COLORADO — Police negotiator Sgt. Christine Brite remembers the exact day when her whole world changed.
It was September 2, 2016.
Brite, who for 14 years has been married to a detective with Colorado’s Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, was responding to a police radio call describing a suicidal man holed up with an AK-47 rifle in an RV outside his home in Parker, Colorado.
Christine, 39, and Detective Dan Brite, 41, were both members of the special weapons and tactics team, aka SWAT. Dan often responded to these kinds of calls. So Christine didn’t think much about it at the time. “Oftentimes we get called out together, being the negotiator and the operator,” she said.
Arriving on scene, Christine watched other police vehicles swarm in, securing the area because a hospital was nearby. Not far away, a middle school was locked down as it was about to let students out for the day.
Then she heard the words on the radio: “DB’s shot!”
Christine said she went into shock and started screaming, “Please don’t let this happen, don’t let it be Dan.” She rushed over to the hospital, where Dan had been taken within three minutes of being shot.
Inside, the hospital was in chaos. Outside, the armed suspect was behind the wheel of the RV, barreling toward the building. He fired at police and civilians before crashing into the side of the road near the hospital entrance. Finally the suspect was shot and killed by an officer from Parker Police Department.
Doctors told her Dan was nearly dead. A bullet took out 30% of his left lung, damaged his diaphragm and his stomach, and it took out his entire spleen.
He had, they said, a 1% chance of survival.
“It was the roughest night of my life,” Christine recalled. She thought about their two daughters, ages 10 and 19. She remembers seeing officers lining the hospital’s hallways until all hours of night.
Somehow, Dan hung on.
Sharing a love for community service
Christine doesn’t remember a time when her husband wasn’t a cop.
He was born in Oklahoma but moved to Colorado as a teen.
When they met, Christine, a Colorado native, was in the police academy. They met through mutual friends in 2001 when Dan was a rookie police officer. They were both drawn to law enforcement and shared a love of serving their community.
Dan took a criminal justice class in college, and after one ridealong, he knew he had to be in law enforcement. Christine’s dad served in the Vietnam War. She knew she wanted to go into law enforcement to protect innocent victims who aren’t deserving of the crimes committed against them.
For both of them, law enforcement was the perfect combination of helping the community, along with a big splash of adrenaline and days filled with the unexpected.
With both parents in law enforcement, juggling family life meant their shifts often didn’t match up. Dan and Christine got used to seeing each other just in passing, sometimes for just moments at a time.
Her nickname became “commander in chief at home,” but caring for their children was a shared responsibility. Dan became the cook of the family.
‘In the blink of an eye’
That night in the hospital, Christine waited while doctors treated her husband. She remembered thinking, this “doesn’t happen to us. And it happened to us. It felt unreal.”
She also remembers, “I had no doubts that night that he was going to survive, because he’s a survivor.”
Dan reflects that he “was very happy with where I was at and what I was doing and absolutely loved it and then in just a blink of an eye, it feels like you lose it all.”
‘We take care of each other’
Nearly 16 months after being critically shot and coming so close to death, Dan cannot walk on his own due to his injuries. Doctors are giving him a 3% chance of walking on his own again. He continues to suffer from a collapsed lung and lead poisoning and the bullet remains lodged in his body.
Dan credits his recovery to unwavering support from Christine and his daughters.
Now, he’s back on the job.
He knew he couldn’t stay at home and do nothing. Although he won’t be responding on scene anymore, he still helps support his SWAT team from the sheriff’s office. “I need to get back to that element as soon as possible, because I think that helped a lot, mentally. It also helped me push through the pain I was feeling.”
“We take care of each other,” Dan said.
Dan says there was a time after he was shot when he was trying to find other jobs outside law enforcement. He couldn’t find anything he loved and that fired him up. “This is the only profession my heart is set on doing.”
Serving his community makes his day fulfilling, “It’s just rewarding to go to work and help people out.”
He loves how his team picks on him and teases him, just like they did before he got shot. “If they would’ve started treating me different, and not joke around with me like that, I think that would’ve hurt more.”
“Laughter is good therapy,” he said with a hearty chuckle.
‘I know I’ll walk again’
Dan knows he has an uphill battle in front of him, but he’s determined to overcome those odds, too, saying, “I don’t ever hope I’ll walk again. I know I’ll walk again.”
With his wife’s help, Dan attaches his prosthetic legs and takes small steps down the hallway of the SWAT office and around the corner for a couple of minutes before sitting down in exhaustion, exclaiming, “My arms are smoked.”
He starts to talk, but pauses for what seems like an eternity in an unsuccessful attempt to hold back mixed-emotion tears. He speaks from his heart about how he relies on his wife for strength, moving forward.
“My wife: She’s the foundation of our family and what holds us all together,” he said. “She’s 10 times stronger than I would ever be.” With Dan’s resilience and determination and the help and support of Christine, it’s hard to imagine a stronger couple.