UT police officer Eric Park was headed to the Main Mall in his patrol car when he heard screams from a scene that would change the trajectory of his day and several lives.
“I was driving up 21st towards Speedway,” Park said. “I had my windows down and I heard the screams. When I pulled up around on Speedway in front of Gregory Gym, I saw one student who was seated at one of the tables with another student applying pressure to the wound on his neck, and somebody else standing there yelled, ‘There’s a guy with a knife stabbing people.’”
Park was one of many UT Police Department officers going to UT’s Main Mall to monitor an International Worker’s Day protest on May 1, 2017. First reports of a man stabbing people on campus came in around a little before 2 p.m., according to UTPD.
One of the first officers on the scene, Park apprehended suspect Kendrex White near the entrance of Jester Dormitory. White, then a biology junior, had wounded three students and fatally stabbed freshman Harrison Brown. Along with Park, UTPD detective David Chambers and UTPD sergeant Adan Zavala were among the first responders on the scene.
All three men have coped with last May’s events in their own ways.
“We all bounced back and we were all here the next day,” Chambers said. “But it’s one of those things that takes us time to heal (from), just like it takes everyone else time.”
Chambers, who was a patrol officer when he helped Park apprehend White last year, said the scene on Speedway looked completely abnormal.
“The one thing I remember is seeing shoes (on) Speedway Plaza, and it dawned on me that people were so scared they were running out of their shoes,” Chambers said. “It was just one of those eerie kind of feelings.”
When Zavala arrived on scene, he immediately went to the front of Gregory Gym where he found a building manager applying pressure to Brown’s stab wound.
“(The wound) was huge, like two to three inches long, over to where your heart is at,” said Zavala, who was recently appointed sergeant at the time of the stabbings. “With the little medical training that we (got), it didn’t prepare me for that.”
Once Zavala realized Brown was choking on his blood and had stopped breathing, he and another officer laid Brown down and administered CPR. Zavala alerted an officer to tell Emergency Medical Services to make Brown their priority when they arrived. Chambers eventually joined Zavala and they alternated administering CPR.
The Austin Fire Department eventually arrived with additional medical gear and took over for Zavala and Chambers.
Zavala said the days following the stabbing were difficult, especially wrestling with people second guessing the actions he took.
“(Brown) wasn’t dead when I got there,” Zavala said. “He was still breathing. I wasn’t going to let him die without attempting to help him. In my mind, if it was my kid or a family member I knew, I would want anybody to do anything they could do.”
Zavala said he has finally made peace with himself following the events of that day.
“It doesn’t really bother me now,” Zavala said. “I’ve dealt with my feelings and thoughts about it, and I’ve gone to counseling since then, but at first it really bothered me.”
Park said his emotions took time to catch up to him. Park had previously worked in the homicide and violent crimes unit for the Brownsville Police Department and worked as a state trooper.
“Once (White) was in custody and we had everything finished, that evening is when it all starts (to hit) you,” Park said. “It brought back a lot of the old stuff from what I had gone through, and I had to decompress so that I didn’t go back into (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
Park said the event also affected his wife.
“Having been married to me the whole time I was a police officer, she too had a certain amount of PTSD from the past, so I had to let her vent and let her get all that out,” Park said. “It doesn’t just affect you as an officer, it affects your family as well.”
Despite the preconceived notions people may have about UTPD, Chambers said May 1 undoubtedly affected UTPD officers emotionally.
“A lot of people think of us as campus cops, (that we) don’t really care about anything, but we really do,” Chambers said. “Seeing this happen to the people we are charged with protecting … hurts us.”
Reflecting on last year’s stabbings, Park said he doesn’t regret showing emotion.
“If there’s no tears in police work, you’re doing it wrong,” Park said. “That’s really how I feel because if you don’t care about (people), there’s no point in this job.”