Desperate Minutes

'Please Don't Die!': The Frantic Battle to Save Murdered Cops

Paramedics strove valiantly to revive grievously wounded Officers Liu and Ramos—and were left shattered when their efforts failed.

Michael Graae/Getty Images

The medic was gazing down into the grievously wounded cop’s eyes, praying for a sign of life even so tiny as a single blink.

“He was just looking at me and I’m looking at him and I’m hoping he would blink at least one time,” recalls the medic, 27-year-old Baron Johnson of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “It wasn’t like his eyes rolled back. He was aware of what was going on. It was a constant stare dead into my face and I just looked back at him, hoping.”

Johnson was calling to the officer.

“I just kept telling him to blink, if he can hear me just blink or move his eyes, move his hand, try to say something to me if you can hear me. If there’s any part you can move, move so I can know you’re still here.”

Minutes before on Saturday afternoon, 40-year-old NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos and his 32-year-old partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, had been sitting in their marked patrol car on Tompkins Avenue when a 28-year-old maniac named Ismaaiyl Brinsley turned to two men on the sidewalk nearby, asking their gang affiliation and telling them to follow him on Instagram.

“Watch what I’m gong to do,” he then said.

Brinsley stepped up to the passenger side of the patrol car, raised a silver Taurus semi-automatic pistol and began firing. The first cops who responded to a report of shots fired put out a radio call that crackled over Johnson’s scanner as he stood in a deli near the volunteer ambulance corps’ base a few blocks away.

“Officer down, 10-13! Officer down,10-13!”

Johnson dashed into the base and called to his partner, 23-year-old Tantania Alexander.

“We gotta go, we have an officer down!” Johnson recalls shouting.

Alexander was drained from an unsuccessful effort to save someone who had gone into cardiac arrest hours earlier, but she immediately roused herself and they hopped into the ambulance emblazoned with the words “Save a Life Rescue Squad.”

A third medic, Pedro Adorno, was out front and he joined them. They were racing toward the corner of Tompkins and Myrtle avenues with Johnson at the wheel when another call came over the radio.

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“Dispatch, there’s two officers shot and put a rush on the bus!”

A bus in cop parlance is an ambulance.

“Hearing ‘Rush on the bus,’ it kind of gives you an idea what you’re heading to,” Johnson says. “You know things are not looking good. Time is very valuable.”

Traffic up ahead on Myrtle backed up, and Johnson began weaving in and out.

“Driving on both sides, getting around cars, letting them know I was in a dire emergency,” Johnson says.

Numerous police cars were at the corner.

“I notice an officer, he’s waving frantically for me and the crew to pull over on Tompkins,” Johnson says.

Johnson turned right onto Tompkins and they hopped out. He realized they were the first and only ambulance on the scene. He then saw two badly wounded uniformed officers in the front of a radio car.

“OK, we got two patients, so we have to help both because there’s nobody else,” Johnson recalls. “I asked an officer where they were shot and who’s wounded the worst. He said, ‘They’re both shot in the head and neither of them are breathing.’”

Alexander and Adorno hurried over to the passenger side as Johnson approached the driver’s side. Johnson touched Ramos’ neck to check for a carotid pulse.

“I yelled to Tat and Pedro, ‘He’s not breathing and he has no pulse,’” Johnson remembers.

Johnson recalls several officers shouting, “Get him out of the car! Get him out of the car!”

The officers helped Johnson ease Ramos to the street. The cop lay open-eyed with a grievous head wound as Johnson again checked for a pulse.

“There was still no pulse, not even the smallest bit,” Johnson says.

Johnson began administering CPR. He noticed the officer was wearing a wedding band. He kept on, all the more determined.

“It was really bad, chances were really minimum,” Johnson says, “We were still going to give it our all. I said, ‘If there’s going to be a miracle, I’m not going to miss it.’”

Johnson kept doing all he could, gazing down at those eyes that gazed right back at him with a seemingly stunned look.

“It looked like he was caught off-guard,” Johnson says.

Johnson stayed at it.

“I prayed and I prayed as I pushed,” Johnson says. “I kept telling him ‘Talk to me,’ saying to him, ‘Move if you can hear me. Try to blink your eyes. Just do something!’”

Johnson heard officers around him screaming to their comrade.

“Please, Ramos, don’t die! Don’t die!”

Johnson himself kept calling to Ramos.

“Can you hear me? Move. Say something if you can hear me!”

