By Steve Klamkin WPRO News
A member of the Rhode Island State Police was awarded the department’s highest honor Thursday for his actions in the October 1, 2017 massacre on the Las Vegas Strip, where a gunman sprayed a country music festival with gunfire, killing 58 people and leaving more than 850 others wounded or injured.
State Police Detective Conor O’Donnell was given the Division Service Ribbon, the highest honor a state trooper can receive, for what Colonel James Manni called “exceptional courage, concern for public safety and a superior level of professionalism.” The ribbon has been awarded only 25 times in the 94-year history of the state police.
O’Donnell, an eight-year veteran of the State Police, is the son of retired former Superintendent Colonel Steven O’Donnell, and has never spoken publicly about the incident, but his father spoke with pride about his son, recalling a phone call that night from his son and his girlfriend, who were three time zones away.
“They told me to turn the TV on, which we did, and then he told me what was going on, and we could hear gunfire, because the gunfire went on for five minutes,” the senior O’Donnell told reporters after the ceremony at State Police headquarters in Scituate, attended by several hundred troopers, retirees and other police personnel.
“He told me he was safe, but then we lost touch for about an hour. That was heart-wrenching, watching it unfold on television and not knowing…”
“The easy thing for Detective O’Donnell would have been to run out of that location, but he didn’t,” said Col. Manni, as he recounted O’Donnell’s actions that night.
“He immediately went back up the stairs and located a woman who was in a leg cast, unable to crawl, and pulled her to safety. Detective O’Donnell made sure (his girlfriend) Esther was safely hidden under a bus and returned to the main area, time and again where the shooting continued.
He pulled multiple victims to a street where a makeshift triage center had been set up, using supplies from nearby ambulances.
In the midst of the shooting he encountered a woman and her boyfriend who had been shot twice in both legs. Detective O’Donnell and another man pulled this victim to a safe location and applied a tourniquet, which he made from his belt and shoelaces.
They used a metal barricade as a stretcher and carried the victim to a triage point, where he was then transported to a nearby hospital. Detective O’Donnell’s actions undoubtedly saved this man’s life.
Detective O’Donnell encountered another male victim and his son, both of whom had been shot. He packed the man’s chest wound with medical gauze, began CPR and brought the victim to an area to be transported to the hospital. That man succumbed to his wounds and died.
It was later learned that the first man that Detective O’Donnell assisted was a 25-year veteran of the Englewood, Colorado police department. The police officer reiterated that Detective O’Donnell’s actions saved his life, and he has since returned to duty at the Englewood police department. He further stated that Detective O’Donnell visited him at the hospital days after the shooting, and the two have remained close friends.”
As she pinned the Division Service Ribbon on O’Donnell’s uniform, Governor Gina Raimondo praised his actions and his courage.
“It would have been much easier to turn away and go on with his business,” Raimondo said. “He wasn’t on duty, he wasn’t in this state, he was off. But he didn’t do that, because he has a sense of duty, a sense of courage and a strong of doing the right thing when no one’s looking. And, because of that, he saved lives.”
After the memorial service, which recalls the seven members of the Rhode Island State Police who were killed in the line of duty, as well as members who died while in active service of the state and retired uniformed and civilian members of the department, Col. Manni, who himself received the Division Service Ribbon for his actions during a shootout while a trooper, conveyed the dangers of police work.
“Four state troopers across the United States, one Maine, two Illinois one in California were killed in one week, and we can never forget how dangerous this job can be,” he said.