means that at least I’m still alive.”

Since the shooting last August, Murphy has been recognized twice by President Barack Obama: first, at the 2013 State of the Union and later, with the award of “Top Cop.” Murphy retired from the Oak Creek Police Department in June 2013, and in July, he and his wife enjoyed their long overdue vacation to Key West, Florida.