The shock of losing a fellow officer may have worn off for many of Killeen’s police officers, but now comes the recovery that will likely be difficult and painful.
Killeen Police Department Chaplain Alvin Dillard said this is a critical time for officers who may be dealing with feelings of sadness, grief, guilt and anger over the July 14 death of officer Robert “Bobby” Hornsby, who was killed in the line of duty as the SWAT team responded to an incident at an apartment complex.
Hornsby’s widow, Kimberly Hornsby, said it is the nights that get to her.
“You have to move on, you don’t have a choice,” she said. “You try to figure out how to do that and do your best at it.”
Beginning the recovery is not easy. Losing a fellow police officer is like losing a family member, Dillard said.
“When it comes to law enforcement on a day-to-day basis, they depend on each other so much that it becomes a close family,” Dillard said.
The department has requested Critical Incident Response teams from the Texas Department of Public Safety to help officers and department staff deal with the aftermath of Hornsby’s death.
Some DPS staff arrived and began speaking to groups of officers Friday, Dillard said. Group counseling, known as debriefings, will continue throughout next week.
One team will be dedicated to the members of KPD’s Tactical Response Team, commonly known as SWAT, who were likely hit hardest by Hornsby’s death. Many witnessed him being shot and were close to the four-year veteran.
Skip Strauss, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Emergency Ministries, which provides critical incident services to 30 fire departments across Texas, said the next several days are critical for public servants who have suffered a recent tragedy.
“Getting that help is crucial right now and will help them in the long run,” Strauss said.
The critical incident response teams will work to facilitate a conversation among officers. They work to get officers and staff to verbalize their feelings about the shooting, which will help speed the emotional healing process.
They are especially necessary in police departments, which can be pervaded by a “tough-guy mentality.”
“That mindset is a thing of the past for the most part,” Strauss said.
Killeen police continue to investigate the incident that led to Hornsby’s death, the injury of officer Juan Obregon Jr. and the suspect’s death.
KPD’s standard policy is to place officers on leave who are involved with fatal shootings, meaning multiple members of Killeen’s SWAT team cannot return to work.
Police spokeswoman Carroll Smith could not provide how many officers were placed on leave, but said they will remain off duty until a Bell County grand jury has a chance to review the shooting.
In some cases, that could take months.
The officers involved in the shooting will continue to be paid while the investigation is conducted.
The shooter, Talihina, Okla., native Pfc. Dustin Cole, was a 24-year-old soldier assigned to the 584th Mobility Augmentation Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood.
Attempts to contact his family were unsuccessful.
According to police, Cole was at his apartment complex, Grandon Manor Apartments, on July 13.
He approached the pool area of the complex about 11:40 p.m. armed with a rifle and made threatening statements. He left the area and residents called the police.
Cole then barricaded himself inside apartment 6E. The first responding officers could see Cole was brandishing a semi-automatic AK-47 and acting in a threatening manner.
At 11:56 p.m., officers dispatched the SWAT team to the area. About an hour after the original call, the team began to move in to attempt to make contact with Cole.
Cole fired a single shot. He then opened the door to the apartment and placed his hands in the air; however, Cole did not allow officers to detain him. He moved back into the apartment, grabbed the AK-47 and began firing.
During a rapid exchange of fire, a bullet hit Obregon in the leg. Another shot hit Hornsby, fatally wounding the 32-year-old officer. He was pronounced dead about an hour later.
Obregon, 33, underwent surgery and is recovering.
The Killeen police chaplain said some officers may struggle with replaying the incident in their minds to see if different actions could have prevented Hornsby’s death.
Part of his job in the coming months will be convincing those officers that they relied on their training, and that sometimes tragedy is unavoidable, Dillard said.
“You have to get through that thinking because these people are operating on their training, and they’ve done the best job they can do,” Dillard said. “It’s a shame if we try to minimize things and say what could have been done.”
Hornsby’s wife said she has busied herself by going to any event, large or small, that honors her husband in any way. Kimberly Hornsby was present when members of the SWAT team got matching tattoos to honor Robert Hornsby this week and will be at a blood drive in memory of Hornsby taking place today.
It’s when things slow down at night that it can get bad, she said.
Family has helped, and she said their two children, ages 1 and 4, are coping.
“We want them not to think about him like he is gone but more as a hero,” she said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.