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Jerry Costello

New Life for Injured Police Officer
August 9, 2015

On May 22 of this year Andres Gonzalez Jr., known as Chico, was married to Amanda Klein at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in New Orleans. The officiating priest was a friend of the bride—Father Tony Rigoli, an Oblate. Not much out of the ordinary so far, but there was one slightly unusual note—the groom remained seated throughout the ceremony, in his wheelchair. And one more thing: nine years before, to the day, Gonzalez, a cop, lay severely wounded on a New Orleans street, fighting for his life.

                Thereby hangs a tale, of course, and editor Peter Finney Jr. tells it in his paper, the (New Orleans) Clarion-Herald. It’s quite a story, and it goes like this:

                It all began (on May 22, 2006) with a routine traffic stop, but as any cop will tell you, there’s no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. As Gonzalez asked the driver to step out of the car, the passenger, Eddie Harrison, took off running. Gonzalez, who had run cross-country at Archbishop Rummel High School, chased him, and when he had caught up Harrison withdrew a gun from his waistband and fired twice at Gonzalez. The second bullet entered near his chin and severed his C5 cervical vertebra, paralyzing the officer.

                Then, without saying a word, Harrison stood above him, squeezing off three more shots: two in the face and one in the chest.

                “I guess he thought he finished me off,” Gonzalez said later. He hadn’t, of course, but the young patrolman would wonder from time to time if he might be better off had Harrison succeeded. Gonzalez was awake “for every bump and shake” on the initial ambulance ride, and then there were the long hours of rehabilitation—hours that turned into days and weeks, then months and years.

                But as you already know, this is one tale with a happy ending. Eddie Harrison, captured shortly after the shooting, was subsequently convicted and is now serving a life term in prison. 

                One day, when Gonzalez was feeling better, he wondered how he could help others to repay people for their role in his recovery—and in 2011, Help4Heroes.org, a nonprofit that aids first responders, was born. Gonzalez, with the help of friends, started the organization to make sure that the families of those who were killed or injured in the line of duty would be cared for.

                Then Amanda Klein came into Gonzalez’ life. A paramedic, she and a group of friends had founded their own nonprofit to aid charities, and she and Gonzalez discovered they had something in common. They talked on the phone, then attended an athletic event together—where, Klein later recalled, “we talked the entire game.”  Soon they were attending board meetings together, and over the course of a year Klein found herself falling in love.

                “At least I know what I’m getting into,” she told her sister. “The love part comes easy, and at least I know what to expect. Marriage is in sickness and in health.”

                The church and the priest were easy decisions. “It’s such a welcoming place,” Klein said, “and Father Tony is everything anybody should be.”

                The ceremony went off without a hitch, and Gonzalez’ father put it all into perspective. “What a difference nine years makes,” he said. “He wanted to get married on this day to show that the day is not sad. It’s what you do with it that counts.”

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, PERSEVERING THROUGH PAIN AND STRUGGLE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org