ST CHARLES, Mo. — It was the call that would end their careers.
Richard Emery had just shot and killed his girlfriend, her children and her mother, and it was up to St. Charles Officers Kyle Schmidt and Jeremy Bratton to stop him.
They got into a shootout, and a part of both of them still struggles to get out of it.
In an exclusive interview, the officers opened up about how a type of therapy that mimics sleep is helping them move forward, hoping to inspire other first responders and victims of trauma to seek the help they need.
“Hopefully, they realize that you're not alone," Schmidt said, "that you're not going to be poor and on the street, that you're not going to die at work and that you're not going to be called a wimp for saying that, ‘I need some time,’ or ‘I need to be done.’”
The call that changed everything
On Dec. 18, 2018, Bratton and Schmidt were conducting a traffic stop when they heard the dispatcher announce shots had been fired at an address not far from them.
“When the dispatcher said it's verified shots fired, that really, I think for everyone else that was working at night, kind of sent a chill through us,” Bratton said
At the time, Bratton had 17 years on the force. Schmidt, a former Blackhawk mechanic and air crew member, had 5 months on the job.
As soon as Emery’s truck crossed their path, Schmidt and Bratton knew something was off.
“People have driven off for much lower offenses,” Bratton said. “We're investigating shots fired, no response from the caller anymore, and he drives like he's just out for a drive.”
“You have to use a level of discretion before you just go firing into somebody's truck,” Schmidt said. “What if it was the neighbor? What if it was the wrong house?”
Emery rolled to a stop, and Bratton started shouting at Emery to show his hands and get out of the truck.
“My belief, he was trying to draw us up to the vehicle, hoping that we would start to approach,” Bratton said. “We both stayed behind. The only cover we had was our doors.”
“As quickly as I could decide what I needed to do, he was out of the truck and sprinting towards (Bratton),” Schmidt added. “I remember seeing the muzzle in the spotlight of (Bratton)'s car and in the smoke coming out of the end of it.”
Bratton recalled seeing Emery open his door.
“It was all hell broke loose,” he said. “It was just loud booms. I described it as like a cannon going off next to your head.
“At the same time, I'm hearing ting, ting, ting. It takes me a moment and I realize the ting, ting, ting is my door. That's the rounds hitting my door.”
Bratton took cover behind his car.
“I get to the back of my SUV, and I had a decision to make at that moment,” Bratton said. “My kids went through my head, and it was, ‘When my kids read about me, they’re going to see their dad went down fighting, that they didn't find me hiding behind my car, that I went down fighting, and I want my kids to know that I just didn't give up.'”
So, he went back out to return fire, and Emery darted into some nearby woods.
Bratton and Schmidt then ran to each other. Body camera footage shows them pat each other down and ask one another if they’ve been hit and if they’re OK.
Schmidt said Bratton looked like he was covered in snow, but it wasn’t snowing outside. He soon figured out it was paint flecks from the bullets that struck his door.
The officers later learned two of Bratton’s bullets hit Emery.
Still, he managed to stab a woman and carjack her. In all, he covered about four miles in seven hours after being shot twice.
“It really was by the grace of God that she lived,” Bratton said.
Feelings of failure crept in.
“It was extremely shameful,” Schmidt said. “I mean, you feel like your job is to stop a person like this.
“You train day in and day out. You go to the gun range, you workout, you do different drills, you practice a lot and you discuss these things. And your job is to stop a person, the badest of people. And in this case, when you find that your tactics and your skills aren't necessarily up to snuff to stop that person right away. Yeah, that's a lot to carry.”
Turning in the badge
Both tried returning to duty.
“People would say, ‘When are you come back?’ and I'm like, ‘Oh, I'm working on it, I'm working on it,’” Bratton said. “And as time went on, things for me just progressively got worse.
“I got to a point where I knew I needed some help. I was kind of keeping everything inside. It wasn't doing me any good. It was harmful. It got to a point where I didn't want to go to sleep at night because of what I would dream about. I was afraid to go to sleep.”
Going back to work didn’t help.
“I was in a bad place, not knowing where my career was going, being afraid, thinking ‘What is this future going to hold now? Why? Why is this happening? Why is this all going on? I made it through it. I didn't get shot. He's in jail. What's the big deal?’ And you kind of compare yourself to others, like, ‘Why does that guy go through this and why am I struggling with this?’”
Traffic stops were difficult.
