MOAB — Two years ago, Utah State Park ranger Brody Young was shot nine times at a popular trailhead just outside of Moab.
"My story is miraculous in many ways," he said. "I should have, by any medical terms, died."
Young was checking a car at the Poison Spider Mesa trailhead on Nov. 19, 2010. Camping isn't allowed in the area, so he told the driver, Lance Leeroy Arellano, about other nearby campsites.
Young grew suspicious when Arellano would not produce identification, and the vehicle had an expired registration. But until the first shot was fired, the incident was still "standard," he said a few months after the shooting.
"I went to check on his history and background," Young said. "It was just the standard contact, and then he turned on me. When I went to head back to my truck, that's when he started shooting."
Young was shot multiple times in the arm, leg and stomach. He shot back at Arellano, and then passed out.
"After I was shot and laying there, what got me back to my truck to call for help was my family," he said, "thinking of my kids."
Young rolled back to his truck after the gunfight, radioed for help and then waited.
"I was so happy when help arrived," he recalled. "You couldn't ask for a better crew of EMTs and doctors than the ones that were working that night."
Two of the rounds were stopped by his Kevlar vest. Six entered his body, two of which have been removed. The ninth bullet was stopped miraculously by something in Young's pocket — a credit card.
When he woke up, Arellano was gone. A massive manhunt began, but Arellano was never found. Many believe he died from injuries after Young shot him and his body is somewhere in those rocks.
"It is really rough, and it's like looking for a needle in a haystack," Grand County Sheriff Steve White said.
It's been two years since the shooting, and Young is working full time again with Utah State Parks helping run the water safety program.
Every now and then, like when his arm goes numb, he's reminded of the incident. He spent five weeks in the hospital and will need checkups the rest of his life, Young said.
"I still have four bullets inside and a bunch of shrapnel," he said.
The bullets are too close to major organs or too deeply embedded to remove surgically, he said last year. One bullet is still buried in his vertebrae, another in the lower lobe of his left lung, another behind his heart near the spine, and the last in his pelvic bone.
"There's also lots of shrapnel in my left arm," Young said.
Gunshot wounds caused damage to Young's heart, small intestine, colon, stomach, right kidney, liver, diaphragm and lung.
"It was basically every organ except for my spleen and bladder," Young said.
He knows how close he came to dying.
"Your body holds four or five units of blood, and I went through 14 to 16 by the time I was put on the helicopter in Moab," Young said.
To this day, he still wonders how he survived the shooting.
"To me, how I make it worthwhile is how I live my life, and so that's living it to the fullest," Young said.
With that in mind, he's helping establish a new trail near Moab. The Fallen Peace Officer Trail will be dedicated in April for Utah officers who died in the line of duty. Originally, it was going to be named after Young.
"Although I was flattered by the idea, I didn't like it," he said. "In fact, I told them I wasn't dead yet, and trails only get named after dead people in most cases."2 comments on this story
Young still has plenty to do and doesn't want to waste any time, he said.
"If it's just to be a father and a husband and a good friend, those are the things that are most important," he said.
The case is still very much open. In fact, detectives with the Grand County Sheriff's Office on occasion will head off into the rocks and canyons to see if there is anything they can find. There is still a $30,000 reward for an arrest and conviction in the shooting.