The National Homeland Security Association's annual conference commenced Tuesday in downtown Buffalo. The estimated 1,500 guests from various police, fire and first response agencies heard presentations from those involved in recent live shooter situations, including a local law enforcer.
Niagara County Deputy Sheriff Joe Tortorella shared his experience of finding himself involved in an exchange of gunfire with a suspect, while working to ensure a nearby elementary school was secured.
"I'd like to think that the reason I'm standing here giving this interview is because of the training I received," Tortorella said to WBFO. "These guys don't get a lot of credit. The guys that I work with are the guys who really take the credit. I just went through the motions."
It happened on April 17, 2015, when Tortorella responded to a 911 hang-up call in the Town of Wheatfield. After arriving at the front door and knocking, 25-year-old Duane Bores, Jr. opened the door, then closed it. Tortorella heard a scream on the inside, not yet realizing Bores had shot and seriously wounded his parents.
Tortorella moved to the back of the house, where he encountered Bores and soon after found himself in a gun battle. The deputy was struck once but saved by his bulletproof vest. He was able to get in position at a tree where he could better protect himself.
What happened next astonished many including his boss, Sheriff James Voutour. Recognizing an elementery school next door, Tortorella worked to ensure it was placed on lockdown. Voutour explained there was added incentive for Tortorella to protect that school.
The deputy had family members inside.
"The school was a shared border with the home where this incident took place," Voutour said. "The deputy that first responded, his wife was teaching at that school and two of his three kids were at that school attending at the time of this incident. To have that all go on at once was pretty amazing."
Bores ultimately took his own life, while his parents were hospitalized for their injuries. Tortorella was later honored by President Barack Obama.
At the conference in downtown Buffalo, Tortorella said that he and his fellow law enforcers must go into work with a "warrior" mentality, in order to be prepared for survival.
"Unfortunately it's come to the point in law enforcement now where you have to do what you have to do to survive," he said. "We're under a lot of scrutiny for a lot of things but I like to thank and give credit to the people I work with for my survival."
Regarding the scrutiny, Tortorella told WBFO that many times the public does not see the entire story behind a deadly incident.
"You might see the beginning of this video, not what this guy did prior to it," Tortorella said. "There was an officer who shot a guy that was holding a vape cigarette. If you're in a deadly force situation and someone's coming at you, they pull out a knife or a vape cigarette or something that looks like a gun, at some point it's you or them. It's a decision that you have to make within a split second."
He added that while mistakes are sometimes made, there's not much room for error when one's own life is at risk.