OCSD’s Medal of Valor ceremony honors 27, including 6 for actions during Vegas massacre

By Greg Hardesty

After the deputy got his wife to the exit that led to safety, he knew he had to go back into the kill zone.

She begged him to go with her.

“She grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘You have to come with me — we have to get out,” Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Joe Owen recounted of his actions as the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas unfolded.

Owen, a former Marine, went back into the scene of carnage.

Six OCSD personnel honored for their actions during the Las Vegas mass shooting are, from left, Deputy Joe Owen, Deputy Brandon Mundy, Deputy Garrett Eggert, Investigator Melanie Cooper, Deputy Robert “Mark” Seamans and Correctional Services Assistant Jeffrey Franco. OCSD photo

Owen was honored Friday, April 27, with the Purple Heart Medal and Medal of Courage at the OCSD’s 30th annual Medal of Valor ceremony, honoring work performed in 2017.

Before the luncheon at the Hilton Irvine got under way, Owen and his Yorba Linda Police Services partner and Medal of Courage recipient Deputy Mark Seamans spoke to the media for the first time about their actions the night of Oct. 1, 2017, when 58 concertgoers were killed and another 851 injured by a lone gunman.

Owen said he and wife, Sarah, parents of a 5-year-old girl, had had conversations in the past about his training to run into danger.

She understood his military and law enforcement mindset.

Still, tearing away from his wife to assist the wounded was a bit of a struggle, Owen recalled.

When the shooting range out, Owen, 29, a six-year veteran of the OCSD, joined Seamans and Orange County District Attorney’s Investigator Rob Long in shielding their companies with their bodies.

Unlike during his deployment as a machine gunner on a vehicle-mounted patrol in Afghanistan, and a deployment before that in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Owen had no idea where the shots were coming from or who the shooter — or shooters — were.

After leading his wife and others to the exit and becoming separated from Seamans, Owen ran back into the kill zone to assist a man whose female companion was screaming hysterically over his body.

The man had been shot in the head.

Realizing he could do nothing to help him, Owen crawled over to another man who had been shot in the shoulder.

While applying pressure to his wound, Owen felt intense burning in his stomach.

He looked down at his blue plaid button-up shirt and saw red.

“I realized I may have had a significant injury,” Owen recalled. “I realized I needed to get out. There was nothing more I could do.”

When a man later identified as an off-duty San Diego PD officer helped Owen up, Owen realized he also had been shot in the leg.

While Owen was crouched low to the ground, one bullet had skipped off the ground and hit him in the leg.

Shrapnel from a second bullet had tore into Owen’s stomach, chest and armpit.

The off-duty San Diego officer helped Owen to safety. He was rushed to the hospital.

Seamans, a six-year OCSD veteran, tore ligaments in his ankle after running back into danger to help two people who had been shot.

About 30 minutes after he was separated from Owen, Owen’s wife called Seamans to tell him his OCSD partner of two years had been shot and was in the hospital.

“It was relieving to say the least,” Seamans said, “but it also hurt.”

Seamans and Owen said their law enforcement training kicked in that night.

By chance, both had undergone mass-casualty training days before they headed to Vegas to see headliner Jason Aldean, who was performing when the horror unfolded.

“I feel honored, obviously, for getting the award and having people look at me in the light they are today, but I still feel I’m not worthy of it,” Seamans told reporters Friday.

Owen was similarly humble.

“I’m not one for medals and awards,” he said, “but it’s an honor, and I’m very happy and proud to be here and represent my department.”

Owen and Seamans, 32, praised the OCSD for providing peer support and other resources to help them work through the trauma they experienced.

Other Medal of Courage recipients for their actions at the Route 91 Harvest Festival are Investigator Melanie Cooper, Deputy Garrett Eggert, Deputy Brandon Mundy and Correctional Services Assistant Jeffrey Franco.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens told reporters Friday she’s “not a bit” surprised that Owen, Seamans, other OCSD employees and all law enforcement personnel and first responders jumped into danger that night.

 “A lot of them say, ‘It’s not about me, a lot of people have done great things,’” Hutchens said. “I tell them, ‘You’re right, it’s not about you, but it’s about law enforcement in general and letting the public know about some of the great things our folks do every day.’”

Added Hutchens: “The responsibility to take care of others kicks in at their own peril. That’s what they’re trained to do.”

