WALLA WALLA, Wash. – This October Washington State Trooper Dean Atkinson Jr. is preparing to get back on the road and go back to patrolling state highways and his hometown of Walla Walla. He’s spent the last year recovering from five gunshot wounds, including one to his left cheek, two to his left hand and his body.
The wounds were received during a traffic stop in which he was ambushed according to Atkinson. A situation, he said, that was unlike anything he had been part of in his five-and-a-half-year career in law enforcement.
“It became real – real quick, and all the adrenaline kicked in and kind of just the training kicked in,” he said.
At the time of the shooting, he didn’t realize he had been shot until after updating dispatch over radio and driving halfway down the road toward the hospital.
“Low and behold it was a lot more serious than I even thought. I didn’t even come to realize it until the following week at Harbor View,” Atkinson said.
After getting to Harbor View Hospital in Seattle he said he was greeted by his dad first.
“My dad is a retired firefighter and EMT, so he is really good in stressful situations, just keeping people calm and he did exactly that,” Atkinson said.
At the time hospitals were still following COVID-19 protocols and only letting in guests one at a time. Atkinson said he got emotional the first time he saw his fiancée.
“I don’t know if I immediately broke down and started crying, or maybe it was once we hugged and talked for a second, I started breaking down,” he said.
He said once the visiting hours were over, she was allowed to stay a little later, but it was still difficult.
“It was a very tough time watching her leave,” he said.
He said he was thankful to see the community support on his way back into town and wished he had more energy to enjoy the moment as he rode by.
In March he had his final two surgeries, one to help with the sinus on the more exposed left side of his face, and another plastic surgery to help add some protection and symmetry back to his face after the bullet took some off.
Since then, he said he’s been working on physical therapy to help his body and more specifically his left hand heal in preparation of going back to the job.
Over the summer Atkinson and his fiancée, now wife, got married. He said some of the wedding attendees were unsure at first if it was still on. Atkinson said it became about more than the ceremony and was an opportunity to see family and friends, some of whom he hadn’t seen since the incident.
In June Atkinson said he returned to light duty and started working around the local office helping detectives and other troopers with work there. Something he said he’s glad to have learned more about, but not where he wants to stay.
“It’s not what I want to do, not what I signed up for. So, I’m looking forward to moving out of the office,” Atkinson said.
With some of his final certifications and paperwork to return to full duty on their way to higher-ups for review he said it’s a matter of weeks before he’s back in a patrol car doing what he loves.
“I love this job; I’ve loved it before the incident five-and-a-half years and even after all this I love doing it. I love serving the Community,” he said.