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W.Va. thanks Elswick

State honors wounded trooper and those who came to his aid

State honors wounded trooper and those who came to his aid

May 07, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Martinsburg, W.Va. - A banquet room was filled with camera flashes and hard swallows Tuesday afternoon when a Purple Heart medal was pinned to the shirt of West Virginia State Police Trooper 1st Class R.J. "Bobby" Elswick.

Then, different medals were pinned to the uniforms of three other troopers who responded with Elswick to a possible hostage call on Oct. 10, 2002. The 8:49 p.m. call ended with Elswick fallen in the mud, shot once in the head.

"If it wouldn't have been for them, we probably wouldn't be here," said Terri Elswick, Bobby Elswick's wife.

Sgt. Eric Burnett crawled over to Elswick after hearing a gunshot and strange gurgling sounds coming from Elswick's direction. He found Elswick lying face down on the ground, his right arm under him, his left arm reaching forward.

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Burnett covered his fellow trooper and then called for help. He received a Medal for Lifesaving.

"It means a lot because the life that I saved wasn't a trooper. It was Bobby," Burnett said after the ceremony at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn. Burnett and Elswick attended the West Virginia State Police Academy together and are close friends.

Trooper John Droppleman received a Medal of Valor. On the rainy night of the shooting, he pursued the accused gunman through the woods and shot him with a shotgun when the man reached for his gun again, according to police reports. Lt. Col. Carl White, second in command of the state police, called Droppleman's actions "courage under fire."

Trooper Robert Copson received a Meritorious Service Medal for assisting with the foot pursuit and arrest of David Eugene Munday, 37, of Hedgesville, W.Va.

State police dispatchers Eric Brindle and Julie Berens received letters of commendation for the "exceptional professionalism" they showed while handling the officer-down call.

Court records allege that before the shooting, Munday took a neighbor hostage and threatened to kill several people, including any police officers who arrived.

Munday was indicted in February on 28 charges connected to the shooting, including attempted murder, and is awaiting trial. He recently was taken to South Central Regional Jail in Charleston, W.Va., for a psychological evaluation.

Dozens of police officers from several different departments were present at the awards ceremony. The room grew quiet as Elswick slowly walked in, a scar visible among the hair on the left side of his head.

Terri Elswick later tried to cover up the scar, joking that someone had messed up her husband's haircut.

After the ceremony, a line of people formed to shake Elswick's hand, rub his shoulder, give him a hug and share a few words.

"Today is very special. I'm so proud of him," Terri Elswick said as she looked toward and smiled at her husband. She said both knew some sort of award was coming, but neither knew it was going to be a Purple Heart.

Elswick still has therapy every day, which he calls "school." Although his speech is somewhat slurred, Elswick can hold a conversation. He answered questions and laughed at jokes.

"Every day he just gets better and better and better," Terri Elswick said.

Together the couple host cookouts and go out to dinner. They eat lunch together every day and are able to do the things they did before that October night, Terri Elswick said.

Bobby Elswick, though, has a goal in mind. Asked if going back to work for the state police was possible, Elswick said, "I hope so."

Addressing the crowd, Joe Martin, state secretary of military affairs and public safety, commended the four honorees.

"I bring you thanks and appreciation from a grateful state," he said. "We truly appreciate what you and all your colleagues do for us every day. West Virginia is a better place. West Virginia is a safer place" because of you, he said.

West Virginia State Police Superintendent Howard Hill addressed Elswick.

"Bobby, from me to you, I appreciate what you've given to the state of West Virginia, what you've given to the West Virginia State Police," he said.

Hill and others said thanks were due to the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, Martinsburg Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Department, Maryland State Police and Hagerstown City Police.

Gov. Bob Wise had hoped to attend the ceremony, but was unable to do so because of a scheduling conflict, Martin said.

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