Five feet and four inches of pure skill and courage, Kimberly Denise Munley, at lunchtime Thursday, saved an unknown but large number of people from injury and death. She did it by running straight toward a terrorist armed with two guns blazing at her and she kept walking into that deadly barrage until both of them fell with serious wounds. Around them were the bodies of the twelve people the terrorist had murdered and at least thirty he had injured—one, it turned out, also fatally.
Like “Sully” Sullenberger, the 57-year-old pilot who put his plane down in the Hudson, saving every passenger and crew member aboard, Kimberley Munley was the right person with the right training, skills, and character, in the right place, at the right time. But there is a difference. Sullenberger was a hero too, and I’ve written about my admiration for him. But he was of course saving himself too. He was on the plane.
He did walk up and down the aisle of the soon-to-be-sinking plane to check to make sure he had gotten every other person off and safe. So I take nothing away from him when I say that what police officer Kimberly Munley did on Thursday was even more impressive. Age 34 and the mother of two children, she was off duty and on the way to get her car fixed when she heard of the Fort Hood murder rampage on police radio.
She drove toward it and in minutes was out of her car with her gun drawn running toward and shooting at a terrorist in Muslim garb who had already gunned down over 40 people. He turned his guns on her but she continued running directly into his fire, and continued to shoot until she had brought him down.
Time elapsed since the police radio report had gone out? Five minutes. Bullet wounds in both thighs and one of her wrists were the price she paid, but it could so easily have been death. If she thought of that very likely possibility, it certainly didn’t slow her down.
She was comfortable with guns, having hunted with her granddad since childhood; with him beside her, she killed her first deer at age 11. In her early years with her home town police force she was known for impeccable marksmanship and fearlessness. After wrestling a large assailant off of a male fellow officer when the attacker was reaching for the pinned officer’s gun, her nickname was Mighty Mouse.
In the end she joined the SWAT team and received the training and experience that made her the ideal person to come to the scene of this horrific crime.
She had character to spare. An avid surfer, outgoing and friendly as well as fearless, she was more likely to be seen playing with her daughter than chasing a neighborhood prowler, although that did happen too. Last year she banged a neighbor’s car with her SUV and insisted on paying for the repairs even though no one saw the accident.
She once wrote on Twitter, “I live a good life…a hard one, but I go to sleep peacefully @ night knowing that I may have made a difference in someone’s life.” On Thursday, she went in and out of consciousness on an operating table, having lost so much blood that her surgeons were not sure if they could save her, but she had made a difference. The murderer she shot had plenty of ammunition left when he went down.
When she awoke, her first words were for others: “Did anyone die?”
Yes, Kimberly, too many, but far fewer than would have died if you had not risked—almost given–your life to save them. I don’t know where people like you come from, but I do know that this world of ours would be in a lot worse shape if people like you did not exist.
This entry is dedicated to my colleague, friend, and teacher Alice Rossi, who died this week at age 87. She was a co-founder of NOW, the National Organization for Women, and one of America’s leading sociologists and feminist scholars, but she took criticism for rejecting the claim that there are no significant fundamental (biologically based) differences between men and women’s behavior. I would love to have asked Alice what she thought of Kimberly Munley, but I know that her answer would have been balanced and fair, while taking huge pride in what this brave young woman did. She would never say so, but if it hadn’t been for what Alice Rossi and a handful of other women did, there would never have been a woman on a SWAT team, and Kimberly Munley would not have been there to save so many lives. Alice fought for women’s rights while insisting on the truth in all its complexity. She will be missed.