ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – One week after four Albuquerque Police officers were injured during a shooting along Juan Tabo near Lomas, city leaders have recognized two people who helped the most seriously injured officers. A police public service aide and a neighbor are credited with saving the lives of officers Mario Verbeck and James Eichel who both sustained gunshot wounds.
At a ceremony Thursday, APD Chief Harold Medina and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller presented a civilian, Johnny Garcia, and a 19-year old PSA, Jaqueline Hernandez-Zarate, with community service award certificates, honoring their actions following the shooting. Garcia, who recently spoke to KRQE News 13 about his story, helped Officer Mario Verbeck who had been shot at the base of his neck, above his bulletproof vest.
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When bullets started flying last week on Juan Tabo, hitting three officers and injuring a fourth, first responders say two people went into the danger to help them. Garcia, who lives nearby, said he heard gunshots, then looked over the wall behind his home to find the wounded officer. After jumping the wall, Garcia said he used Verbeck’s radio for help before helping stand the officer up and carry him to the safety of other officers.
“He called for help, and in many ways, if you have not been, Mario probably would have died,” said Mayor Tim Keller, speaking of Garcia’s actions Thursday. “We heard his voice. We were listening to the police radios up here as soon as we found out what happened and I remember hearing his voice. I remember it because it was so unofficial. There weren’t all these 10-codes and everything.”
That rescue was caught on camera by a nearby construction worker. Garcia says he didn’t have a second thought when it came to getting Verbeck to safety.
“I couldn’t leave him there. He’s an officer of the law and I could not do that,” Garcia said when speaking to KRQE News 13 on Friday. “I had to assist him to make sure that he’s okay.”
At the same exact time, APD Police Service Aide, Hernandez-Zarate, only 19 years old, rushed to put a tourniquet on Ofc. James Eichel, who was shot in the arm. The injury left him seriously injured at the time.
“Her actions that day, she remained calm during these chaotic moments which I can’t even imagine how she could do that,” said Keller. “I’m scared to think of what might have happened if she didn’t do that.”
APD Chief Harold Medina called Jacqueline “the best 82 there is out there,” saying for the rest of her career she should be proud that she stepped up to the challenge when the time came. Addressing the audience, Hernandez-Zarate said, “I just wanted to say thank you,” also saying her supervisors, “made sure I got the training that I wanted I can’t be more appreciative of that.”
Earlier Thursday, Ofc. Eichel was released from UNM Hospital with a full procession. Medina says that day could’ve had an entirely different outcome, had it not been for the bravery of these two.
Of the other two officers injured in the shooting, Sgt. Sean Kenny was struck with gunfire in his bulletproof vest. Kenny was in attendance during Thursday’s news conference but did not address the public. Another officer, Harry Gunderson was hit with shrapnel in his eye and is said to be recovering. Ofc. Mario Verbeck — who was the most seriously injured last week — is still recovering after another surgery a few days ago. During Thursday’s conference, Chief Medina went on to say that the department will recognize more “heroes” in the coming weeks.