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Middleton police officer reflects on trauma following 2018 workplace shooting, hopes to help other officers

Posted at 9:51 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 09:41:31-04

OSHKOSH, Wis. — A police officer in Middleton is speaking out about his mental health journey after he responded to a workplace shooting in 2018.

Officer Rich O'Connor remembers the day vividly. Investigators say a gunman opened fire at a software company in Middleton back in 2018. Four people were hurt.

"Three officers went in the back door, and I ended up going in the front door a few seconds later," Officer O'Connor said. "And there he was. And he was still armed, and he wasn't listening to anybody's commands. He had already shot three or four people that we heard about. And I made the decision to use deadly force, which isn't something we want to do, but we're ready to do and trained to do."

The gunman died.

Officer O'Connor knows he stopped the threat, but he struggled in the aftermath.

WATCH: Officer O'Connor shares his mental health journey after a 2018 workplace shooting

Middleton officer who responded to shooting speaks on mental health journey

"A big part of the problem was I didn't share that with anybody," Officer O'Connor said. "I just wasn't open because when you're going through that sort of stuff, you just sort of feel like something's wrong with you."

Eventually, Officer O'Connor says he sought help through therapy, and today he says he's in a much better place.

He shared his story with hundreds of other law enforcement officers and staff at a conference in Oshkosh this week.

"My goal is to try to tell people what I went through in hopes that maybe somebody else will say, wow, I went through some of that stuff too, and it's okay for me to talk about it," O'Connor said.

He says when he hears news like the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, it brings back memories from his choice to use deadly force.

"It doesn't make the trauma worse for me, because I've learned to get control back over my thoughts and feelings, which I didn't before," O'Connor said.

A recent study from the Ruderman Family Foundation found first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

"What I'm trying to do is tell people it's okay to deal with it, and you need to, because it might save your life," O'Connor said.

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