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Five SDPD officers awarded 'Medal For Valor' for bravery during Las Vegas Shooting

Posted at 6:24 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-29 22:20:26-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV)-- Five San Diego Police officers were recognized for their exceptional bravery during the Las Vegas Massacre. Fifty-eight people died, and more than 400 others were injured in the 2017 shooting.

"When others run from danger, police officers run towards it," San Diego Police David Nisleit said, as he opened the awards ceremony at Miramar Air Station.

On October 1, 2017, a group of San Diego Police officers was vacationing with their families in Las Vegas. They were enjoying their first year at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. But around 10 pm, the event turned deadly.

"It probably wasn't fireworks or firecrackers. It wasn't just a shooting on the strip," Officer Thomas McGrath Jr. said.

"We knew it was gunfire," Detective Michael Do said. "We just didn't know where it was coming from."

The 1,100 bullets were fired from 32 stories up the Mandalay Bay Resort. That is when the eleven off-duty San Diego Police officers went from Vacation-mode to Action-mode.

Officers Thomas McGrath, Mark Williams, Max Verduzco, Richard Barton, and Detective Michael Vo began shielding concert-goers, treating the wounded, and creating escape routes. For their heroic actions, the five men received the Department's highest decoration of bravery-- the "Medal For Valor."

"I don't think I did anything special," Officer McGrath said. "I just did the same thing that I would normally do during patrol or what I have been trained to do."

After helping the first group of people, Officer McGrath went back into the crowd and found Jonathan Smith, who had been shot in the neck.

"I put as much fabric and shirt inside his neck to stop the bleeding," McGrath said. " I put pressure on it and did my best to get them out of that venue."

He said the Department's tactical combat care training kicked it. It was an act that eventually saved Smith's life.

"The bullet missed my carotid artery by a few centimeters, and it is still lodged in there," Smith said. He showed 10News his dark scar near his collar bone and said the bullet is still in a small pocket behind his heart. Without McGrath's quick actions, doctors told Smith, he would have died. Thursday, Smith drove from his home in Buena Park to not only attend the ceremony but to also give the "Lifesaving Medal" to his hero.

Six other officers who were in attendance of the Route 91 festival also received recognition at Thursday's ceremony. Officers Caitlin Milligan, Eric Hansen, Bryan Johnson, William Hernandez Jr., Braden Wilson, and Detective Scott Gosnell were awarded the "Exceptional Performance Citation" for helping concert-goers escape from the venue.

All of these heroic acts were made by San Diego Police Officers who were not in uniform at the time. They say the tragedy continues to inspire them to be proud members of the Department.

"I love my job. And I love the training that I get and being that person that can step up in times of need is always what I wanted to do," Officer Max Verduzco said.

"Two years later, I still want to help people. And I think that event made me want to help more people. It made me proud to be a police officer," Det. Michael Do said.

Smith told 10News the tragedy and Officer McGrath's actions inspired him to make a career change. He now works as a copier installer but hopes to one day pay it forward by becoming a law enforcement officer.