Alexander and Adorno were doing what they could to save the officer on the passenger side, Liu. Alexander saw he was not breathing. She checked for a carotid pulse.

“Nothing,” she recalls.

Other cops helped her and Adorno get Liu from the car. She was administering CPR when an FDNY ambulance arrived and those paramedics took over.

Alexander and Adorno joined Johnson working on Ramos; 30 presses on his chest, then two squeezes of the air-giving Ambu-bag, then 30 more presses and two more squeezes. Ramos was still showing no signs of life when they got him on a backboard and into the ambulance.

Johnson again took the wheel and sped off.

“Time is not on our side,” Johnson says.

Alexander, Adorno and a cop got in the back. Alexander let the cop take over the CPR.

“Ramos! Ramos! Ramos!” the cop kept saying.

Ramos did not answer. Alexander was busy applying dressing to the wounds.

“Head, chest, and thigh,” she recalls.

At Woodhull Hospital, the Bed-Stuy ambulance crew kept doing all they could as they wheeled Ramos into the emergency room. They followed the doctor’s instructions to cut away his clothes and they stood ready to assist however they might be able as the trauma team set to work.

After what seemed a desperate eternity, a doctor shook his head.

“We pretty much knew what that meant,” Johnson says.

Ramos and Liu were pronounced dead. Johnson was in tears. Alexander was taking it even harder.

“We started doing this because we want to save lives,” Jonson says. “You do everything that you’re trained to do. You’re told that if you do these things, you can help save somebody’s life.

In a twist on it all, Johnson is a volunteer rather than a full-time paid paramedic because he is presently on parole for a robbery he insists he did not commit. He scored top of his class in his EMT training, but he has been prevented from taking his final exam because of his present legal status.

“Everyone who has a criminal past is not a bad person,” Johnson says. ”I was young and I didn’t even do it. I’m a volunteer and I’m still saving people’s lives.”

He and his crew had gotten to the scene before anyone else and they had done all anyone could and he only wishes they had been able to save Ramos and Liu.

“If we could still be working on him now, we would be,” Johnson said on Sunday.

Black and purple bunting went up over the doorway at the 84th Precinct stationhouse where Ramos and Liu had been assigned. Civilians left flowers as well as a tiny frosted Christmas tree that had two red ornaments.

“Our hearts and our prayers are with you,” read a message on the accompanying card.

On Sunday morning, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton attended a Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral said by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

“Today, December 21st, is the darkest day of the year, the day of least light as the sun is at its lowest point,” the cardinal noted.

He went on to say that the loss of the two officers left the city only in more need of the ultimate message of Christmas, the birth of the Son just as the sun is being reborn with ever-longer days.

“Light trumps darkness, hope beats despair, grace wins over sin, love defeats hate, life conquers death,” the cardinal said.

He led the packed cathedral in applause for Ramos and Liu and asked Bratton to bring a message to the men and women of the NYPD.

“Would you tell your officers that God’s people gathered at St. Patrick’s this morning, thundered with prayers for and with them, and that we love them, we mourn with them, we need them, we respect them, we are proud of them, we thank them!”

In the afternoon, at the hour of the shooting the day before, Bratton came to the scene with white flowers. He walked over to a wall opposite where the officers had been murdered only because they wore the uniform. Somebody had hung an American flag and people of the neighborhood had placed bouquets and candles. Bratton set his flowers among them.

“That’s respect!” somebody called out.

“We believe in you!” somebody else shouted.

“Believe in the cops,” Bratton said.

He gazed at the flowers and the flickering candles, clearly moved. A woman asked if she would give him a hug.

“I’ll take a hug,” Bratton said. “A hug’s a good thing.”

Bratton got his hug and left the murder scene. He continued on into a Christmas season that will see the funerals of two cops and the continuing fury of their fellow officers toward De Blasio, who they feel betrayed them during the recent demonstrations.

The commander of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Ambulance Corps, James “Rocky” Robinson, stood nearby as ever more people came up with flowers and candles. His daughter is a police lieutenant who works in Brooklyn, and he was as fearful as everyone else who has a loved one with the NYPD these days.

He had talked to her earlier in the day, him saying, “Baby, be careful.” Her telling him, “Daddy don’t worry.”

He now stood by the sidewalk shrine to the two fallen officers and said. “But, I worry.”

He then went back to his volunteer corps, which had formed when they did not yet have an ambulance.

“We used to run in the street to calls,” he said.

They now had one and it had been the first to arrive on the scene Saturday. And its crew had fought so hard for a Christmastime miracle that was not to be.