GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Aviation Enforcement Agent Anthony Stokes was unloading groceries in an Oakleaf parking lot when 18-year-old Thomas Jacob Lewis IV shot him five times in an ambush on Sept. …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Aviation Enforcement Agent Anthony Stokes was unloading groceries in an Oakleaf parking lot when 18-year-old Thomas Jacob Lewis IV shot him five times in an ambush on Sept. 26.
Stokes – who serves with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations – had recently returned from a trip to Puerto Rico as part of the hurricane recovery effort, where his team was one of the first groups to reach the island after Hurricane Irma. On his first trip back, Stokes’ team transported refugees, including children, back to the U.S. However, Stokes noticed a severe lack of food during the flight – his motivation for going to Publix that day.
“I was scheduled to fly [to Puerto Rico] the next day, and I wanted to make sure we had plenty of food for the people that we were bringing back,” said Stokes Jan. 17 at a ceremony at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
After Lewis, a troubled teen, fired on Stokes, Lewis parked his car a short distance away and took his own life. Meanwhile, Stokes was left with five injuries, including his left forearm, left leg and mid back. He was bleeding and in critical condition.
A crowd of shoppers and Publix employees gathered to help Stokes attempting to use tourniquets where possible.
“I went into survival mode,” Stokes said. “Listening to everyone around me that were helping me, they were telling me what they were doing at the time, and it really helped me out.”
Clay County Sheriff’s Office deputies Jacob “Jake” Hawkins and Richard “Rick” Miller, received a call. Neither of them had met Stokes prior, but they would save his life that day.
Hawkins, a Clay County native, arrived first. While his standard assignment is community affairs, Hawkins is also a SWAT Team leader with combat medic training.
“A month prior to this incident, I actually did a [combat medic training] refresher course at Camp Blanding with the Florida National Guard,” Hawkins said. “We ran very similar scenarios to this.”
Miller arrived shortly after and was equipped with a tourniquet on his vest. As Hawkins and Miller applied this and other emergency first aid such as quick-clotting gauze, Hawkins noticed the wound in Stoke’s side. Seeing how much blood he had lost, Hawkins made the quick decision to stick his finger into the wound to stifle the bleeding.
Shocked by the pain, the severely-wounded Stokes did a full push-up from a prone position, almost completely throwing Hawkins off of him.
“So whenever he did that, I pushed up really hard,” Stokes said. “The funny thing is that [Hawkins] used to be a professional rodeo rider, and I kinda’ threw him off. So, I was the bull he wasn’t expecting to ride that day.”
On Jan. 17, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security presented Hawkins and Miller with awards for their contribution to saving Stokes’ life. Miller, due to an unrelated illness, did not attend the event. Both deputies received the Life Saving Award from the DHS Chief Medical Officer David S. Wade, presented by Steve Boyer, executive director of Air and Marine Operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
While the ceremony was a small affair, the celebratory joy was clearly detectable. Stokes is grateful for the full recovery he has made since the shooting.
“All the right people were in the right places on that day,” Stokes said. “People are calling me a hero, but I’m no hero. I’m just a guy who got shot. Those guys are the ones that are heroes. When the chips were down against me, they came through.”
Hawkins and Stokes have both clearly developed a friendship and chatted happily prior to the presentation. They also readily recalled that tragic day, despite the emotional response it provoked. When asked how he felt when he saw Stokes injured, Hawkins said he could only imagine his loved ones in Stokes’ place.
“I put myself in his shoes, I put my brothers and my friends in his shoes,” Hawkins said through teary eyes recalling the day of the shooting. “I’m glad that I was the first one to him, and had the tools at my access to give him that extra step to get to the hospital.”
Above all, both Stokes and Hawkins feel that this event, despite the pain and loss, there are lessons to learn. Not only have their two respective agencies developed a closer relationship, but the community at large also came together during this incident. Stokes, while he was in critical condition, said that he received 19 trauma units of blood.
“After that, the blood bank came,” Stokes said. “We ended up [raising] 300 units of blood for the North Florida Blood Bank. Because I got shot, we may have contributed to saving more lives. There are definitely ways to turn this into a positive.”