Police officers dedicate their lives to protecting innocent civilians. In order to do that, however, they have to be prepared to make unimaginable sacrifices at any moment.
In early June of 2018, police officers in Florida were called to an apartment after a battered woman feared her children were in danger. They knew they were walking into a potentially dangerous situation, but were willing to risk it all to save four innocent lives.
A Life or Death Situation
On the evening of June 10, 2018, a Florida woman managed to escape her apartment after her boyfriend started beating her. While the pair didn’t live together officially, the boyfriend often slept at the apartment. That night, however, the mother of four didn’t feel it was safe to stay.
The 911 Call
After escaping the apartment, Ciara Lopez ran to a nearby convenience store and asked the clerk to call 911 for her. While on the phone, Lopez told the dispatcher what had happened earlier that night. According to the 911 recordings, Lopez explained she needed help making sure her kids were safe as they were still in the apartment with her boyfriend.
A Dangerous Situation
“I don’t want to leave them alone there for too long because he might do something,” Lopez said during the 911 call. “He has a gun. I don’t know if it’s on him right now, but I know it’s in the house.” When the dispatcher asked if Lopez’s boyfriend, Gary Wayne Lindsey Jr., had pulled the gun on her, she explained that he hadn’t that day.
The Main Concern
The dispatcher told Lopez that police would be sent to the apartment right away. When asked if she needed medical attention, Lopez declined. She claimed she had only been scraped up and her main concern was getting her children out of the apartment and away from Lindsey.
The Responding Officers
Just before midnight, several officers from the Orlando Police Department arrived at the Westbrook Apartments complex near Universal Studios. They hoped they would be able to speak with Lindsey and get the children to safety. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what happened when they knocked on the door and identified themselves.
While knocking on the door, the responding officers explained that they were there because of a domestic battery call they had received. Rather than opening the door and speaking to police, Lindsey aimed his gun at the front door and started firing. One of those shots ended up hitting Orlando Police Officer Kevin Valencia in the eye.
The Standoff Begins
The other responding officers immediately called for backup and an ambulance. While the cops were attending to Officer Valencia, Lindsey barricaded himself in the apartment with the children. Within a few minutes, Valencia was being rushed to the Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition. His fellow officers beginning a long and tense standoff.
A Criminal Record
Police knew they had to be careful as Lindsey was a dangerous and unstable individual. According to his extensive criminal record, Lindsey’s trouble with the law began in 2008 with an arson charge and a domestic battery after he stabbed a TV with a knife, smashed the screen with his fists, and ordered his former girlfriend to get out of their home. Once she was gone, he set fire to the home and tried to run away from police.
After being arrested, Lindsey was sentenced to 10 years of supervised probation. After that, he was also sentenced to additional unsupervised probation. He was also ordered to pay his former girlfriend restitution for the damages the fire caused to the property.
The Other Charges
In the years that followed, Lindsey ran into trouble several times and was arrested on a number of those occasions. One of his charges included aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. In May 2018, Lindsey was arrested again for violating his probation after he was caught stealing from a Walmart. For that, he was charged with grand theft.
Escaping Jail Time
Yet Lindsey avoided jail time after his sister agreed to pay $1,000 towards restitution and Lindsey agreed to pay $300. The judge also decided to reinstate Lindsey’s supervised probation. Despite Lindsey’s history of violence, police hoped he wouldn’t harm Lopez’s four children as he was the father of the two younger siblings.
While Lindsey was barricaded in the apartment with the children, the police came up with a plan. “The national protocol, best practices in these types of situations, especially involving children and any type of domestic violence situation,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina explained, “is to negotiate in an attempt to come to a peaceful resolution,”
Saving the Children
According to the police, the technique is normally successful in similar situations. The fact that innocent children were involved only made it more crucial to work towards a peaceful resolution instead of using force. Over the next 21 hours, police worked tirelessly to negotiate with Lindsey.
“We’ve talked to him several times throughout the night and the morning,” Mina said after the standoff had been going on for several hours. “My main concern is the safety and the well-being of the children inside there. We believe they’re still alive at this time. We just implore him to release those children to us unharmed.”
Time to Act
During the standoff, negotiators spoke to Lindsey several times urging him to let the children go. On Monday evening, Lindsey’s phone wasn’t working properly so police tried to bring him a cell phone to use to continue negotiations. When they tried to bring him the phone, however, officers saw that one of the children appeared to be dead. Realizing that they would have to act quickly to prevent further harm to the kids, the police sent in the SWAT team.
A Sickening Discovery
When the SWAT team entered the apartment, they discovered they were too late. Not only did they find Lindsey dead in a closet from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but all four children were also dead. According to officials, two of the children were discovered in a bedroom and the other two were found in another bedroom.
A medical examiner determined that the children had been killed by Lindsey’s gun. It is also believed that the children were killed shortly before or after officers responded to the initial 911 call. “She ran out of the house in fear of her life, and the kids were locked in a room, and she never thought, ever, in a million years that he would hurt the children,” family spokesman Walter Benenati said about Lopez.
The Fight Continues
Now, months after the tragic night, Officer Kevin Valencia is still fighting for his life. “He’s fighting every second, and I need him to continue fighting,” said Valencia’s wife, Meghan. “He needs all the support so that he can pull through, so that he can wake up, so that he can live, because my boys need a daddy, I need my husband, and this community needs a real hero.”
Praying for a Miralce
In the weeks following the shooting, Valencia was in a coma but showed promise when he started squeezing people’s hands, reacting to Meghan’s voice, and giving a thumbs-up. “I know they had said that he was not expected to live, but he actually wasn’t, so the fact that he is moving and responding is truly a miracle,” Meghan said. “We are very, very thankful for all the prayers and support. I truly believe that helps.” In order to help the family during the trying time, a GoFundMe has been started to help raise funds. So far, almost $180,000 has been raised. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the support my husband is receiving,” Meghan wrote. “I could not have imagined so many people gathering to help a wounded hero! I cannot thank you enough for the continued donations to help the long road ahead in what I KNOW will be my husbands healing process! Thank you so much from the bottom our hearts, thank you!”
Recently, Valencia was transferred to a facility in Georgia where he can hopefully continue healing. However, the road to recovery is still very long and he’s not expected to return home anytime soon. So when Valencia’s oldest son had his first day of kindergarten, his brothers in blue stepped up and were there to escort him to school. “It was very emotional,” Chief Mina said. “It was tough because today you are supposed to be celebrating your first day of kindergarten with your mom and dad. With Officer Valencia still in a coma, we stepped in.”