COLORADO SPRINGS — It has been nearly 900 days since a Colorado Springs man was wounded as an innocent bystander when he was hit during a shooting between a suspect and law enforcement. Now that man is speaking out to News5 about the daily struggles he still faces over two years later.
Thomas Villanueva said Feb. 5, 2018, started off like any other day for him.
“I had an hour before work, I’m gonna go ahead and walk across the street to this restaurant that’s right over there,” Villanueva said.
He picked up his lunch, and made his way back across Murray Boulevard to his apartment, where he worked from home.
“I walk into the parking lot, right by that truck right there, and immediately somebody gets out right by that truck,” he said.
As he kept walking, more people started gathering.
“So that person tackles that 19-year-old kid. All of a sudden that 19-year old kid has a gun and shoots and kills one officer,” he said. “My God.”
It soon became apparent those people he saw were law enforcement officers apprehending a suspect. That officer killed was El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick.
“And then [the gunman] shoots another officer and then, bam. It’s just like a half a circle. Bam! Bam! Bam! And I was the last one to get shot,” Villanueva said.
The shooter was killed. But for Villanueva—
“I’m paralyzed from the T4 area, so like the chest right here,” he said.
He was handed a new reality.
“It’s that intense where it’s… I’m still going to hell and back every day… every day. To hell and back. That’s it,” he said.
Villanueva still can’t walk on his own.
“Being stuck in this position the rest of your life, even if you learn how to walk, it's not just walking you have to deal with,” he said. “It's the four hours of taking care of yourself every day before you get to your day. And during that day that you have it's just all pain.”
He and his family went into debt in order to afford expenses like retrofitting their house and buying a wheelchair accessible van.
“I’m just trying to get up on my feet. And due to this coronavirus that’s going around right now, I can’t have therapy.”
Villanueva said because his injuries suppressed his immune system, he's at too high of a COVID-19 risk to get hands-on therapy right now. He says he's trying to build a therapy gym in his garage, but he doesn't have the money or equipment to do it yet.
Now, two years after the shooting, he’s had time to think about what could’ve gone different. “It’s just reliability, it’s accountability man.”
Villanueva sued the law enforcement agencies involved in the shooting, but his case was thrown out by the court. But he still wants his situation to bring about change when it comes to how police handle innocent bystanders in situations like this.
Villanueva is also looking toward the future.
“My dream is just to walk now, you know what I mean.”
“…Just a dream. I hope it’s not just a dream,” Villanueva said. “I hope it’s a reality. And right now I’ve got to make it a reality.”