If someone had told Sean Fitzpatrick eleven years ago that he’d be where he is today, he never would have believed it.
See eleven years ago, Fitzpatrick, a junior in high school at the time, heard voices as a result of paranoid schizophrenia— a condition that he had developed but didn’t tell anyone about.
And one day, those voices got the best of him. He wanted to die. So he brought a gun to school with the idea that he would pretend he had hostages in a classroom, thereby forcing the police to shoot and kill him.
But Spokane Police Officer John Gately, the officer that was charged with talking Fitzpatrick off the ledge, wasn’t going to let that happen. In a NPR StoryCorepiece, Fitzpatrick recalled seeing Gately for the first time:
“I remember seeing you and thinking don’t trust anything he says. I believe you asked me at one point, ‘Why you have the gun here?’”
Gately responded by telling Fitzpatrick of the moment when he realized with whom he was dealing.
“[Y]ou threw a paper airplane out at us,” said Gately. “And for me, when you did that, it brought back that I was actually talking to a 16-year-old kid.”
In an attempt to calm Fitzpatrick, Gately told him that he’d send all of the other officers away— the two of them could just “sit around and bulls**t.”
Fitzpatrick was shot in the arm, in the stomach, and in the face; as a result of the gunshots he still has difficulty speaking.
But the words that Gately spoke to him after he’d been shot changed everything.
“Don’t give up,” he said. “You can survive what has happened.”
And while Gately was upset that he was unable to prevent the shooting from happening — he said that it was his job to make sure everyone got home safe — his words changed Fitzpatrick’s life.
Now, the 28-year-old works with law enforcement officials, educating them on the proper way to handle crises when someone with mental health issues is involved.
“Who I was back then and who I am now are two different people entirely,” said Fitzpatrick.
So despite the injuries, maybe Gately did, in fact, do his job.