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Couple called 'true heroes' for calmly aiding gravely wounded cop

A man administered first aid to San Diego Officer Jeremy Henwood, who had a gaping shotgun wound in his head, while his wife took down the gunman's vehicle information and radioed police.

August 09, 2011|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Tamica Berason wipes away tears after speaking with reporters about her son, Dejon Marquee White, who was shot dead by police after allegedly killing San Diego cop.
Tamica Berason wipes away tears after speaking with reporters about her… (James Gregg, San Diego Union-Tribune )

Reporting from San Diego — The woman's voice was urgent but composed under the circumstances.

"There's an officer shot. There's an officer shot. He's still breathing."

A San Diego police dispatcher asked the caller for more information and then broadcast the imperative that brought dozens of law enforcement personnel racing to a street corner in the mid-city neighborhood on Saturday afternoon.

"1199, 45th and University," said the dispatcher, using the code for "officer down" and giving the address where Officer Jeremy Henwood, a Marine combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, sat slumped in his police vehicle, a gaping shotgun wound in his head.

When Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, his badge covered with black tape, announced Sunday that Henwood had died, he praised the woman who had used Henwood's car radio to alert police to the shooting.

He also lauded her husband, who had desperately tried to administer first aid to stem Henwood's bleeding.

"Those were true heroes," Lansdowne said.

The couple, whose identities have been shielded, were out for an afternoon of shopping. When they saw a gunman attack the 36-year-old officer, they reacted quickly.

The woman's description of the gunman's car allowed police to track down Dejon Marquee White, 23, a petty criminal with a history of theft and violence. When he refused to surrender and instead grabbed his shotgun, several officers opened fire, killing him, police said.

Unknown to Henwood, or many of the officers who had responded to the scene, White was suspected of having shot a man in the parking lot of an In-N-Out restaurant in nearby El Cajon just minutes before he pulled up to Henwood's squad car at a stop sign and opened fire.

Sirens can be heard on the dispatcher's tape as she directs police to the location and helps officers establish a crime-scene perimeter and command post and deploy the SWAT squad.

"I need medics to make it to 45th and University," one officer tells the dispatcher. "I have an officer down with a gunshot to the head, near the left ear."

Paramedics arrived, trying in vain to stabilize Henwood. He was rushed to Scripps Mercy Hospital. Henwood died at 1:45 a.m. Sunday, more than eight hours after the unprovoked attack.

At White's apartment, officers found a rambling suicide note suggesting mental and financial problems.

Within hours of the shooting, Robbie and Beverly Henwood arrived from San Antonio and asked to visit the scene where their son was shot. His brother, Robbie Jr., and sister, Emily, also rushed to San Diego.

Henwood had only been on the beat for a few weeks, after returning from a deployment in Afghanistan, where, as a captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, he had been commanding a logistics company. The Texas native, who played football in high school and studied criminology at the University of Texas, had also served two combat tours in Iraq.

While in Afghanistan, he contributed to a newsletter sent monthly to the families of the Marines assigned to the 4th Marine Logistics Group. Logistics groups arrange the convoys to resupply frontline troops.

His essays brim with announcements about jobs well done, promotions earned by his Marines, tasks accomplished — the kind of enthusiasm that fellow police officers say he also displayed while patrolling.

"There is a sense of pride here that is genuine and infectious," Henwood wrote. "Your loved ones have poured out everything they've got and we're finally making waves, in a good way."

While he could have stayed in the relative security of the heavily guarded Camp Leatherneck, Henwood made a point to be "outside the wire" to celebrate the Marine Corps' birthday in November with frontline troops.

"I can think of no better way to carry on our tradition of honor, courage and commitment than being in the field" with Marines, he wrote.

Henwood had joined the Marines in the enlisted ranks and was a sergeant before becoming an officer. An infantryman by training, he went to Iraq during the assault on Baghdad in 2003 and the fight in Fallouja in 2004.

One of the 4th Marine Logistics Group newsletters before the end of the deployment carried an essay by Navy Chaplain Ken Amador.

"Life is full of risks," he wrote. "No matter how careful a person is, there will always be something that wasn't planned for."

On Monday, San Diego residents placed flowers at the foot of a granite memorial to fallen officers outside the downtown police headquarters. Plans are underway to add Henwood's name, the 32nd officer killed in the line of duty since 1913.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

The victim in the restaurant shooting, Martin Hanna, 23, an Iraqi immigrant who served as a translator for the U.S. military, remains hospitalized. Police have not discovered a motive for the shootings.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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