By Jim Osborn And Matt Lindberg Columbus Telegram, Neb.
COLUMBUS, Neb. — Columbus Police Sgt. Bradley Wangler was on the minds of many in the community Friday after the officer suffered a couple of wounds in a Thursday evening shootout.
“Brad’s very focused on the community,” said friend Sandie Fischer, who has known Wangler through her roles at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and as a local radio personality.
Wangler has been “huge” in the community and is known as a caring family man, she added.
The Columbus Police officer was listed in stable condition at an Omaha hospital Friday after suffering multiple wounds in a Thursday evening shootout with a 24-year-old Grand Island man who was wanted by authorities on an outstanding warrant.
Wangler, a 19-year veteran of the police force, suffered wounds in the shoulder and neck in the 7:30 p.m. Thursday shootout with Jorge Robledo, who was allegedly armed initially with a handgun and later with a rifle in the front yard of the residence at 3410 16th St, as previously reported by The Columbus Telegram.
The officer was initially treated Thursday night at Columbus Community Hospital before being transferred by helicopter to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Wangler was one of two officers responding to the anonymous report that Robledo was at the neighborhood home. The second officer had set up a position at the back of the house.
Captain Todd D. Thalken said Wangler absorbed a “direct hit” on the breastplate of his protective vest during the shootout. The officer will be requiring further surgery to treat his wounds he said.
Wangler and his wife are the parents of two children.
Robledo, who also suffered multiple wounds in the gun battle, was listed in critical condition at the UNMC Friday morning. He was wanted on charges of distributing methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance, driving under suspension and possession of drug paraphernalia.
A warrant from the Hall County Court was issued for the Grand Island man when he failed to appear for a preliminary hearing on the charges on May 7.
“The (shootout) happened very quickly,” Thalken said, adding in the aftermath of the gun battle authorities were operating under the assumption the house remained occupied.
The Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team cleared the house about 1:30 a.m. Friday.
“It was what I call a gunfight,” said Thalken on Friday, adding Wangler was the first local officer in nearly 30 years to be shot in the line of duty.
Platte County Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Mason was the last, he said. Mason was hit by a 12-gauge shotgun that was fired through a mobile home door while on duty in November 1979, according to the captain.
“I was hoping I would never see one of my brothers shot during my career,” Thalken said.
Columbus Police Chief Chuck Sherer said Friday his officers walked into a situation in which a suspect had already decided to take action against the police.
“(The officers) did the best they could to defend themselves and retaliate in kind,” said the chief, who ordered the cordoning off the area after the initial shooting and the wounded were removed from the scene.
Police set up a perimeter on the premise there might be others inside and called for the SWAT team to be mustered, Sherer said. The idea was to safeguard the scene in case there was an ongoing threat, he added.
“At the time, we didn’t know there was (nobody) else in the house,” said Sherer, noting it took a couple of hours for the SWAT team to mobilize before searching the home for any other suspects.
“Our focus was what was going on at the hospital and safeguarding the scene,” he said.
Capt. Doug Molczyk was at the local hospital and UNMC with the Wangler family on Thursday into Friday.
The chief said Thursday’s shootout unnerved the community.
“A shooting like this puts everybody on edge,” Sherer said. “It shakes the moral fabric of our entire community.”
The chief said residents have showered support on the department in the hours since the shooting. Many have dropped off food dishes at the department for officers and others asked about whether there was going to be a fund established to help the Wangler family.
The city department can’t establish a fund, but the police officer’s union can get involved, the chief said.
“I want to thank the community for the support it has shown,” he said, “We appreciate it.”
Numerous other area agencies were on scene Thursday, including the Columbus Fire Department. Fire Chief Dan Miller said though the fire and police departments have different duties, they oftentimes are working together. He said those who serve their community in such a capacity are part of one brotherhood.
“The fire department is pulling for (Sgt. Wangler),” Miller said. “We were there and transferred him and the other person and we’re hopeful for a speedy recovery. Both entities consist of sworn members who are sworn to risk their lives to protect others, so we’re put in a unique situation where you’re somewhat set apart from civilian employees. It draws you closer together risking your life on a daily basis. When someone gets hurt, it hurts us all.”
Wangler has contributed to the community in many ways, according to Fischer, who noted he has conducted training sessions for local businesses to prepare for active shooter situations and been a constant supporter of local scouting programs.
“I’ve known Brad as a friend for years,” said Fischer, adding the city officer has worked with Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President K.C. Belitz to offer training that will save lives in active shooter situations.
Fischer has also had Wangler on her morning radio program, touting the Boy Scouts and trying to pump up the scouts’ annual popcorn sales push.
Belitz said he hoped the officer would ultimately be OK.
“The only thing we’re concerned about, the only thing matters is that Sgt. Wangler recovers fully and quickly,” he said. “That’s all we’re thinking and praying about today.”
©2018 the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.)