For the first time since he was shot eight months ago outside the state police barracks in Pike County, Trooper Alex Douglass spoke about that horrifying night, his recovery, and his goals for the future.
It was a very emotional experience as Newswatch 16's Ryan Leckey sat down with Trooper Douglass and we got a sense of what his life has been like since that scary September night when he was nearly killed on the job.
Inside his home in Lackawanna County, Trooper Alex Douglass invited us in to sit down and ask the questions so many of us want to hear him answer, about what happened that night eight months ago and how he`s been striving to recover.
Trooper Douglass took a seat, wearing a hat given to him by New York state troopers and a bracelet that says PSP Strong.
Ryan: “Take me back to September 12, the start of your day and how it unfolded.”
Alex: “I drove up to the barracks at Blooming Grove for my shift that started at 11 p.m. that night and ran until 7 in the morning.”
Trooper Douglass said when he first arrived at the barracks, he ran inside to grab a gym bag filled with his running clothes. He planned to use them the next morning when he was going to meet a friend after his shift.
Alex: “When I was putting the bag in my car, I heard what actually sounded like fireworks going off. There’s actually a gentleman who sells fireworks a little ways down from our station, so it wouldn’t be unusual. That’s maybe where it was coming from, but it sounded like two loud noises going off at once.”
Not knowing exactly what those loud noises were, the nearly 10-year state police veteran walked back toward the barracks to try to find out. As he neared the front entrance he saw another trooper on the ground.
Alex: “When I got closer to him, I noticed it was Corporal Dickson.”
Trooper Douglass says he immediately started yelling to people inside to call for help. And then...
Alex: “As I walked over to Corporal Dickson to see what the issue was, that’s when I got shot. I went down to my knees. Luckily, I was by the front doors and was able to crawl into the station. At that point, I knew someone was shooting at us. I crawled on my arms, dragged my legs, and I couldn’t feel my legs at the time.”
Douglass says two other troopers pulled in him into the lobby area and knew he needed medical help fast. Corporal Dickson was still lying outside, not moving.
Alex: “I didn’t know what was going on. I knew someone was shooting at us and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know if it was an ambush. I didn’t know if there were 12 guys out there, if there was one or two guys.”
Douglass says other troopers started securing the barracks, believing that those bullets might have been coming from the woods across the road from the barracks. Eventually, the then 31-year-old trooper was taken away by ambulance to a location where he could be flown to Geisinger-Community Medical Center in Scranton.
Ryan: “What`s going through your head at this point?”
Alex: “I knew I was shot and I thought I was shot in the leg, so I thought, ‘It’s not that bad. I’m going to live and it’s not too bad. I’m conscious,’ but ultimately I learned the pelvic area where I was shot carries the most blood in the human body. I actually coded twice on the table at Geisinger-Community Medical Center while they were performing treatment on me.”
Ryan: “So essentially, you died twice!”
About a week after he had to be revived twice, Douglass started coming around, not really knowing what had happened to Corporal Bryon Dickson.
Ryan: “So a week after you started coming to, you still didn’t know he was killed?”
Alex: “No, I didn’t know that until some troopers told me that. I laid there in the bed and I was just in shock.”
The pair had worked together at the Blooming Grove barracks for only about three months. Corporal Dickson was Douglass’ supervisor.
Alex: “He was a supervisor you would want to be like. He wasn’t just someone who would sit back and be like, ‘Do this or do that.’ He was out there making drug arrests, DUI arrests, he made so many arrests. He was so impressive.”
Almost a week after the ambush, the day of Corporal Dickson’s funeral, Trooper Douglass says he was in a medically-induced coma. At the same time, hundreds of law enforcement officers from around the country had begun searching for Eric Frein in the Poconos. Police say he was the one who pulled the trigger. Frein soon became one of the FBI’s ten most wanted in America.
Alex: “As soon as I heard the name Eric Frein, I was trying to think, ‘Did I arrest him? Did I know him? Did I know the name? Did it sound familiar to me?’ I did not know the name. It was just very random.”
Ryan: “As this reached 50 some days, so many people thought this guy left the state. Did the thought ever cross your mind, [Frein] wasn’t in the Poconos?”
Alex: “I knew all of the law enforcement that were there looking for him wouldn’t have let that happen. I knew he was still in the area.”
As the search went on, Douglass tried to focus on his recovery, which included more than a dozen surgeries. State troopers guarded him and his parents around the clock. During the search for Frein, investigators held several news conferences that were carried live on television and radio. Douglass says at one point he decided to only rely on his trooper friends for updates after seeing rumors start to make headlines. Those rumors included one which alleged that Douglass was involved in a lover’s triangle. The wounded trooper happened to live in the same neighborhood as one of Eric Frien’s relatives.
