Last Friday, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan held a special ceremony at Marcus Point Baptist Church to honor the law enforcement officers who confronted the shooter in the terrorist attack at NAS Pensacola in early December.
Sheriff Morgan presented Purple Heart awards to ECSO Deputy Jonathan Glass, Deputy Matthew Tinch and DOD Police Captain Charles Hogue. All were shot while engaging the shooter.
Medals of Valor were also awarded to Glass, Tinch, Hogue, DOD Capt. Robert Johnson and ECSO Sgt. Mike Hoyland, Senior Deputy Grant Lopez, Deputy Matthew Housam and Deputy Matthew Keebler.
Before he read the citations for the officers, the sheriff recognized and thanked U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe and all the federal and state agencies that helped the day of the shooting and with the investigation of the incident. He also had a message for his troops.
“The history of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office over the last several years is one that is distinguished and is second to none, to any sheriff’s office in the state of Florida, and quite possibly this nation,” said Sheriff Morgan. “You should hold your head high in the wearing of the uniform of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office because when our citizens look at you, they see all of this, and you rightfully have a claim to that because you are a part of this organization.”
He added, “For those of us that responded that morning, it was an amazing thing to see all these various parts integrate and work to the common good and the successful resolution of a difficult situation.”
He reminded all in attendance why the ceremony was significant.
“We came here today to see a living example of what you read about in books and you see in movies, and those are heroes—something that we always all want to aspire to,” he said. “And I will tell you that our nation, especially today, needs heroes. We want to believe in the truth. We want to believe that there’s still justice in our nation and the world, and these young men have become the embodiment of that.”
The sheriff continued, “We need to remember that courage and sacrifice are not Republican or Democrat—not white, not black, not Hispanic or any other ethnic group. They’re about duty, honor and country. Those who wear the uniform, we know that concerns about self to be left at the door. So, why are we here today? To memorialize their extraordinary acts and to set the standard for all who follow.”
The Medal of Valor is awarded for an act of gallantry, courage and compassion above and beyond the call of duty. The Purple Heart is awarded for injuries received in the line of duty while in the act of preventing death or great bodily harm.
“Dec. 6, 2019, at approximately 0650 hours Central Standard Time is a day in the history of Escambia County that will be remembered and written about as a day which changed us from a family-friendly tourist destination to a community dealing with the realities of a world in conflict,” said the sheriff as he read the citation for the recipients.
“Unbridled hate was loosed upon innocents, going about their daily routines, planning holiday visits, schooling, dating, graduation and life,” he continued. “This was an attack upon active duty military personnel assigned to Naval Air Station Pensacola.”
The attack resulted in the deaths of Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Naval Aircrewman 3rd Class Mohammed S. Haitham and Naval Aircrewman 3rd Class Cameron S. Walters.
“The day instead was a date with destiny, their young lives violently and tragically ended by someone they thought to be an ally, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani of the Royal Saudi Air Force,” read the sheriff. “The attacker could not have known that although these young sailors were unarmed, he was confronting American grit and determination, manifested by those that wear the uniforms of our country and our community. These young men bought precious seconds, at the cost of their lives, allowing NAS Police, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement and emergency service agencies to respond to a ‘shots fired call’ at Building 633.”
Sheriff Morgan said Capt. Johnson and Capt. Hogue, NAS Police, led the first entry into the building. Shots were exchanged, and Capt. Hogue was struck in the thigh. Capt. Johnson took cover and concealment, and within minutes, deputies from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office began to deploy in and around the building.
Escambia County deputies Glass and Tinch were the first Escambia County personnel to confront Alshamrani. They exchanged gunfire with the shooter in a stairwell, returning fire upwards to the second floor. Both were wounded in that exchange.
Motor Deputy Lopez was the first Escambia County Deputy to hit the suspect, striking him in the chest before his weapon jammed. The suspect continued to fire, pursuing Deputy Lopez into a hallway as the deputy attempted to clear his weapon and seek cover.
Sergeant Hoyland, Deputy Keebler and Deputy Housam entered Building 633 through the front entrance, tactically deploying with two long guns and a semi-automatic handgun. They fired the final shots ending the active shooter incident.
Sheriff Morgan asked Airman Ryan Blackwell to stand. Blackwell was shot several times while shielding a female colleague with his body. The audience gave him a standing ovation.
“From this tragedy, we who are shipmates, fellow officers, deputies and civilians, who we are came through in crystal clarity,” said Sheriff Morgan, “We are Americans, and by God’s grace, we are the land of the free because of individual acts like those which occurred on Dec. 6, 2019. Therefore, in recognition of these selfless acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty, they reflect great credit upon themselves and the ‘profession of law enforcement.”
After awarding the medals, the sheriff closed the ceremony with the poem “The Watch.”
“For year upon year, our armed forces and first responders have stood the watch. While we were in our beds at night, our armed forces and first responders have stood the watch. While we were in school learning our trade, our armed forces and first responders have stood the watch.
“Yes, even before some of us were born into this world, our armed forces and first responders have stood the watch. In those years when the storm clouds of civil unrest were seen brewing on the horizon of history, our armed forces and first responders have stood the watch.
“Many times, they would cast an eye towards home and see many family members standing there needing their guidance and help, needing that hand to hold onto during those hard times. But still, they stood the watch.
“They stood the watch year upon year. They stood the watch to see that we, our families and our fellow citizens could sleep soundly in safety each and every night, knowing that our armed forces and first responders stood the watch.”
The sheriff continued, “Today we are here to say to those faithful brothers and sisters that came before us, the watch stands relieved. Relieved by those that you have trained, trained with, guided and led. Ensign Joshua K. Watson, Aircrewman Mohammed S. Haitham, Aircrewman Cameron S. Walters, you stand relieved. We have the watch. Thank you.”