CPD officers tell their story of responding to the terror attack on July 16
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. —
It has been two years since the terror attack in Chattanooga, Tennessee that killed five service members.
Four marines died on July 16, 2015 when a gunman attacked the Naval Operational Support Center. A Navy sailor died from his injuries two days later.
Six CPD officers were credited with shooting the gunman, but so many more officers put their lives at risk and responded to stop the attack that day.
"I walked out into the hallway after a meeting. Chief Vaughn was listening to the radio, and she said i think we have an active shooter situation," CPD Assistant Chief Eric Tucker said. "I turned my radio up, and we almost immediately ran into our cars, and started heading that way. For about a thirty to forty-five minute period it was just very intense, rapidly developing. Some would call it just a chaotic situation."
CPD officer Denis Pedigo was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene, and he was shot by the gunman. He survived the attack and has recovered from his injuries. Lt. Craig Joel arrived at the NOSC just after Denis Pedigo was shot.
"Denis was in my academy. We were roommates. We were released together after training, and when I saw him on the stretcher it was incredibly difficult. It was my friend," Lt. Joel said. I've seen hundreds of deaths, hundreds of things that should never have happened to hundreds of people, and it's never been more intense to see someone that I deeply care about. It was him on that stretcher, and so we went straight in."
Lt. Joel and his fellow officers went straight in, but at that time there was a lot they didn't know.
"We were told at that time that there was a second shooter that he had an ear piece," Lt. Joel said. "We were specifically told that there were two, and of course it was after the fact that that wasn't the case."
He was one of the officers to locate and pull Petty Officer Second Class Randal Smith out of the NOSC after he had been shot. Smith died two days later from his injuries.
"We got him out in an armored car driving backwards through barricades, and unloaded him and got him to an ambulance, and then back yet again," Lt. Joel said.
Lieutenant Joel described the first minutes of rushing through the front gates.
"The first part of it the intensity it's surreal. You're covered in blood one minute, and then it's so hot and so involved that you don't notice that it's gone because you've sweated it off," Lt Joel said. "The intensity was amazing and then it starts to come together. You bring the order to chaos, and that is what that day was about. It was chaos that someone brought to our town, and we brought order back to it."
These officers say everyone who responded has a different story about what they saw and experienced that day. They say it was chaos initially and everyone was focused on doing their job.
"I think for me personally you don't have time to think," CPD SWAT commander Rusty Morrison said. "When it initially happened you just responded, and reacted the way we're trained."
They say they will also remember how the city supported the families of the Fallen Five, and the first responders.
"They wrapped their arms around us. The same way we try to wrap our arms around them for safety, but they took care of us," Lt. Joel said. "I love this town."