For nearly 20 years, Charles Lowe and Tom Lake have shared a lot.
Both patrolled the streets as sergeants for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
And both nearly paid for it with their lives.
Sgt. Lake was shot twice in the face at point-blank range while on duty in his work SUV in south city last November. Sgt. Lowe was ambushed with gunfire while working a second job as a security officer in the Central West End two years ago.
But now, both men are sharing something else.
They’re using their experiences to give back to their brothers and sisters in uniform.
“I’ve received advice from other officers who’ve been shot, so now I know when I hit that stumbling block, I know it’s OK to have those feelings,” Lowe said.
He and Lake both said that following their shootings, they each struggled emotionally and mentally with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lake said, “After my shooting, I went into tunnel vision. I wanted to be by myself. I sucked everything in and wanted to protect everything I had. I’m carrying the weight of that inside me every single day.”
And they said their families felt it, too.
“My world view changed. And the way my wife viewed the world changed,” Lowe said. “When I got shot, my whole family got shot. I just didn’t realize it at the time.”
So that’s why they’ve helped start Project HURT, which is an acronym for “healing, uplifting, restoration and transformation.”
It’s a new support group for any local law enforcement officer who is shot and wounded on duty. They and their families can get together to offer support, conversation or just to listen.
Lowe said, “The criminal cases, the civil cases, the worker’s compensation process, all the litigation. Just talking about some of the day-to-day challenges you have actually helps you feel better.”
“Sometimes just being heard is the best thing ever,” Lake said.
But it’s not just about group therapy.
Project HURT is also embarking on community service by building a school playground later this month in north St. Louis County.
Both Sergeants Lake and Lowe said so far, it’s been a very therapeutic experience.
They said finding new purpose through their pain has helped them in ways they never imagined.
“It’s just kind of a relief. It lets this anxiety, pressure you feel to melt away and feel safe again,” Lake said.
Lowe added, "Now I know when I hit those stumbling blocks, I know it's okay to have those feelings. PTSD and anxiety is very real."
And soon there may be other Project HURTs around.
Lowe said the group’s already receiving feedback and requests about how to duplicate the model for other jurisdictions. Currently, it’s open to any police officer from the bi-state metro area.
“We don’t know where this group will take us,” Lake said.