Friday, February 6, 1998
Officer must have heart of lion

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kathleen Conway

Four bullets tore into her body. But still she managed to kill her attacker, radio for help and, later, help doctors assess her wounds.

Kathleen Conway is the courageous Cincinnati police officer who took four slugs from a .357 Magnum and survived. Wounded in the legs, hip, abdomen, backside and groin, she also survived her squad car smashing into a building. From what we can tell with only sketchy reports, she never lost her focus or her lion's heart to live.

I keep thinking - trying to think - of what she went through. I drove up Central Parkway, past the scarred wall where her cruiser crashed, and wondered what it must have been like to shoot it out at such close range in a moving car.

I think about it because the magnitude of what she endured, what she stood up to in the line of duty at only age 23, says a lot about her spirit.

This is what I've learned the past couple days about what Officer Conway must have gone through.

A .357 Magnum is a powerful handgun that fires with a deafening roar. Ballistics experts tell me the gunshot's deep, loud crack measures about 140 decibels, right at the threshold of pain.

The slug flies faster than the speed of sound. Traveling at the rate of 1,200 to 1,800 feet per second, it hits its target traveling 800 to 1,200 miles per hour.

''It feels like someone has taken a full swing and hit you with a 20-pound sledgehammer.''

That's the way Cincinnati police Officer Jim Zieverink describes how it felt when he was shot in the knee in 1995. He was hit by a bullet from a 9 mm handgun, which is not as powerful as a .357 Magnum.

''And I was only shot once,'' he told me, ''not four times like Katy.'' The pain was ''instantaneous and tremendous. There was nothing I could do to alleviate it. I started seeing black spots right away and breathing fast.''

The bullet from a .357 Magnum makes a hole about one-third of an inch in diameter as it enters the body. If it hits something hard, like Officer Conway's hip, the lead slug flattens out. If the bullet has enough energy, it leaves the body - creating an exit wound nearly 1 1/2 inches wide.

In addition to the bullet's path of destruction, the breaking of bones, tearing of muscles, severing of veins and arteries, it sends shock waves throughout the body.

''This is called cavitation,'' explained Dr. Jay Johannigman, one of the trauma surgeons who worked on Officer Conway after paramedics rushed her to University Hospital. He likened the effect to ''a sonic boom. The sound waves are strong enough to push tissues aside, break blood vessels and even destroy individual cells.''

Dr. Johannigman calls his patient ''a remarkable lady.'' He believes her positive attitude and composure under fire helped her survive.

While many of us would have passed out, Officer Conway stayed awake. And she stayed alive.

''That's because of her training,'' said Dr. Dewleen Baker, a psychiatrist in charge of the post traumatic stress disorder program at Cincinnati's VA Hospital.

''When something like this happens, police officers know what step to take next. It just clicks in.''

Beyond her training, Officer Conway must also have an iron will to survive.

Jim Zieverink says, if shot, a police officer is trained ''not to let our minds shut down.'' If shot, never lose. Never give up.

Training is one thing, I keep thinking. Living through a shooting like this must take something more. Tremendous courage. That iron will to survive.

Knowing a bit about Officer Conway now, by her actions, I think she will do whatever it takes to recover. She'll fight back, just as courageously as she did Monday night when she took four slugs from a .357 Magnum and refused to let go of life.

Today's report

Officer tells of shouts, shots
Website, donations
Irrational suspects test cops

Thursday's report

Cops: Safety top priority

Wednesday's report

Colleagues praise officer's quick action
Sequence of events
A determined, caring officer
Gunman 'never talked bad about police'
Police attacks less frequent, more deadly

Tuesday's report

Officer shot; suspect dead
Audio and transcipt of police radio calls

Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.