This Teen Wanted To Die, But An Officer Told Him 'Don't Give Up' Eleven years ago, Sean Fitzpatrick went to school with a gun and a plan: barricade himself in a classroom, pretend he had hostages and force police to kill him. Officer John Gately had another plan.
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This Teen Wanted To Die, But An Officer Told Him 'Don't Give Up'

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This Teen Wanted To Die, But An Officer Told Him 'Don't Give Up'

This Teen Wanted To Die, But An Officer Told Him 'Don't Give Up'

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Friday means it is time for StoryCorps.

SEAN FITZPATRICK: My name is Sean Fitzpatrick. I'm 28 years old.

GREENE: Twelve years ago, Sean Fitzpatrick was a high school junior in Spokane, Wash. He developed paranoid schizophrenia and was hearing voices, though he didn't tell anyone. One morning, Sean went to school with a gun. He planned to barricade himself in a classroom, pretend he had hostages and force police to kill him. Sean was not killed, though. At the end of the standoff, he was shot in the face and still has difficulty speaking. John Gately was the Spokane police officer assigned to negotiate with Sean back in 2003, and they recently sat down at StoryCorps to remember that day.

JOHN GATELY: I remember getting to the school, someone telling me your name was Sean and calling your name, Sean.

FITZPATRICK: I remember seeing you and thinking don't trust anything he says. I believe you asked me at one point, why do you have the gun here?

GATELY: Every time you played with that gun - holding the gun upside down, twirling the gun - it made me very nervous.

FITZPATRICK: Yeah.

GATELY: And then a little bit later, you threw a paper airplane out at us. And for me, when you did that, it brought back that I was actually talking to a 16-year-old kid. So what can I do to try to bring you back from the edge? And I remember that I told you, listen, I'll send everybody else away, and you and I can just sit here and b*******.

FITZPATRICK: That really resonated with me. It was so real.

GATELY: And when you and I were talking, you heard the officers changing positions. And the intensity went up, telling you we're just going to sit here and talk. Everything is perfectly fine. And you pulled the gun out and pointed it, and that's when the officers fired.

FITZPATRICK: Three bullets hit me - once in the arm, once in the stomach and once in the face.

GATELY: I jumped over to get to you to tell you don't give up. You can survive what has happened. And I was doing that as the officer was reaching down pulling your teeth and clearing your airway, and then two of the other officers pulled me out of there.

FITZPATRICK: When I was being wheeled to the hospital, what was your feeling about the whole situation?

GATELY: Anger - anger that I wasn't able to pull you back from the ledge 'cause that is my job - to make sure everybody goes home safe.

FITZPATRICK: I'm sorry that it fell on your shoulders.

GATELY: Well, thank you for that. I didn't take it personal as you doing it to me. How are you doing, sitting here talking to me about it?

FITZPATRICK: I guess it will always be a little bit hard for me. I don't think that will ever change.

GATELY: But it's getting better.

FITZPATRICK: It is. Who I was back then and who I am now are two different people entirely.

GATELY: I'm glad you're alive, and that's why I reached out to you to see where you're at.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That is officer John Gately with Sean Fitzpatrick. Sean now works to educate law enforcement on handling encounters with people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. And you can hear the StoryCorps podcast at iTunes and at npr.org.

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