Alex: “I heard that and it bothered me. And then I said, ‘You know what, you can’t let that stuff bother you. Move on.’ None of the stuff was true.”
Seven weeks after the ambush, U.S. Marshals finally captured Eric Frein on the day before Halloween, in an old airport hangar in Monroe County.
Ryan: “Where were you when you found out and how?”
Alex: “I remember the night. I was in Allied Services inpatient unit in a hospital bed. I was watching the news, but then got a call from a trooper who said, ‘Hey, the U.S. Marshals got him,’ and I was…I was ecstatic. I was like, ‘That’s great.’ I was so happy. I was in tears actually. It eased everyone’s mind.”
As for any other comments about Frein, or his thoughts on the Pike County district attorney’s decision to seek the death penalty in this case, Trooper Douglass says he can’t comment because of the upcoming trial. In the meantime, Douglass continues to focus on his health and looks forward to the day he can get back on the job. When possible, Douglass spends time attending events, many of which involve Corporal Dickson’s family.
Ryan: “What is your relationship now with the Dickson family? Do you keep in touch with Tiffani and the kids?”
Alex: “My bond with Tiffani is definitely stronger. She’s a great, great person. I give her so much credit for what she’s going through and what she’s dealing with, with the loss of her husband. Corporal Dickson’s family and parents, they even motivate me. They put a smile on my face. Every time I see them, they’re just great people, too.”
Ryan: “For so many people who go through life changing events like this, what’s the biggest thing you learned out of this? About yourself? Or about people?”
Alex: “That people care. There’s one person out there who causes harm, but there are thousands and thousands who love you. PSP Strong helped me out so much and I know they helped so many others, too. They were the ones who sold the t-shirts. When I woke up and heard what they were doing, it was amazing.”
Ryan: “So the biggest thing, if you had to fill in the blank, that matters to you here, now, today, is what?”
Alex: “That I’m here, that I’m alive, that I’m healthy and I’m going to be healthier, getting back to 99 or 100 percent normal, living a healthy life and enjoying myself.”
On his dining room table, Trooper Alex Douglass laid out what he considers the most meaningful mementos that inspire him on his road to recovery, including pictures from past races like a 50-miler along with other marathons .
Alex: “The doctors actually said that running long distance and doing CrossFit, it actually saved my life because my heart was so strong.”
Ryan: “How many surgeries have you gone through?”
Alex: “I’ve gone through 16 surgeries and I have one more surgery scheduled in New York and hopefully that will be it.”
Trooper Douglass credits countless notes of encouragement for getting him through, notes from as far away as Texas.
Alex: “Every time I would read a card or a letter from someone, it would just motivate me.”
Trooper Douglass overcame a severe infection and underwent a full hip replacement on his right side. He is also learning how to walk again with help from Allied Services in Scranton.
“We had to do a lot of gait training because he wasn’t able to put a lot of weight on his leg for a long time,” said Allied Physical Therapist Beth Haiges-Peduto.
“Alex wasn’t just dealing with an orthopedic problem, he was dealing with multi systems within his body,” said Dr. Michael Wolk, Medical Director of Allied Services Rehabilitation Hospital.
Trooper Douglass goes to physical therapy two hours a day, three days a week focusing on stretching and weight lifting.
Alex: “Basically bringing the strength back into my right leg, the quad.”
Also helping this trooper bounce back is CrossFit Blarney Stone in Duryea. In class, he says he’s in his element.
Alex: “It is family. They put up the PSP Strong sign for me when I was in the hospital. It kept me motivated. My goal was to come back here ultimately.”
“He’s the strongest person who we know,” said Shandra Keeler, Douglass’ close friend and coach at CrossFit Blarney Stone.
Keeler is also a state trooper. She and Douglass became very close about seven years ago at the Blooming Grove barracks. She gets choked up thinking about that day last month, when Douglass walked through the doors again at CrossFit Blarney Stone.
“People don’t get off the couch and do CrossFit. He has limitations now and he’s still getting off the couch every day and doing CrossFit. That’s incredible,” Keeler said.
Ryan: “You have a huge goal in the fal that you want to do and if most people heard everything you’ve been through, heard of all the surgeries, they might look at you and say, 'Are you crazy?’”
Alex: “I want to run a marathon, that’s my ultimate goal: to run in the New York City marathon and finish it and to motivate others, that this happened to me, that I was down for months and so sick, and I almost passed away, and now I`m up.”
Ryan: “This is the carrot at the end of your race?”
Alex: “That’s it, yes!”
And Trooper Douglass has decided that Allied Services in Scranton will be the charity that he supports when he runs the New York City Marathon in November. And we're honored here at Newswatch 16 that as part of that support, Trooper Douglass will be a member of WNEP-TV’s Ryan's Run team at this year's race.