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Bystander wounded in deadly deputy shooting grieves for others despite his own pain

February 8, 2018 Updated: February 9, 2018 at 8:38 pm
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photo - Thomas Villanueva with his parents. Villanueva was suffered a spinal injury in the shooting at Murray Hill Apartments on Feb. 5.
Thomas Villanueva with his parents. Villanueva was suffered a spinal injury in the shooting at Murray Hill Apartments on Feb. 5. 

Police shootout victim Thomas Villanueva fears he may be paralyzed from the waist down, but says he's "glad to be alive."

As he lay in his hospital bed Thursday - tubes sticking out of his neck, his tooth chipped and his left eye blackened - his concern was not for himself.

"I feel bad for everybody that got shot," said an emotional Villanueva. "I feel bad for the officer that died too. ... I wish I wasn't there. I wish they weren't either, you know what I mean?

"I'm just glad I have my life still."

In his first public comments since being wounded, Villanueva described the still-confusing details of how he found himself in the middle of Monday's gunbattle between a multi-agency task force and an auto theft suspect at the Murray Hill Apartments. El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick was fatally wounded and three other officers were injured. The 19-year-old suspect, Manuel Zetina, also was killed in the crossfire.

It started off as what seemed to be a mundane Monday - he was heading home after grabbing carne asada fries ahead of his 4:30 p.m. shift for call center CYNQ3.

But just feet from his complex he found himself in the middle of "some weird people" who "kinda looked like they were gangsters, but they were dressed nice." He kept walking as they signaled to each other from their position around him.

Then the bullet struck.

"I was seeing red," Villanueva said. "I tried to push my right foot over and right as I did, I fell, I broke my eye, chipped my tooth. I didn't know exactly what happened. I couldn't feel my legs.

"I had no warning."

He was in the "wrong place at the wrong time," Sheriff Bill Elder said Tuesday.

A GoFundMe account set up by Villanueva's friends and verified by his family said the bullet entered his left shoulder, passed through his spinal cord and exited through his left lung. Two days later, still reeling from the injury, Villanueva told a friend, "At this time the doctors don't know if I'm going to walk again. I can still feel my arms and my upper chest. Everything lower then that, I'm paralized (sic)."

During Thursday's interview with the Gazette at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, Villanueva said he's determined to walk again, no matter how long the road ahead. But mainly, he's "just glad to be alive," the weight of Flick's death sitting heavy on his conscience.

"Life is not just life...it's all the support you have to move forward. It's the hope you have to live on," Villanueva said.

"Even if I don't start walking again, I'm still alive. I get to still see my family, my friends and all the support I have."

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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