It was a long way from the night of April 14, 2018, when Harnett County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eric Cook attempted to speak with 16-year-old Eric Garza. It was in those moments in the early evening when Mr. Garza fired two shots, both striking Cpl. Cook.
The two bullets left him lying on the ground near the Cagle Furniture Store on N.C.24/87 with blood coming from the bullet wounds to his face and the pain of the broken ankle he suffered during the altercation.
The night moved behind Cpl. Cook Monday when he returned to full duty and came back to the job he loved.
“It has taken a lot of determination and commitment over the last 10 months,” he said. “But I’m happy to say I’m back to work, full duty and be able to continue serving the citizens of Harnett County.”
Cpl. Cook offered his personal thanks to not only God, but to the men and women who helped save his life in the early moments following the shooting.
“I would like to thank all the first responders, all the supporting personnel from our area and surrounding areas that assisted that night,” Cpl. Cook said. “I’m extremely grateful to the EMS personnel, the Cape Fear Valley Hospital staff, UNC Memorial Hospital surgical teams and their staff for the care I received.”
Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats, who presented Cpl. Cook with the Purple Heart Medal, told his fellow officers, guests from the Harnett County District Attorney’s Office and Cpl. Cook’s family how blessed he was to be alive.
“Cpl. Cook is here for several reasons,” Sheriff Coats said. “First of all, God had a plan for him, God protected him and God also laid his healing hand on him. His vest played a major role in his survival because this man also shot him point blank range in his chest.”
Cpl. Cook described his rehabilitation, which took nearly a year, as something he endured for eight months. It included both physical and conditioning therapy in order to get him back on his feet. And getting back fully on his feet was the most difficult part, he explained to the press.
“Physically it was my ankle, my foot, the nerve pain, that was the biggest thing,” he said. “Getting used to putting pressure back on my foot again. Getting the muscles, ligaments and tendons strengthened back up.”
There was another area Cpl. Cook credited for saving his life. He said his training kicked in and he did as he was trained. With that in mind, he also said the entire incident brought him to a realization, one he encouraged all law enforcement officers to heed.
“Be more aware,” he said. “Something we’re all taught is that complacency will get you hurt. That’s something old, new and upcoming officers need to realize and veteran officers need to realize it.”
As for returning to duty, Cpl. Cook said it gave him a sense of normal once again.
“I wondered how I’d feel putting the uniform on,” he said. “It feels really good, I feel normal, it feels like it was something I was meant to do. It feels good.”
-Dunn Daily Record