ARLINGTON – Officer Bryan Graham doesn’t look like a man who was shot in the head 80 days ago.
Even he jokes about it –– there’s a mild scar where the bullet entered above his eyebrow. The hair’s grown back over the portion of skull that the bullet rumbled along beneath his scalp, somehow never managing to penetrate to a –– likely fatal –– point beyond.
And so, standing in front of a gaggle of media gathered at department headquarters Thursday, he jokingly reassured the room that all were in the right place.
“Obviously you can’t see anything now, there’s not much to show for it,” he said, half-smirking, “but it was me, it was me. It wasn’t someone else.”
The 11-year veteran is light-hearted and humble about the incident, but those were long, harrowing seconds for the Arlington Police Department’s SWAT Team.
On June 5, Graham was at the front of a line of his teammates who were approaching an apartment in the 600 block of East Arkansas Lane alongside units from Fort Worth. Alexzander Coan, 23, was barricaded inside, hiding from warrants related to at least five armed robberies in Fort Worth and a few more in surrounding cities.
For police, serving a warrant had morphed into something more volatile.
It was about 7:15 p.m. and Graham was going to lead the way. As the tactical squad got into place, gunshots rang out from the residence.
One caught Graham in the head, but not before it met his protective helmet.
“From what we believe, yes, it did hit the lip of my helmet, which caused it to slow down and then fragment before it hit me,” he said.
The bullet entered above his right eyebrow and exited behind his ear, lacerating the ear canal on its way out of the officer’s head. Press reports following the shooting would later say the 35-year-old was mere centimeters away from dying.
Instead he was unconscious for 10 seconds and rushed to the hospital. Coan was shot and secured. Amazingly, Graham would spend less than 24 hours at John Peter Smith Hospital before being released. Coan died from his injuries.
Speaking about the incident now, Graham says it was more difficult for his family and his colleagues than it was for him.
“I kinda joke about it, but I had the easiest part to deal with,” he said. “I knew I was OK, it was everyone else getting the phone calls. Family, friends, especially (his wife) Lauren; as bad as it sounds, I had the easiest part of everybody.”
For 30 minutes after the shooting, Graham said his wife thought the worst: Husband, on duty, shot in the head. Rushed to the hospital. Status unknown.
“It was a tough experience as you can imagine,” Lauren Graham said. “It doesn’t even have to be a police officer, I mean, for you to get information that your loved one, that this has happened; it was anybody’s worst nightmare.”
“She had the toughest time of all, actually, I would say,” Bryan replied. “She knew what had happened, but she didn’t know how well I was doing.”
The reality, though, was that Graham would miss just 20 days of work. Four days after his return, he’d be back to serving warrants and performing the same duties he was three-and-a-half months ago, he said.
And on Thursday after he finished speaking with local media, he would head south on Interstate 35W to Austin, where Gov. Rick Perry would present him with the Star of Texas, a heroism award reserved for officers critically wounded while wearing the shield.
And so, as Graham’s supervisor would later say, a “horrible, absolutely horrible” situation would only last a blink, all things considered. Graham would be OK, likely saved by his protective gear.
“It was the best news that day,” Sgt. Brook Rollins said. “It could’ve carried beyond what we’d already dealt with.”