Published March 30. 2013 3:00PM Updated March 30. 2013 11:43PM
Norwich — Two decades of police and military training kicked in immediately on the night of Jan. 7, when Norwich Police Officer Jonathan P. Ley felt the bullets strike his body.
He immediately alerted the officers surrounding him. He knew to try to stay awake, and he tried to assess his own injuries and assist fellow officers in giving him first aid.
"Getting shot was the easy part," Ley told hundreds of supporters Saturday afternoon at the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium fundraiser to help pay for his medical costs and recovery.
Difficult questions hit him quickly: Am I going to recover? Will I be able to return to work? How will I support my family? He still pushes those questions aside when they hit him and focuses instead on when he will be able to return to work.
His left hand tightly bandaged and index finger supported by a plastic brace and with a slight limp, Ley took the podium at the stadium to thank the greater Norwich community for the overwhelming support he said helped put him back on his feet and on a determined path to return to his 18-year police career. He also is a reserve boatswain's mate in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.
"I'll be seeing you soon in uniform," he said as the crowd rose for an extended standing ovation. "I'm already getting tired of sitting on my butt."
On that cold Monday evening, Ley was among the first responders to a report of a despondent armed man at the Cedar Glen Apartments in Norwich. Ley heard the "very confused" man talking as he climbed the staircase leading to the second-floor apartment.
Within minutes, Ley was shot four times by assailant Jason Razzino, who later committed suicide after a long standoff with police.
Ley was shot in the neck, left shoulder, left hand and right leg, along with taking shots to his body armor that left him breathless for a time. He felt faint as he alerted fellow officers that he was hit and credited them for carrying him to safety.
On the ground, Ley passed out for a time and remembered waking to find himself in the same spot, still in harm's way. He knew the ambulance wouldn't be able to reach him in the rear parking lot and told officers with him that he felt he could stand. Supported by two officers, they ran to the waiting ambulance.
Ley was taken to The William W. Backus Hospital and later to Yale-New Haven Hospital for immediate surgery and treatment. He returned to his Voluntown home with a police escort longer than a parade.
But recovery has been slow. Ley said it took about a month for him to be mentally prepared to write his full police report of the incident. He harbors no hatred or resentment toward Razzino, he said, because he heard first-hand how distraught and confused the man was that night. Ley wished Razzino's family "the best" in their own recovery.
Saturday afternoon at Dodd Stadium was meant to be a fundraiser for Ley, but the officer insisted the Norwich Police Department share in the proceeds.
Ley admitting being overwhelmed by the hundreds of supporters who turned out for the event to help pay for his medical care and to buy some new combat tactical equipment for the department.
Several restaurants donated food, and businesses donated items for a silent auction and basket raffles. The New York Yankees sent a baseball autographed by star relief pitcher Mariano Rivera for the auction. Donation jars were crammed with bills at the food tables.
The Norwich police and fire departments took the field for a rival softball game, and the rock band Malaena entertained on the concourse as temperatures reached the 50s with a light chill wind.
Sitting in the stand as his softball teammates quickly took a 3-1 lead in the game, Ley said it was "killing" him to be sitting on the sidelines in the stands.
He awaits further surgery on his hand and will carry one bullet and two bullet fragments in his neck and shoulder "for the rest of my life." The bullets sometimes cause pain, but Ley said he is most concerned about whether he will regain full use of his left hand. He goes to physical therapy in Danielson three times a week and still cannot grip items with the hand. He is hopeful for improvement after the surgery.
Although he is right-handed, Ley said he needs use of both hands to return to full duty. An officer must be able to shoot with either hand, grip the steering wheel, lift people who need assistance, and so on.
Ley patiently answered reporters' questions, greeted well-wishers and strangers alike as he walked the concourse or sat and ate lunch with his 2-year-old son, Jackson Ley, his girlfriend Jaime Mahieu, his parents Susan and Raymond Herdlick, and several aunts and uncles.
He said the afternoon affair was "absolutely humbling" but felt it was important to show his strength to those who have supported him.
He has been back to the police station many times but hasn't had a chance to greet all his fellow officers.
"It's good, because I haven't been able to see them, he said, "and they get to see me walking and talking."
But now, Ley just wants to put the events of Jan. 7 behind him and concentrate on his recovery and return to work for another 15 or more years as a police officer.
"After today, it's time for me to move on from this," Ley said of the shooting.