SPANISH FORK — Greg Sherwood says he has a "very good memory of everything” that happened the night he was shot in the head.
But talking about it publicly is something the shy and reserved Utah County sheriff's deputy doesn't typically do.
On Thursday, the day after the five-year anniversary of when Sherwood was shot and his colleague, Sgt. Cory Wride, was killed, Sherwood sat down with the Deseret News for his first in-depth interview since the incident.
The reason he is now opening up now? He wants other officers involved in traumatic situations to know that making a full recovery — both physically and mentally — is possible with proper treatment and by allowing others to help.
"My message to them is don’t give up. Never give up. Once you’re hit, hurt, even if you cannot fight back, there’s still a battle that has to go on," Sherwood said.
On Jan. 30, 2014, Wride was shot and killed after stopping to check on a truck that was pulled off to the side of the road in Eagle Mountain. He was shot without warning while sitting in his patrol car.
Based on traffic on his police radio, and a call he got on his cellphone from a friend with additional information, Sherwood knew Wride had been shot and killed and that police were searching for a white pickup truck. He positioned his patrol car in an area near Santaquin where he thought the suspects might try to escape.
Moments later, he spotted that truck.
As he followed, Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, 27, fired two shots at Sherwood. One struck him on the right side of his forehead.
At that point, Sherwood said his training kicked in. He was able to pull over and put his patrol car in park completely on muscle memory. He said he doesn't remember going through the actual actions.
Garcia-Juaregui was eventually killed in a shootout with officers following a long and dangerous high-speed chase in a snowstorm that ended near Nephi. The woman driving the truck when both Wride and Sherwood were shot, Meagan Dakota Grunwald, who was 17 at the time, is currently serving a sentence of 25 years to life at the Utah State Prison for aggravated murder and five years to life for a carjacking conviction. A judge ordered the sentences to run consecutively.
Sherwood underwent several surgeries after the shooting.
"After the injury I had balance problems, memory problems. … I had a hard time concentrating, hypersensitivity to sound — noises, people. I had a hard time being in groups of people. (It was) overwhelming with hypersensitivity, couldn’t filter out all the noise with the brain injury,” he said.
Sherwood had to wear ear plugs "all the time" immediately following the incident because of his hypersensitivity to noise. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to return to work as a police officer.
"In the beginning I had no idea what was going to happen. I had no idea how I was going to recover. I had no idea what I would be capable of doing,” he said.
It wasn't just the physical injuries that needed healing. Sherwood said psychologically and emotionally he was also dealing with the loss of a friend whom he had worked side by side with when both he and Wride were members of the SWAT team.
"I actually had survivor’s guilt. I thought to myself, ‘Why Cory? Why did he die? Why did I survive?’ We don’t know the answer to that. That’s God’s plan. His picture is much greater than ours to understand.
"But I was able to work through that and realize that, ‘Hey, if I had gotten killed and Cory had survived, I wouldn’t want him to be sad and depressed and feeling guilty. I’d want him to live the best life that he could with his family.’ So that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.
Six months after he was shot, Sherwood went back to work part time with the K-9 unit. He worked just a few hours at a time, gradually building up the number of hours he worked each day.
He had three therapists in the beginning, some of whom would make house calls to help. He also was surrounded by a close-knit K-9 squad that gave him a lot of support, he said, not to mention his wife and son, who were also traumatized by the shooting. It was that support — and Sherwood's willingness to be open about his struggles and face them head-on rather than avoid or go around them — that helped him get back on his feet.
"As cops, we are thick-skinned. We kind of push the emotions back and not deal with them,” he said while encouraging other officers involved in traumatic situations to openly talk about what they're feeling.
There was also personal motivation for Sherwood to get back to full-time duty.
"My biggest motivating factor was this person had already taken so much from the sheriff’s office, from the law enforcement community, from myself and my family, I wasn’t going to let him take any more from me,” he said.
"I’m going to do my best to get back to doing what I love and the job I enjoy doing, helping people. Putting yourself at risk is just part of the job. Unfortunately it’s the reality we all face."
Today, a fresh wound on Sherwood's lip that he received while training his police dog is more visible than the scar on his forehead. He began working full time about 3 ½ years after he was shot. His balance, memory, hypersensitivity and cognitive fatigue are all much better today than five years ago, he said.
As for speaking publicly about what happened, Sherwood said he was inspired by the story of Utah State Park ranger Brody Young, who was shot nine times in 2010 during a traffic stop west of Moab. Some of those bullets are still in his body as they were too close to vital organs to safely remove.
Young recounted in interviews following the event that he told himself that day he could either lay down and die, or get up and fight. He was in a coma for a month. But he eventually returned to his job as a park ranger.
"I saw his story (and) how much fire he took and how he was able to make it back. And that was an inspiring theme for me," Sherwood said. "If Brody can do that, then I can come back."
Sherwood and Young eventually met and exchanged stories and talked about the challenges they each faced during recovery.3 comments on this story
"I told him I was glad I didn’t get shot as bad as he did. He told me he was grateful he didn’t get shot in the head,” Sherwood said with a smile.
Now by telling his story, Sherwood hopes he can inspire other officers to never give up.
"Every situation is different. But get the help that you can," he said. "There’s a lot the body can do, as long as you have that determination to do it."
Correction: In an earlier version, photo captions stated incorrectly that Utah County sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood was revisiting the site in Spanish Fork where he was shot. The shooting actually occurred in Santaquin.