While in the Marines, Owen was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

Now he has a second Purple Heart from wounds suffered at home.

Owen, who still feels pain in his leg, spent two days in the hospital and several months recovering from his wounds before he returned to duty in February.

He recalled a low point when he was in pain.

His wife took him to lunch.

There, Sarah, a behavioral therapist for autistic children, told her husband some wonderful news:

She was pregnant.

Sarah and Joe Owen are expecting their second daughter in mid-May.

The complete list of recipients:

Medal for Lifesaving recipients (from left) PSR James Slikker, Reserve Deputy Jer Kahala, Deputy Jason McClennan and Sgt. William Fitzgerald. OCSD photo

Medal for Lifesaving

Sgt. William Fitzgerald

Rescued three teenage hikers trapped on a dangerous cliff face

Deputy Tim Africano

Saved the life of a heart-attack victim

Deputy Ryan Fletcher

Performed CPR on a 2-year-old boy

Deputy Joel Gonzalez

Saved the life of a 58-year-old woman.

Deputy Jason Hand

Saved the life of a heart-attack victim.

Deputy Jason McLennan

Rescued three teenage hikers trapped on a dangerous cliff face

Deputy Francisco Prado

Performed CPR on a 2-year-old boy

Deputy Chad Renegar

Saved the life of a 58-year-old woman

Deputy Patrick White

Rescued a 20-year-old man from a burning vehicle

Reserve Deputy Jeremy Kahala

Rescued three teenage hikers trapped on a dangerous cliff face

Professional Services Responder James Slikker

Rescued three teenage hikers trapped on a dangerous cliff face

Sheriff’s Special Officer Alex Bacon

Saved the life of a cardiac arrest victim

Sheriff’s Special Officer Ernesto Ochoa

Saved the life of a cardiac arrest victim

Sheriff’s Special Officer Aaron Yturralde

Saved the life of a cardiac arrest victim

Investigator Adam Sandler was awarded a Medal of Merit. OCSD photo

Medal of Merit

Investigator Adam Sandler

Helped a fraud victim recover her money and buy her dream home

Sgt. Ryan Anderson

Greatly improved the recruit success rate

Deputy L.

Assisted with a Mexican Mafia-related homicide investigation that resulted in multiple arrests and prevented additional murders and kidnappings

Deputy Maria Mendoza, a Medal of Merit recipient. OCSD photo

Deputy Maria Mendoza

Helped a homeless grandmother find shelter and assistance for her 11-year-old grandson and herself

Deputy Ron Miller

Created an OCSD American with Disabilities Act Tracking System to ensure accommodation of inmates with disabilities

Communications Coordinator Jeff Deutsch

Created the Control Share system, which greatly improved the efficiency of countywide dispatch communications

Investigator Melanie Cooper won a Medal of Courage. OCSD photo

Medal of Courage

Investigator Melanie Cooper

Risked life in assisting others and saving lives during the Las Vegas mass casualty incident involving an active shooter

Deputy Garrett Eggert was a Medal of Courage recipient. OCSD photo

Deputy Garrett Eggert

Risked life in assisting others and saving lives during the Las Vegas mass casualty incident involving an active shooter

Deputy Brandon Mundy. OCSD photo

Deputy Brandon Mundy

Risked life in assisting others and saving lives during the Las Vegas mass casualty incident involving an active shooter

Deputy Robert M. Seamans. OCSD photo

Deputy Robert M. Seamans

Risked life in assisting others and saving lives during the Las Vegas mass casualty incident involving an active shooter

CSA Jeffrey Franco. OCSD photo

CSA Jeffrey Franco

Risked life in assisting others and saving lives during the Las Vegas mass casualty incident involving an active shooter

Deputy Joe Owen. OCSD photo

Purple Heart Medal and Medal of Courage

Joseph Owen

Risked life in assisting others and saving lives during the Las Vegas mass casualty incident involving an active shooter

Capt. Dave Sawyer. OCSD photo

Distinguished Deputy Medal

Capt. Dave Sawyer

For exemplifying the model of integrity, leadership and dedication in the field of law enforcement during his 32-plus year career at the OCSD

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens with Marilyn MacDougall, executive administrator of the Orange County Sheriff’s Advisory Council. OCSD photo

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens with Master of Ceremonies Ed Arnold. OCSD photo