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NEWS | Nov. 21, 2018

Sutherland Springs remembered one year later

By Lori Newman Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs

Brooke Army Medical Center held two ceremonies to honor the victims of a mass shooting that took place in a small rural community near San Antonio and the staff members who treated them.

The first ceremony was held Nov. 5, the first anniversary of the shooting, which happened on a peaceful Sunday morning in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. That day a lone gunman took the lives of 26 people and wounded 20 others. Of those who were wounded, BAMC received eight victims – six adults and two children.

BAMC Commanding General Brig. Gen. George Appenzeller provided remarks, followed by a blood drive and a banner signing.

“We thought it would be fitting to hold a blood drive today, because blood is what saves lives in these kinds of situations,” Appenzeller said. “Many people survive because of blood donated at other times. Blood drives are critical to our nation and they are critical to the survival of our trauma patients. Without blood people like those who were injured in Sutherland Springs may have died.”

The general said even though he and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Oates were not at BAMC during the time of the shooting, they have spoken to many staff members who were.

“What was most impressive was how the BAMC family came together,” the general said. “They came without being called, because it was the right thing to do.”

“I can’t stress how proud Command Sgt. Maj. Oates and I are of each and every one of you, and how proud we are to be part of this organization,” Appenzeller said. “Everyone who came here survived and that is a testament to the hard work, skill, compassion and dedication of every member of the BAMC team.”

The Akeroyd Blood Donor Center Armed Services Blood Program received 48 donors and collected 31 units of blood as a result of the blood drive.

After the Sutherland Springs shooting, BAMC received a banner from Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas as a demonstration of support and appreciation for our staff. Sunrise Hospital received nearly 200 victims after the 2017 Vegas shooting. They wanted to “pay it forward” to another hospital that cared for victims after a mass shooting.

BAMC decided to “pay it forward” by having staff and patients sign a banner of support for Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas. They also received eight patients – all students – in the wake of the Santa Fe High School Shooting last May.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, Regional Health Command-Central commanding general, presented a certificate of appreciation from Texas Governor Greg Abbott to Appenzeller Nov. 8 during a second ceremony.

Three former Sutherland Springs patients attended the presentation, David Colbath, Juan “Gunny” Macias and Zack Poston. All had multiple injuries from the shooting and recovered at BAMC.

“This is very emotional for me to have a chance to see these folks once again,” Johnson said, trying to hold back his emotions.

“While BAMC is renowned for its emergency response within the community, the tragedy that rocked the small community of Sutherland Springs and indeed, our Nation, remains an especially poignant moment in our BAMC history that will not be forgotten,” Johnson said. “As the BAMC commander at the time, I was tremendously proud as I observed our BAMC team respond with determination to do what we could to mitigate the devastation of this tragedy, one patient at a time.”

Johnson said, when tragedy strikes, it is easy to become disheartened or despairing.

“We have the honor of watching individuals – like David, Juan, Zach and the many trauma victims from the surrounding area – whether military or civilian, who have survived the worst event in their life,” Johnson said. “The team of providers here at BAMC are incredibly skilled professionals, and they truly epitomize compassion, care and commitment.”

Macias didn’t plan to speak, but he said the general’s honest words gave him the courage to try.

“First I would like to thank God for the many blessings I have received since the shooting,” Macias said.

“To the ER doctors and nurses … I can’t begin to thank you. We have our lives because of all of you,” he said choking back his tears.

He praised several individual staff members and Johnson for the care they provided to him and his family.

“You gave my family comfort and confidence that everything was going to be alright,” Macias said. “God bless all of you. Keep up the great work.”

Colbath also thanked the staff who were involved with his care.

“The people who work here are here because they want to be, and I can’t imagine there being any other reason because I was touched with love, and caring hands, caring hearts and people who really wanted to do their job and did a great job doing it,” Colbath said. “I tell everyone, the world’s greatest trauma center is in San Antonio, Texas. It’s called Brooke Army Medical Center.”

“I want you all to know that you all do a great job, and I’m glad that I was brought here,” he concluded.