PACOIMA (CBSLA) — The country is still recovering from October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which gunman Stephen Paddock indiscriminately terrorized a crowd at a country music festival and claimed nearly 60 lives along with his own.
Now, a local police officer who survived the massacre is telling her story of triumph in the face of tragedy.
“My life was spared that day,” says Debbie Thomas of that terrifying night in October.
She was one of the dozens of concertgoers injured that night. She was shot in the knee, and, unable to locate her friends or know the extent of her injury, she ran.
“I was able to run close to a mile afterwards to safety,” Thomas tells CBS2 News.
Thomas is an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as a gifted runner who competes with fellow officers in the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay.
“It had a tremendous impact on our whole division because she is truly loved by all,” says LAPD Cpt. Ernie Eskridge.
Though she escaped with her life, at times, she could not escape the psychological trauma of the event, as witnessed firsthand by Eskridge, who immediately flew out to see her in the hospital.
“All she could hear — shootings, shots being fired and people getting shot,” says Eskridge.
Aside from the lingering effects of the event itself, fears of the future began to set in for Thomas. She didn’t know if she’s ever be an officer again, let alone run.
Once out of the hospital, Thomas says she refused to give in to what she calls “dark thoughts,” opting to get on the crutches and soldier through the physical therapy.
“If you don’t stay in the light, you’ll quit. You can’t quit,” says Thomas.
Even if she wanted to, her colleagues would not have let her quit.
“We told her, ‘If you want to train with us, the door’s still open,'” recalls LAPD Officer Rich Sotelo. “One day she said, ‘Hey, I think I can do this!'”
By sheer determination, Officer Thomas is already back on the track training for the big run when she hasn’t even been medically cleared to go back to work at LAPD’s Foothill Division.
This comes as no surprise to her fellow officers.
“To see her along with her team members and what she’s been a part of for years — I know it means a lot to her,” says Sgt. Fred Miller.
“After seeing where she was and where she is now, it’s just a remarkable story,” echoes Cpt. Eskridge.
Not only is she hitting the track, she’s lapping her fellow runners.
“She’s picking us up,” says Officer Sotelo. “She’s yelling out our names as she’s running by us. She’s inspiring to all of us.”
The moment Officer Debbie Thomas was shot in Las Vegas, she had no idea what her future looked like. Now, four short months later, she’s ready to return to Vegas and compete once again.
She plans to run the final leg of the race just miles from where she ran to safety that night, but this time, it’ll be to carry her team to the finish line.
“Four months or five months prior, I was running for my life, and now, I’m running to win,” Thomas says.