Harnett deputy returns to work after getting shot in face

February 26, 2019
Cpl. Eric Cook of the Harnett County Sheriff's Office is recognized for his bravery in a Feb. 25, 2019, ceremony. Cook was shot in the face in April 2018 trying to apprehend a suspect.

A Harnett County deputy has returned to work 10 months after being shot in the face.

Cpl. Eric Cook said Monday that he thought he had located a missing teenager on April 14 behind a shopping center off N.C. Highway 87 in Cameron. He said he took his eyes off the teen momentarily to call for backup, and the next thing he knew, the teen had pulled out a gun and started shooting.

“To me, initially, it was a routine location or possible location on a runaway juvenile. [There were] no notes or thoughts that he would have been armed. It’s something we’re going to have to assume now because you never know,” Cook said at a news conference at which he was presented with a Purple Heart medal.

The shots from a .45-caliber handgun hit Cook, 36, in the face and the chest.

“The round that was fired at his head entered near his left cheek and exited near his right eye. The round that was fired at his chest was captured by his body armor,” Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats said.

Cooks’ family, especially his mother, was shocked when they got word that he had been shot in the face.

“My thoughts [were that he was] paralyzed, you know, [had] brain damage, all kinds of things,” Linda Cook said. “When I got to Cape Fear [Valley Medical Center} and walked in, he was lying there, and he raised up and said, ‘Hey, Mama.’ I knew then he was going to be fine.”

Eric Cook had to undergo several surgeries and months of rehabilitation before doctors would approve his returning to duty. He started back last week to get up to speed on policies and procedures that had changed during his absence.

While Coats credited the bulletproof vest for stopping the shot aimed at Eric Cook’s chest, Cook himself credits God and the support of his family for his recovering and being alive.

“I’m a Christian. That’s how I was raised. I believe in God, and if you work and live the way he wants you to, he will see you through whatever task is set before you,” he said.

Mario Garza, the 16-year-old runaway charged with shooting Cook, remains in the Harnett County jail awaiting trial on various charges, including attempted first-degree murder.