ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – “They teach you how to survive and fight, but they don’t teach you what happens afterwards.”
With those words St. Louis Police Sgt. Tom Lake admitted that he’s still struggling, both physically and mentally, more than seven months after he was ambushed while sitting in his patrol car at Hampton and Pernod.
The man later determined to have shot Lake, 19-year-old George P. Bush III, was killed a few hours later after getting into a shootout with officers trying to arrest him.
Lake’s doing his best to move on with his life and is grateful to the police department for hooking him up with “great therapists” to help him “work through and process that trauma.”
In the meantime, his decision about whether to return to every day duties with the department or hang up his badge for good is still on hold.
“I love being a policeman,” he told KMOX News. “It is the only job I have ever known, and I will say that on the night that I was shot a lot of people in this community said ‘Not Tom Lake…that can’t be Tom Lake.’ When they found out it was Tom Lake, it was one of those realities where they thought ‘Hey, that’s our neighbor, that’s our friend. How does something that tragic happen to somebody like that?'”
Another consideration for Lake when making that ultimate decision is his physical health.
The injuries caused by the shooting have already forced him to lose one tooth and doctors tell him he could lose up to 10 more.
“I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he summed up.
But there he was Wednesday evening, standing before the packed basement at Ascension Lutheran Church, accepting the blue ribbon plaque and the adulation of the crowd. The church is located at Donovan at Eichelberger in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood.
“Thank you to all of you for coming here tonight…for me,” he told the audience, choking up momentarily. “I’m not that big of a deal. I’m just one lucky guy who will never win the lottery, and will probably never win in the casino again.”
He said he feels he used up all of his luck on the night of November 20th – surviving those shots coming through his driver-side window.
Also in attendance was Interim St. Louis Police Chief Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, who thanked the St. Louis Hills Neighborhood Association for showing their gratitude to Sgt. Lake.
“When the officers come here and see the support that they have, that is so important just knowing that you’re there behind us,” O’Toole said.
Mayor Lyda Krewson was in the crowd, along with numerous uniformed officers who cheered Sgt. Lake several times throughout his address.
Lake explained that he’s taking it day to day as he works to determine whether to go back on the job.
“This experience, however tragic most of you know it is for me, has been one of the most humbling experiences in my life,” he explained. “The one thing I will take from this is – the community still loves each other. They love their police officers for doing what they do, and the police officers standing here with me love being here day in and day out.”
The plaque containing blue ribbons left over from the Blue Mile walk held in Lake’s honor the night after he was shot, will be put on display in the lobby of South Patrol headquarters.