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Among police officers, it’s known as the “sixth sense” — the acquired, almost supernatural, ability of policemen to predict and anticipate danger before it occurs.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said the eerie, nagging gut instinct shows officers have a “nose for the street.”
Unfortunately for Capitol Police Officer Eddie Thornton Jr., he was off duty, out of uniform and without backup or a bulletproof vest when his sixth sense kicked in during the summer of 2009.
It was his birthday, his day off and, he thought, a good time to visit his mother. But as he pulled his pickup truck into the children’s day care center in Prince George’s County that his mom owned and operated, a nearby resident ran toward Thornton and his mom saying he heard gunfire.
The frightened man had phoned the police, but no one had arrived at the scene when 24-year-old Badara Samb ran into the parking lot at 8500 Greenbelt Road with a gun.
Thornton knew something was wrong: The young man didn’t look like a police officer, but he was wearing a police-duty belt, carrying an officer’s gun and had a frantic look on his face.
Seconds later, Samb opened fire, shooting randomly at cars and in the air.
Thornton brandished his gun, which he always carries, told his mom to hide in her car and returned fire.
“I just knew I needed to stop him before he hit someone,” Thornton said in an interview.
Samb, a schizophrenic who had stopped taking his medication and stolen the gun from his roommate, a military police officer, stopped shooting when Prince George’s County police officers arrived.
Area residents and passersby later claimed to have heard 15 to 20 gunshots during the 15-second exchange of fire.
It wasn’t until a few minutes later, after the adrenaline rush subsided, that Thornton felt a prick of pain.
“I didn’t realize that I was hit until someone told me,” he explained.
A bullet had entered his lower back on the left side and exited on his right. Thornton was rushed to the hospital along with a 12-year-old girl who’d been hit in the crossfire.
More than a year later, the case and investigation were finally closed. The gunman was not found criminally liable for two counts of attempted murder because of his mental condition, but he was deported to his native country, Senegal.
Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse nominated Thornton for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month — a nationwide recognition that no Capitol Police officer had ever received.
And this month, the memorial fund named Thornton Officer of the Month for December.
“It’s a great honor among police officers,” said Thornton, 32, who has been an officer for seven years. “It’s not given to many.”