ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (FOX 29) - An Atlantic City police officer was shot in the head during an armed robbery and survived.
Now, his community is honoring him in a special way.
"As I got out of the car the suspect ran to the side pulled the trigger and the first round caught me in the side of the head and I dropped," Officer Josh Vadell recalled.
It has been a little over two years since Detective Thomas McCabe and Officer Vadell came upon three young people being robbed at gunpoint. That situation resulted in the teens being saved and the Atlantic County officers' lives changing forever.
"Josh's head was laying in my lap, I put my finger in his head where the round was just to do what I can to control some of the bleeding and to just slow down the process of him dying," Detective McCabe explained.
Detective McCabe's partner didn't die that day. Fellow officers and first responders saved his life.
"They may have endured something that changed their lives forever but they withstood it and they're still here standing like that tree will be for generations to come," Atlantic County prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said.
The tree was part of the first annual "Rooted in Justice" tree planting ceremony. People from all over the area came together to celebrate the two officers and establish a living tribute to the actions and bravery that most of us thankfully never truly experience firsthand.
"Aside from getting shot in the head I wouldn't change a thing and I'd do it all over again," Officer Valdez said.
"We don't sign up for the job for a paycheck; I personally signed up for the job for that moment right there. We saved three juveniles and we saved my partners life," Detective McCabe added.
The hope is that as the tree grows so will the understanding of everyone who sees it. They want people to have a better appreciation for the risks our first responders face and perhaps be inspired to do more to improve our communities.
"I hope that we've inspired other people to do the right thing. I usually tell people if you have a chance to be the hero, be the hero," Officer Valdez said.