On Duty at the LAX Shooting: "My Only Fear Was Not Seeing My Sons Again"

A father of two shares his experience as a first-responder on the day of the LAX shooting.

On Friday, November 1, alleged shooter Paul Ciancia opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport, wounding six people and killing Transportation Security Administration officer Gerardo Hernandez. Hernadez was a father of two and the first TSA officer to be killed in the line of duty. Jeff Shelton, also a father of two, was a first-responder at LAX during this shooting. Below, he shares his story.

The goal of every police officer is to go back to your family at night, and I held my sons a little longer than usual when I found myself lucky enough to be one of those who made it home. When the adrenaline at last wore off, my heart broke for Gerardo Hernandez, the TSA Officer and family man whose last moment was spent in mid-laughter prior to being robbed of everything he would ever have.

“11-01”, as it will forever be known at LAX, was a horrible and senseless tragedy that could have been far worse had it not been for the heroic and decisive actions of the Los Angeles Airport Police. My role as Sergeant of LAX's Emergency Services Unit was to prepare our first responders for precisely this event, but nothing could have prepared me for how vividly I would see my own sons as I boarded that escalator in pursuit of someone else’s child.

As I looked down at and then past Gerardo I thought crystal-clearly that I could in moments be joining him, wondering if my little boys, Nathan and Dylan, both of whom have autism, would ever really know how much I loved them -- if their version of loss could possibly compare to what I felt in those few seconds as I sank into an abyss of remorse for all the time I had spent at the dangerous job I love, rather than with them at home. That was the only fear I felt that day, the idea of never again being able to hold and kiss them.

For both of my boys, life truly imitates art, and to them, I drive and carry toys for a living. Their understanding of danger is commensurate with very limited language. They know that work is anything that is not playtime, just as they work every day with therapists, and that there is no reason to suspect that it will not forever be a part of our rigid routines. The notion that work could ever be as dangerous as a knife, a lit stove or any other “don’t touch!” is completely foreign to them. But I want them to know that I'm not simply a man willing to do violence so that others may sleep peaceably, but a father whose greatest fear is ceasing to be one.

Jeff Shelton is a Sergeant of the Emergency Services Unit for LAX and the author of 'Golda: A True Story for Children of All Ages.' He won "Hottest Policeman/Fireman Dad" in iVillage's 2013 Hot Dads Contest. His wife Jaime and their two sons live in Los Angeles. 

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