“It's like this is all I've known for 17, 18 years,” Bratton said. “It's all I do is this job. But when that job frightens you now, it's like every time I walk up on cars, all I can think is, ‘Is it going to be the next time?’
“There was definitely times of suicidal thoughts. I call them stupid thoughts. It was ‘I'm tired of this. I'm tired of feeling like this.’”
Schmidt struggled, too.
“I think it was pretty evident that I was having some stress related issues,” he said. “I was high strung, driving too fast.
“In my mind, I'm a fighter. I'm going to go home at the end of my shift. But you also shouldn't have to talk yourself into going to work every time you get in your car thinking this could be it.”
Both officers ultimately resigned.
“It was a relief,” Bratton said. “It was all right. At least I know I don't have to worry about that anymore. I don't have to go back to it, but the struggles didn't stop. That was just one part of it. It's, ‘What do you do now? You have to provide for your family.’”
‘Some kind of voodoo?’
Both officers ended up in Alynn McManus’ chair.
She’s one of about 60 providers within the Missouri Crisis Intervention Team.
McManus introduced the officers to a type of therapy that mimics rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep. It’s called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.
“It’s like we've got some corrupt computer files in the operating system, and we need to clean out those computer files, see what we can process in a way that allows the brain to store or metabolize them in a different way,” she said.
Therapists who work child abuse victims at the Child Advocacy Center have had success with it as well as other crime victims and people who have post-traumatic stress disorder
“Trauma, by its very nature, provides a dilemma for the brain,” McManus said. “Even a minor car accident doesn't make any sense to the brain.
“So the brain's main job is to make sense of information and either discard it, or store it as a memory. The other thing trauma does is it wants to hijack our beliefs about ourselves and our world because we need to make sense of something that doesn't make any sense. So, 'it must be something wrong with me.'”
REM sleep is the brain’s time to make sense of what happens to us during the day, store the information or discard it, she said.
“In a traumatized state, certainly the brain is not going to achieve REM sleep,” she said. “So, we actually invite the brain purposefully into that space while we're bringing up the material that is traumatic for that individual. Eventually, it becomes like watching a movie that isn't a horror movie anymore.”
Crime victims often follow a light bar with their eyes.
McManus gives officers buzzers to hold in each hand.They close their eyes and follow the sensation of the buzzing in their hands with their eyes closed.
Out in the field following a shooting where she can’t bring her buzzers or light bar, McManus has clients walk back and forth or tap on their knees to mimic the brain’s REM sleep mechanism.
Schmidt and Bratton were apprehensive at first.
“I was like, this is some type of weird voodoo?” Bratton said. “We sit down, and she throws these devices in my hands, and she's like, ‘All right, now hold on to these and we're going to talk.’
“And it's like, ‘What in the world are we doing here right now?’"
But they were desperate for help.
“Police officers are tough people,” Schmidt said. “We're trained and put up with a lot, and to not show fear and to not need help and to make the best out of any situation. But when that's not working, you have to try an alternative method.”
The officers allowed 5 On Your Side to listen in on a recent therapy session.
Sometimes they go together. Other times, they go alone.
“Is there any part any particular place in your body where you're noticing that tension right now?” McManus asked them.
“Yeah, I feel it a lot in my arms, across my chest and back, just very stiff,” Schmidt said.
“What does all that tempt you to want to believe about yourself and your world right now?” McManus asked.
“That I'm not capable of correcting it or not worthy of being at peace from it,” Schmidt said.
Later, she asked if there was a word that embodies the idea that the officers will not be defined by the moment.
“Capable,” Schmidt said.
“Capable is your anchor. Good,” McManus said.
Bratton now works for the transportation division at a school district in St. Charles County.
Schmidt now works for the IRS.
“I don't want people to be afraid to talk about what they may be struggling with,” Bratton said.
New careers and new hope from McManus is what’s helping both men heal.
“I don't think that many people are able to go through a situation like what (Bratton) and I went through and the officers that went to that house and saw that murdered family went through without taking away some type of emotional damage,” Schmidt said. “And if you don't make an effort to address that damage, you're not going to be in a position where you can be an effective police officer or a family member.”
Schmidt said he holds on to what McManus told him during his first session.
“I asked her point blank, ‘Do you think that this is something that I'm going to be able to overcome?’” Schmidt said. “Can I overcome the sleepless nights, the spells of fear, feeling attacked on the street?
"And the simple answer is, ‘We don't know. We're not going to know until we find out, but we have the tools to deal with it.’”