West Newton native recognized for saving school shooting victim's life
When Texas State Trooper Brandon Walmsley started a routine patrol the morning of Jan. 22, he was focused on learning how to properly execute a traffic stop.
It was his sixth day on the job, and he was riding along with his training officer, Trooper Richard Northcote. They had just pulled someone over and were getting out to approach the vehicle when, at 7:58 a.m., a call came in over the radio.
“Attention all units, active shooter at Italy High School,” Walmsley recalled the dispatcher saying. A West Newton native, Walmsley and his trainer jumped back in their car and took off.
As they drove, Walmsley started to breathe: Slow, deep inhale. Slow, deep exhale.
“When you’re breathing like that, it helps the brain think better and process thoughts a lot faster,” he said.
He started to mentally prepare: What do I do if I see someone who was shot? If I come across the shooter, what do I need to do?
As they arrived at the school, located about 50 miles south of Dallas, the shooter was being taken into custody.
But as they moved through the school, they found a 15-year-old victim with multiple life-threatening gunshot wounds. After clearing the immediate area, they helped those already gathered around her to apply first aid.
“Any time kids are involved, you can say that you’re ready for that situation,” said Walmsley, a Yough High School graduate. “But until you come to it, you don’t really know.”
They worked until paramedics arrived and took over. The victim, Noelle Jones, now 16, survived her injuries.
Walmsley and Northcote, both of the Texas Highway Patrol in Waxahachie, were awarded the Lifesaving Award from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Drawn to public service
Walmsley, 31, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, graduated from high school in 2005 and joined the Marines five years later. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where he trained as a non-commissioned officer on an amphibious assault vehicle. He also served an eight-month deployment in Afghanistan.
He transitioned to civilian life in 2013 and pursued welding.
But he felt like he wasn’t making much of a difference, or doing enough to give back and serve.
“I always had an interest in law enforcement,” Walmsley said, noting that this spirit of service was instilled in him by his parents and grandparents.
After all, living a life for others is something to live for, he said.
Walmsley served as a junior firefighter with the West Newton Volunteer Fire Company during high school and for some time after graduating.
“He was a good fireman,” said Chief Craig Sanner, who supervised Walmsley when he was a junior firefighter and lived two doors down from Walmsley.
He described Walmsley as a good worker who was always willing to chip in.
“He always had a big heart, would always help somebody out,” said Walmsley’s mother, Renee Walmsley. The moment she heard about the shooting on the news that January morning, she knew her son was likely there.
“When that first call comes in, when you hear about something happening like that, your heart drops,” she said.
She looked up the high school online and started to feel anxious. She tried getting in touch with her daughter-in-law and other family members in Texas, but it was a while before anyone had details. Then she got a message from her son later in the day: Everything was fine, he would call her later.
“I was so thankful just to hear his voice after all of that,” she said.
Like a niece now
Jones doesn’t remember much about the day of the shooting, but can recall Walmsley and Northcote approaching her to help. She had been shot six times, and though the bullets missed major organs, she was injured in the neck, abdomen and arm.
Walmsley had focused on applying pressure to her abdominal area, while others, including school staff, treated wounds on other parts of her body, Walmsley said.
“They absolutely have my respect,” Walmsley said of the school staff who helped to save Jones’ life. It was a chaotic situation and everyone deserves credit, he said.
Walmsley and Northcote visited Jones in the hospital a few days after the incident, Jones said. She was excited to meet them and to thank them.
“I am very proud of Walmsley,” she said, describing both troopers as amazing men who are now part of her family.
Walmsley also considers Jones family — she’s like a niece to him now, he said.
“It’s been a blessing, the whole thing has been a big blessing,” Walmsley said.
There have been a few bumps in the road, but Jones said she’s now catching up on school work and recovering.
She’s a member of the National Honor Society and holds the rank of senior airman in her school’s Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, which is part of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. She loves drawing, reading and writing, and is a big fan of comic books — DC over Marvel, she said.
After high school, she hopes to attend art school and to become an illustrator, preferably for comic books.
“People who have been injured, if they survived, then they are survivors,” Jones said. “I am a survivor.”
Now, her mission is to reach out to others who have experienced trauma to make sure that they know they have support, and that they, too, know that they are survivors.
“I want to be able to prove that to people,” she said. “Because those people are hidden. And they need to be acknowledged.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.