Edmanuel Reyes, a deranged man with two pistols and a 12-gauge shotgun, would spray 100 or so bullets at arriving police officers, at their vehicles, at surrounding houses. One of those bullets that ugly late May afternoon in Manchester would pierce officer Bill Beeler's left shoulder, going clean through him.
"Once the pain set in," Beeler said, "it was the worst I'd ever felt."
And so here he is on this Father's Day, exactly one month after the hostage situation that became our state's lead story on May 19 finally ended when Reyes was killed by a police sniper. There was a hole left in Beeler's body that day, one he believes he has closed not only through physical healing, but with the kind of support and introspection that leaves a police officer a better cop, a high school coach a better leader, a man a better father and husband.
Bill and Lauren have 18-month-old twins, one boy, one girl, and Lauren is due with another boy in September. Although he is still a few months from returning to duty with the Manchester police, his wounds have healed to the point where Friday he received clearance to begin rehab. Beeler, 30, needs no one to tell him that another inch or two and he's a dead man.
"Father's Day? Every day since it happened has been Father's Day for me," Beeler said. "Being home with my kids, watching them play, cherishing every little thing life offers is the best gift anybody could give me. Once you almost lost that, you don't take a single thing for granted."
Beeler's Fermi players went over to his South Windsor home the day after the shooting, and it was great. The outpouring of support from his team, the booster club, the school has amazed him. Last week, he attended a booster club meeting. He met with a number of parents. Some of the players showed up, too.
"It's uplifting," Beeler said. "It's a really positive experience for us. I want to send a strong message to my boys that if we can overcome this, we can overcome basically anything."
In 2010, Beeler took over a struggling Fermi program, 10-50-1 the previous six years, and went 3-7 in his first season. He is determined to build a winner. He is determined to build character.
The days of police surrounding hostage scenes and waiting it out changed after the Columbine massacre. As Reyes held his wife and two sons hostage, Beeler knew he and five other officers charging into 13 Courtland Street faced great and immediate danger.
"I got hit. I never fell to the ground," Beeler said. "My one thought was I need to keep our guys safe, because if I stop they'll come to me. They let me move myself. They covered me. They got me out of there. I'm here today because of those guys."
The teamwork, the perseverance, the way to live your life to the fullest, because at any second everything can change, Beeler is convinced he can help his players learn from this, if not in football, then as a strong life lesson. He believes that small passing bullet left him with a better ability to see the big picture, to be more patient and not to sweat the small stuff.
"I have a quote," Beeler said. "I'm a huge Giants fan, and I grew up hating Michael Irvin. So it really bothers me. But the quote is, 'Look up. Get up. Don't ever give up.' I heard those words [from Irvin's emotional 2007 Hall of Fame speech] the day after I got shot. They're perfect. Those words will never leave me.
"I told the guys who were at my house: 'That's our motto. It's not going away. If you stare in the face in adversity, you persevere. I'm walking proof you can persevere in a life or death situation.' The guys just stared at me. One of my seniors, Joey Vella, came up and said 'Coach, I don't think I should twist my ankle this year.'"
Beeler's dad, Howard, who retired in January, was on the Manchester force for 32 years. Beeler's grandfather, the late Charles Grasso Jr., retired as a captain after 32 years with the Hartford Police Department. His uncle, Charles Grasso III, is a sergeant in Enfield. They are a family deep in blue, and Bill grew up knowing the dangers.
"Your heart would always jump when the phone would ring in the house at 3 in the morning and you knew Dad was at work," Bill said.
A poignant moment arrived, in fact, after he was shot, when Lauren turned to him and said, "I can't go back to living my naive way of life."
"You grow up in a family like I did, the danger was always in the back of your head," Beeler said. "But it never was really talked about. At the same time, I always was drawn to it. I don't know exactly why. I do know I wanted to emulate them, be like them. I steered my life and everything I did toward that goal from my high school."
He joined the Connecticut Air National Guard. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was stationed in Jordan, 40 miles from Iraq's border. As a staff sergeant, he helped secure air force bases.
"I was there from the start until when President Bush said, 'Mission Accomplished,'" Beeler said. "We launched the majority of the air war. We also were in the middle of nowhere. We didn't know what we were dealing with on a daily basis.
"I never saw combat, but we were always on edge. I never saw combat until Manchester."
Beeler was among the second wave of officers responding to Omar Thornton's Manchester killing spree that left nine dead at Hartford Distributors on Aug. 3, 2010. Beeler was the one who identified the body of Craig Pepin that day. Pepin was his Little League coach. Beeler had gone to high school with Pepin's daughter. He had known Pepin a long time.
"A rough day," Beeler said softly. "Thirty years, I wouldn't trade anything, but the last 31/2 [on the force] have been trying."
Trying enough to give up police work?
"Absolutely not," Beeler said. "A very close friend of mine told me it is 'who I am, why I am here, what I was meant to do.' Those words rattled around my head for a few days, because there is always some doubt. But they sunk in. I woke up 4 in the morning, nudged my wife and I'm like, 'Those words are right.'"
They are the words that close the bullet hole.