Related story: Teen killed by police in Magna after firing on officers
SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Retired Weber State University police officer Kent T. Kiernan says he doesn't remember much about the 33-second exchange of gunfire between him and a university student who opened fire during a campus grievance hearing on July 9, 1993.
"I wish there had been some other option," Kiernan reflected during a telephone interview Monday. "No one wants to take another person's life."
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Kiernan was buoyed by his faith, embraced by family and supported by members of the law enforcement community. "It was by the grace of God and my training that I survived," he said.
Kiernan was contacted by the Deseret News following an officer-involved shooting Sunday morning in Magna, where police shot and killed an armed 15-year-old boy who fired at officers. Three Unified Police Department officers remain on administrative leave.
"There are a number of emotions you go through when you take someone's life that have really taken years for me to process," Kiernan said.
He said no one but another officer who has been through a similar ordeal can fully understand what it's like.
"I'm more than happy to talk to this officer or anyone else who goes through this to help walk them through what's next."
In Kiernan's case, nearly every group he had been a part of wanted to honor him for stopping a university student who opened fire during a grievance hearing over allegations he had harassed a fellow student and his wife. The student, 28-year-old Mark Duong, wounded three people, including Kiernan, before the officer shot and killed Duong.
"I was constantly being honored. After a while, I found myself saying, 'I need a timeout. I need to move on,'" Kiernan said.
Kiernan said there were many details about the incident that only he knew at the time.
He had interacted with the Duong the day before the shooting. Duong's car had been stolen. He had sat in Kiernan's police cruiser.
Kiernan had traded shifts with another officer because Kiernan was scheduled to pitch in a softball game that night. He instead ended up in surgery to repair a gunshot wound to his nose.
While grievance hearings had been conducted without incident, a school administrator asked Kiernan to attend the hearing because there was something about the conflict, which Kiernan said was a "lover's triangle," that caused the administrator to lose sleep.
On top of that, Kiernan recalled, he was the worst shot in the entire department, at least according to the officers' respective qualifying scores.
To this day, Kiernan wishes there had been another option. "But I feel good about the fact I was able to save other people's lives in the process," he said.
A month after the shooting, Kiernan returned to work on the Ogden university campus. Six years later he retired, after which he moved to Washington state, where he lives in this Seattle suburb. Recently he was honored for his volunteer service to his new community, where he is president of Sammamish Citizen Corps Council, which helps plan for community emergencies.
"I just feel like I've been given a gift to give back to my community," he said.
A National Institute of Justice journal report says few officers experience long-term negative emotional or physical effects after shooting a suspect.
According to the 2006 report, "Police Responses to Officer-Involved Shootings," most officers reported experiencing no negative reactions three months after the shooting, and fewer than 20 percent experienced "severe reaction."
"Even in the short term, many officers experienced no or only one negative reaction during the first day, and a week following the shooting," wrote David Klinger, the report's author.
Immediately following a shooting, 46 percent of officers reported trouble sleeping; 39 percent suffered fatigue and 17 percent reported crying.
Three months after the shooting, only 11 percent report difficulty sleeping and 5 percent reported fatigue. However, 11 percent of reported fear of legal or administrative problems.
Not all officers experience negative emotions following an officer-involved shooting, Klinger wrote. "Following about one-third of the shootings, officers reported feelings of elation that included joy at being alive, residual excitement after a life-threatening situation, and satisfaction or pride in proving their ability to use deadly force appropriately."
The report examined the aftermath of 80 officer-involved shootings. While most officers reported that they underwent mandatory counseling, many reported that it was not a positive experience.
The officers said their respective department required the counseling to shield themselves from legal liability, not to help the officers themselves.
"They stated that they did not talk frankly to the counselors because they did not trust them to keep the sessions confidential; in some cases, they thought the counselors were incompetent," Klinger wrote.
However, the study revealed that officers were more willing to discuss shootings with fellow officers who had also been involved in shootings. This suggests that "peer counseling may be more helpful to these officers than mandatory critical incident debriefings," the report said.
Kiernan said he had no professional counseling following the Weber State shooting. But he does not discount its value. "I really didn't have counseling, which I can now see would be tremendously helpful, especially if you don't have the faith that I do."
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