Officer Mike McClaughry, 60, was shot in the head in December while responding to reports of shots fired in a Mount Vernon neighborhood.
MOUNT VERNON — He couldn’t see them, but he could feel them, the crowd of several hundred — maybe 500 — who greeted police Officer Mike McClaughry Tuesday afternoon as he arrived at the police station after 61 days at Harborview Medical Center.
Well-wishers held up American flags, cheered and spontaneously began chanting “Welcome home! Welcome home!”
Walking with a long, white cane and needing some help, “Mick,” 61, as his fellow cops and friends know him, waved back.
“Thank you all for being here,” said McClaughry, who had staged a remarkable recovery after being near brain death when he was shot in the head in December. “I wish I could see all of you.”
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But all the officer can see, he said earlier when released from the Seattle hospital, “is variances in brightness. I can see some color, not much.”
His story has been a staple of the news and social media since the evening of Dec. 15, when he was shot in the head while responding to reports of a shooting outside a Mount Vernon home.
“He’s the first officer that’s been shot in our police department’s history,” said Lt. Greg Booth, one of the officers who greeted McClaughry. He said about the community response in this town of 32,000, “It’s wonderful.”
A GoFundMe page in the officer’s name now is at $71,615.
A Facebook page for him has 7,578 followers, and his daughter, April McClaughry, posts regular updates: “Dad’s feeding tube was removed.” “Dad is talking.” “Dad’s outside the hospital with a friend.”
Erica Mindt was one of the locals who came to greet the officer. She was there with two co-workers.
“It’s just overwhelming gratitude for our police force, what with the recent violence, we’ve had multiple shootings,” she said.
She said about her perceived increase in violent crimes, “I don’t know why it’s happening.”
A 44-year-old man and two teens, ages 16 and 15, have each been charged with one count of first-degree attempted murder in McClaughry’s shooting. The man, Ernesto Lee Rivas, has an extensive criminal record that stretches back to the early 1990s, according to court records. A Yakima police detective once called Rivas a “predator.”
McClaughry beat the odds when it comes to being shot in the head.
Gunshot-wound head trauma is fatal about 90 percent of the time, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, with many victims dying before arriving at the hospital.
If you put your hand to the lower back of the head, you can feel a slight bump. That’s the middle.
The bullet entered just left of that bump and exited on the right side of McClaughry’s skull, above and behind the ear.
On Tuesday, Dr. Peter Esselman, chair of UW Medicine rehabilitation medicine, said that McClaughry’s injury was to the part of the brain that “interprets vision.” The injury, he said, also affected the officer’s short-term memory.
“Another place in the head, a matter of inches,” said the doctor, and McClaughry’s fate might have been quite different.
Esselman said the officer will now be in outpatient therapy and return every couple of months to Harborview for a checkup.
The doctor said he was “kind of cautious, but we hope to continue to see some improvement in his vision. I’ve learned in this business to never say never.”
McClaughry was supposed to stay at the hospital a day longer, but his wife asked he be released Tuesday.
It was Valentine’s Day and the 39th wedding anniversary for Mick and Linda McClaughry.
The officer said faith had helped him get through the past two months.
“I think we all look for comfort,” said McClaughry. “If we have faith, it provides that comfort that keeps us straight to get to the other side.”
Esselman was asked how much having the will to get better mattered in a case like McClaughry’s.
“A lot,” he said.