AMERICAN CANYON – A Texas cop’s late-night vehicle stop turned into a shooting and a high-speed chase, with the harrowing details captured on video. When the officer survived the attack, she won praise for her bravery in pursuing and helping arrest three men, risking her life to protect others’ lives.
It turned out to be Ann Marie Carrizales’ pathway into sharing the ways in which her past life in the military got her through the deepest peril – and how the ways of veterans can help others also persevere through the worst life can deliver.
Since surviving a shooting while on police duty six years ago, Carrizales has related her experiences to audiences around the country. On Monday, the 46-year-old public speaker, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Meadows (Texas) police officer took her message to American Canyon for the city’s Veterans Day ceremony before an estimated audience of more than 200.
“It’s not just a police story and it’s not just a veteran’s story; this is a human being story,” said Carrizales, who came to the Napa Valley as a guest of Councilmember David Oro, a high school classmate. “We’ve all been knocked down and had to pick ourselves up. If we learn how to take that pain and turn it into power, we’re all going to be the stronger for it.”
An amateur national champion boxer during her time in the Marines, Carrizales became a police officer in Stafford, Texas, southwest of Houston. It was there in the predawn hours of Oct. 26, 2013 that she made an apparently routine vehicle stop – until a front-seat passenger, one of three accused gang members inside, opened fire.
One round found Carrizales’ bulletproof vest, while higher up her body “I had two holes, an entry and exit hole in my face,” she told an attentive audience. “The bullet took my earlobe with it; took my doggone earring with it too – I’d just bought those earrings,” she added wryly.
Instantly, the lessons learned from her years in the Marines – and from her own Marine Corps father, a Vietnam War veteran – kicked in.
“I radioed in ‘Shots fired, shots fired, I’m hit,’” she said. “Checked my fingers, ran my tongue over my teeth, practiced ‘combat breathing’” – the same slow-breathing technique she had used in the 60-second breaks between rounds as an amateur boxer during her military days, to prevent the heartbeat from racing dangerously high and clouding her judgment and time perception.
“I was in the middle of combat. I still had a job to do. I was breathing, my heart was ticking, so that meant only one thing: I was still in the fight, and now it was time to take the fight back to them.”
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Bullet wounds and all, Carrizales entered her patrol vehicle and set after the shooter’s car for “10 minutes that felt like 10 hours,” she said. Finally, all three men were found, arrested and eventually imprisoned.
The shooting and pursuit, captured on a dashboard camera and posted online, attracted national media attention and put Carrizales in the spotlight. Six months later, she got her first request to share her story with an audience – the first of many.
“The thought of public speaking never came to me – someone asked me to speak and (the requests) never stopped,” she said afterward. “That’s proof to me that it was God’s plan.”
Among the several veterans wearing the apparel of the Marines, Navy or Air Force, Carrizales spotted one in the front row of the Community Center gym: James Porterfield, a retired Army sergeant. Pausing her speech, she walked up to his wheelchair and gave him a hug.
“It felt wonderful, very surprising and pleasing,” said Porterfield, who served from the early 1960s to the early 1970s and has attended Veterans Day ceremonies in American Canyon and Mare Island for more than 20 years. “I like to hear the stories of people who had a successful military career and were able to apply those lessons to civilian life.”
“Addressing the younger audience members – including American Canyon Middle School students who had serenaded veterans with patriotic songs minutes before – Carrizales urged them to pursue a “veterans’ mindset” in life – “the no-quit, no –give-up, no-surrender attitude.”
“When life throws punches you get back up, dust yourself off and seize the opportunity to find a solution how to conquer,” she said.
Then she made one more request – for others who also had served their country to rise. As 10 or more people rose from their seats, she called out to them:
“I salute you, brothers and sisters! And I say to you: #VeteransMindset!”