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How 2 Las Vegas police officers saved a UNLV shooting victim’s life

Updated March 6, 2024 - 8:23 pm

A pair of Las Vegas police officers credited with helping save the life of a UNLV shooting victim said they had arrived on campus ready to confront an active shooter.

Instead, as officers Jacob Noriega and Ty Vesperas, both eight year veterans with the Metropolitan Police Department, made their way toward Beam Hall on Dec. 6, one of them spotted a wounded professor outside who had been shot in his left arm.

“I just remember Jake saying, ‘stop, stop, stop, stop, stop,’” Vesperas recalled Wednesday from the Metropolitan Police Department’s reality-based-training center, where officers are taught emergency medical aid.

The Joint Emergency Training Center in the far northeast valley is used by regional police and fire departments, and private security companies.

They train together “so when we have an evil visitor in our community again, that there’s no hesitation, that there’s an opportunity for us to really go out and execute the responsibilities of the first responders here in Southern Nevada in ways we had never really been able to do,” Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill said.

Officers Noriega and Vesperas’ training kicked in when three professors were killed and a fourth was injured inside UNLV’s business school. Those killed were Patricia Navarro Velez, 39; Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64; Naoko Takemaru, 69.

The gunman, Anthony Polito, 67, died in shootout with UNLV police outside the business school, according to authorities.

The fourth victim, who initially was hospitalized in critical condition, was bleeding and falling out of consciousness as Noriega began to apply a tourniquet, the officer said.

So, they laid him down, and soon after loaded him into the trunk of Vesperas’ marked SUV before driving him to a nearby ambulance, they said.

“We just gotta get him out of here,” Vesperas recalled. “It was quick, just get in a car, get in my car and drive out.”

The teachings at the training center have proved crucial, McMahill said.

“We’re not paramedics, we’re not firefighters, we’re not EMS, but often times, we find ourselves in a place where we were there first,” said McMahill, who touted Noriega and Vesperas as heroes.

The department’s “stop the bleed” training program partners with Touro University and the Engelstad Foundation, which provides first-aid kits for officers.

“It’s humbling when you see it in action,” said Kris Engelstad, trustee and CEO of the foundation. “We are a tiny part of what’s happening across the city.”

Officers are mandated to participate in active-shooter and medical training at the center yearly, and do additional quarterly training at their substations, Vesperas said.

Metro’s training instructors on Wednesday morning performed a simulated shooting and cuffing of a dummy which moonlit as an active shooter. One of them played the part of a victim as two officers rushed to him to provide first aid.

Noriega and Vesperas said they’d used the kits before and that the training helped prepare them to help the wounded professor, who officials have said doesn’t want to be publicly identified.

“We were heading there with the taught process of trying to find the shooter and it just happened to be that he came out right when we were arriving,” said Noriega who remembered saying a prayer as he drove to the shooting scene.

Vesperas added: “That’s why you sign up for this job, right, that’s why I went to school, this job was my dream job, I always wanted to help people and that was an accomplishment in on itself.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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