Gonzo's Gunship

It was seemingly a lifetime ago, (late 1980s), I was a young deputy sheriff assigned to my department's SWAT team. It was during this time I was fortunate to have met and worked alongside another deputy we all referred to as 'Gonzo.' He was a solid team mate and all around great guy. Everyone loved him!

On a December morning in 1987, our team was called to an 'active shooter' in an incorporated city in the county to provide a tactical element to address the situation. Before the day was over, one of our team mates was dead and two others wounded by the shooter's gunfire.

I'm not going to describe in detail how the incident evolved or was resolved. Lets just say the suspect was ultimately killed and many on the team sustained emotional as well as physical scars that would last a lifetime. Of the survivors, Gonzo was perhaps one of the most 'damaged.'

Gonzo withdrew from all of us. He was tormented with the pain from that horrible event, ultimately leaving the department. He and his family moved from the area and he was never heard from again. Gonzo went on to fight demons the rest of us never realized or entirely understood.

Fast forward to 2021/22, Gonzo and I finally reconnected. We had several phone conversations where we talked about what happened that December day, to him and the rest of us. But we also talked about wanting to reconnect and begin to heal from the horror all of us had been living with, but perhaps none more than Gonzo.

In December 2022, we arranged a reunion of sorts with most of the team mates from that 1987 team. The turnout was amazing and reconnected so many and revealed some of the unrealized damage that had occurred. Everyone walked away with a bit of satisfaction that we all had, in our own way, dealt with that horrible day and were thankful to have been able to reconnect over pizza and beer.

Anyway, earlier this month, I had a project for Vertical magazine where I was invited to shoot automatic weapons from a helicopter. While the invite was awfully enticing, I had been fortunate to have shot from a helicopter in the past. Instead, I was needing to focus on shooting photos for the article. So I called Gonzo!

It was awesome to see him again and gift him the unique opportunity to shoot a fully automatic weapon from a helicopter buzzing across the Nevada desert.