Montana/Dakotas

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BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Named “TOP COP”

by Craig Flentie, Lewistown District Office

Alex Burke and other award recipients

BLM Law enforcement Ranger Alexandra Burke and U.S. Border Patrol Agent Phillip Wright (center) along with the FLEOA Board at the Top Cop awards ceremony.
 

Alex Burke riding horse 

Alex riding in her more native habitat.

Alex Burke and President Obama

Alex waits to meet President Obama.

BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Alexandra Burke of the Glasgow Field Office was recently honored by President Obama during a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House for her selection as one of the recipients of the prestigious 2009 TOP COP Award.
 
This national recognition is awarded to a select few each year by the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) and pays tribute to the men and women in law enforcement for their outstanding service to America’s communities. Each year the NAPO receives and reviews hundreds of nominations from across the United States. 
 
Ranger Burke was nominated for this outstanding honor for her quick thinking and courage during a January 17, 2009, sniper-style shooting incident in Glasgow, Montana.
 
Saturday, January 17, 2009, began like most other Saturdays in Glasgow. Business owners were opening their stores; area ranchers were feeding their livestock; and restaurants were serving breakfasts and piping hot coffee to customers. The topics of conversation for the morning included the high school basketball team, the weather, cattle prices, and the
ever-wide variety of other important, local topics considered by most Saturday morning coffee clubs.
 
However, by the end of the day, all conversation in Glasgow and much of Montana would focus on one terrible incident. 
 
Late that Saturday afternoon, a sniper-style shooter concealed himself near the parking lot at the Francis Mahon Deaconess Hospital. A short time later he fired his first shots of the day and a 37-year old emergency medical technician and mother of four fell, fatally wounded.  A female nurse (working her shift at the hospital) and her husband rushed to provide assistance to the fallen woman and both were shot and wounded.  The nurse’s husband (who was hit in the thigh) was able to return to his vehicle, call 911, retrieve a firearm and exchange gunfire with the shooter. 
 
Officers with the Glasgow Police Department quickly arrived and also exchanged gun fire with the shooter. During this exchange, the shooter was wounded in the wrist and fled on foot. 
 
An unsettling sense of disbelief surrounded citizens at the scene.
 
However, for law enforcement there was no time for hesitation.
 
In the next few moments, the Glasgow police requested assistance from all available law enforcement entities; began locking down the town as a means of protecting citizens; and started searching for the shooter.
 
It was Ranger Burke’s day off, but when she learned of the incident she quickly returned home, put on her BLM uniform, drove her patrol vehicle into Glasgow, and responded to the call for assistance. She soon teamed up with a Border Patrol Agent (Phillip Wright) whom had also responded to the request for assistance. They both began searching the area where the suspect was last seen, while other law enforcement personnel began searching house to house. The Glasgow police also responded to a confession phoned in by a local resident that proved false and only consumed their time and effort.     
 
Near dusk, Agent Wright and Ranger Burke were able to sort out the killer’s tracks in the snow and took up the trail. They had followed the sign for about two miles along the Milk River corridor when they were joined by two other law enforcement officers, including a K-9 officer from the Fort Peck Indian Tribal Police. 
 
The shooter’s trail was now leading the officers near an abandoned house, barn and corrals along the Milk River when something happened that resembled a page out of a fiction novel.
A corral full of sheep near the house had been watching the officers as they approached in the darkness (it was now nearly 11:30 p.m.) which, all things considered on this day, seemed normal. Then suddenly, and in near unison, the sheep turned their focus in another direction. Something or someone concealed in the dark had drawn their attention. The officers noticed this change of behavior and each fell back on his/her training and instincts to be mentally and physically prepared for what, if anything, might happen next.
 
Ranger Burke then heard Agent Wright shout the command “drop the knife and show your hands.” The suspect stepped out of the cover provided by trees and darkness with a large boning knife in hand. The officers again ordered the suspect to drop the knife, but he had other designs for the next few moments. The K-9 officer released his dog, which charged the suspect. With a wild swing through the cold night air, the suspect hit the dog in the mouth with his knife, breaking a tooth and causing the dog to disengage. 
 
At this point the suspect immediately raised his knife and charged Ranger Burke and the K-9 officer. In turn, both officers raised their weapons. The K-9 officer fired first, but missed the charging suspect.  Ranger Burke then fired one shot from her service-issued Remington 870 shotgun. The suspect’s charge ended as he collapsed in the snow, dead, a few feet from where Burke stood. 
 
The circumstances of that last confrontation left no doubt about right or wrong; no time for further negotiations, no time for hesitation, and no other choice. It was the worst case scenario that law enforcement officers train for, but hope to avoid throughout their careers. Ranger Burke reacted in strict accordance with the training required of BLM law enforcement rangers.   
 
With that last exchange, the search and confrontation portions of the sniper incident in Glasgow drew to a close. However, other portions of the incident lingered on for some time.
Law enforcement officers continued the investigation in an effort to answer questions about motive versus random acts of violence. Eventually, the town of Glasgow recovered its comfort level and the topics of conversation evolved back to the high school basketball team, cattle prices and other local subjects typical of coffee club debates.      
 
However, in the long term, the victims’ families were changed; some forever. 
 
And the law enforcement officers involved with the closest details of the day will always carry those events with them.
 
For her actions, BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Alexandra Burke was one of the 2009 TOP COPS recently honored in the Rose Garden. Other 2009 TOP COP recipients include other law enforcement officers involved with the Glasgow sniper incident and the Fort Hood Police Officers who responded to the November 2009 mass shootings on the army base just outside Killeen, Texas. 
 
“I was deeply honored to stand beside all of these law enforcement officers,” Burke added.
 
In addition, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association will honor Ranger Burke with a Bravery Award this summer.