Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White’s voice was filled with emotion as he recalled the day last year one of his officers was shot.
Officer Josh Vadell was critically injured with a gunshot wound to his head as he exited his patrol car to stop an armed robbery in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 3, 2016.
The multi-agency response saved Vadell’s life and tracked down two suspects and three victims. The shooter was killed when Officer Thomas McCabe returned fire, then turned his attention to his wounded partner.
“He literally held his head together,” then-acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Diane Ruberton said of McCabe. “He saved Josh’s life.”
The two men along with Ruberton, Atlantic County Chief of Detectives Daren Dooley, State Police Lt. Col. Ray Guidetti, FBI Supervisory Special Agent William Hyland, along with Dr. Jorge Eller and the AtlantiCare Trauma Team were honored at the Atlantic City Police Foundation’s Hero Luncheon on Friday.
“He literally held his head together. He saved Josh’s life.”
—then-acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Diane Ruberton on Thomas McCabe
It was the second annual luncheon hosted by The Palm, which donates the restaurant and all the food. They also honored Vadell and McCabe with their own caricature, which will have a permanent place on one of the restaurant’s amid national and local celebrities.
“I don’t think police officers get enough credit for all the hard work and risks they take every day,” said Anthony Romano, The Palm’s general manager.
The theme of the afternoon was teamwork, as representatives from various agencies were recognized for their work in finding out what happened that night as AtlantiCare’s Trauma Team “performed a miracle,” White said.
“Thank you guys so much for what you did,” said Capt. James Sarkos, the foundation’s vice chairman. “I think that was definitely the difference that night. Again, we’re so fortunate that you’re in our town and seconds away for us.”
When the call came that Vadell had been shot, there was little known about what had happened, Ruberton said.
Vadell and McCabe had only just happened upon what they believed was a robbery in progress. But Vadell didn’t even make it out of the patrol car when he was shot. McCabe’s instincts took over as he returned fire, the suspect shooting back.
Even McCabe doesn’t remember it all, says Adriana Barbarano, his then-girlfriend and now fiancee.
“Even to this day, we find out new information he didn’t remember,” she said.
But what everyone does seem to remember is the teamwork involved.
State Police, the FBI, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and neighboring municipal departments came together to help.
But they don’t happen at the time of the event, said Guidetti: “They have to be rooted well prior.”
“The lieutenant colonel hit on it,” Dooley said of Guidetti. “It’s about having that foundation before so it can come together the way it did.”
White remembered Ruberton sitting on a laptop as things developed, writing up affidavits on her own and getting in touch with judges to get things done.
It was different, said the longtime prosecutor, to be part of the investigation as it unfolded, not just reading reports after the fact.
She watched as everyone came together, White and Sarkos looking like they would fall down from exhaustion, but refusing to go home.
McCabe was able to give a description of the men, although it still wasn’t known which were victims and which were suspects.
“We had a place to start,” she said.
Video from body camera tells the tale from his perspective, she said.
She expected to hear some “savory language,” but instead it was filled with questions of, “What can I do?” “How can I help?”
McCabe held Vadell’s head the whole way to the hospital. Covered in blood, someone asked, “Were you shot?” Ruberton recalled.
His reply: “I don’t know.”
“He was that focused on Josh,” she said.
Luckily, he was uninjured.
Three days later, Barbarano said, he got a call: “It was Josh. He said, ‘Tommy (where) you at? I need to see you.'”
About three weeks later, when Vadell was heading to rehab, McCabe and Barbarano were headed to Disney World. That’s when McCabe proposed — with a custom-made ring he’d bought that July — right in the Atlantic City International Airport.
The good news kept coming, Barbarano said.
Now, the two will marry next year. All the Vadells will be a part of the day.
Josh, now retired, will be his former partner’s best man. Vadell’s wife, Laura, will be matron of honor. Their oldest daughter will be a junior bridesmaid with the two other daughters — including youngest Lucy, who was born just after her father was shot — as flower girls.
“They’re not friends, they’re family,” Barbarano said.
As for her husband-to-be: “I tell him every day, ‘You’re my hero.'”