Tony Garces was still reeling from his injuries on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after he disarmed a possible church shooter in Amarillo, Texas — and was then shot by police.
Speaking to NBC News by phone from his hospital room at Heart Hospital of Northwest Texas, Garces, 54, said that he was admitted to the emergency room on Monday with a blood clot in his lung.
On the morning of Feb. 14 — the same day as the Florida school shooting that killed 17 kids and teachers — Garces wrestled a handgun away from a man who had entered the chapel at Faith City Mission and threatened to hold church attendees hostage.
But a responding officer fired at Garces, striking him twice — once in the back and once above his collar bone, his lawyer, Jeff Blackburn, said in an interview.
“I don’t know how that punctured a lung but it did,” Blackburn said.
In a Feb. 14 statement, the Amarillo Police Department appeared to confirm Garces’ account, saying an initial investigation determined that police fired at a man who’d disarmed a would-be hostage taker in a church with 100 people in its chapel.
That suspect, identified in a separate statement as Joshua Len Jones, 35, was booked on six charges of aggravated kidnapping.
Yet the department did not say why an officer fired at Garces — only that it was investigating the incident.
A police spokesman, Brent Barbee, told NBC News on Tuesday that the department’s special crimes unit was examining the case, per department protocol, and no new details were available.
Tony Garces reveals his gunshot wound while in North Texas Hospital on February 27, 2018. Jeff Blackburn
Garces said he’d been staying at the mission since January, after he completed a prison term the month before for assault and other charges. There, Garces said he was attending a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
In the chapel that morning, Garces first became aware of the gunman when he said he heard a security guard shout: “He’s got a gun, he’s got a gun.”
Then, Garces said, the guard, who was not armed, fled the church, along with some other congregants.
A woman who answered the phone at the mission declined to comment.
Garces, who was near the front of the church, was among those who stayed. The gunman didn’t say what he wanted, Garces said — only that he wanted to hold church attendees hostage for a couple of days.
The gunman then gave a woman zip ties and instructed her to tie Garces up. She left one of the ties loose, Garces said, and when a few other people scrambled toward the gunman, Garces went for the weapon.
“As soon as I moved, he pulled the trigger,” Garces said. “It hit the wall.”
He said he was able to grab the handgun, then leave through a side door that led to the cafeteria. Holding the gun upside down — and clutching it with both hands — he said it was there that he encountered an officer with a rifle who told him to drop the weapon.
“I started bending down to put it on the ground,” Garces said. “I didn’t want to drop it. It would go off. That’s when he shot me.”
One bullet grazed his back, but a second punctured his lung and collapsed it. He said he returned to the hospital on Monday after he began to have trouble breathing.
Aside from requesting a statement from Garces, authorities have had no contact with him, Blackburn said, adding that if the city doesn’t «make an overture» he’ll likely sue in federal court, arguing the officer was negligent and violated Garces’ civil rights.
Blackburn also said the incident served as a potentially ominous warning in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, with the president — among others — arguing that arming teachers would serve as a powerful remedy to such massacres.
“If this proves anything, it proves that when a situation is that tense and you’ve got officers trained to shoot first, and have been told by the law to shoot first if you’re remotely threatened, they’re going to feel threatened when they see a teacher with a gun,” Blackburn said.
“When you have officers who are ready to use lethal force they’re going to use it.”