How can anyone survive being shot 14 times in 5 seconds?
You’re about to hear audio from a video called Target and I will warn listeners about the graphic and violent nature of what you’re about to hear and suggest that your listener discretion is advised.
In 1994 Derrick McManus was a member of STAR Group in the South Australian Police Force. STAR stands for Special Tasks And Resources and is the elite strike response force and response unit in the state.
He was about to become involved in one of the longest siege situations in Australian history. More than 40 hours involving 2000 rounds of ammunition.
I live by the philosophy that it’s not so much what happens to you in life, it’s how you handle what happens and I don’t know of a better example than my guest for this episode.
I’d like to think Derek for his time and sharing his unique insights into a very traumatic period of his life.
He not only handled what happened to him, he has used his life experiences to forge some very powerful and effective tools that we can use and benefit from to help us better understand and respond to challenges and situations that will inevitably come our way.
These are life changing and life saving tools.
You’ll find Derek’s contact information and everything we discuss in the show notes for this session including his model for Durability of Human Performance which is well worth checking out.
I don’t usually prepare for an interview the way I did for this episode.
I sent Derrick some questions to ponder as a way to let him know what I was thinking and he came back to me with some very interesting answers, which you’ll also find in the show notes.
The world can be a crazy place and we can miss important signals and signs. Sometimes we know we need help. Some of us reach out and get it and some of us don’t. As you listen to Derrick’s story, you’ll discover what he did when everything closed in.
Ray: Right now I’m thinking of a these following questions. I can ask all or none. Let me know.
Derrick: All and any are good for me. There is nothing too personal you can ask me. If I am to really let people see how this philosophy has worked for me then I believe they need to see just how I live all of my life so they can see how similar or different it is to theirs and how they might learn from it and adopt behaviors or say “that’ll never work for me” and reject it. I’m not fragile about them rejecting it.
Ray: One reason I wanted to connect is that I’m particularly interested in durability or what (AFL coach) Ron Barassi would call ‘mental toughness’ I like to call it Stoicism.
Derrick: I love the philosophy of stoicism. I read a great deep thinking book called ‘The Antidote – Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’. It is all about stoicism and living with reality rather than dreaming. Positive thinking can actually set you up for the most disappointing times in your life because not everything is going to go right no matter how positive you are. My life is a perfect example of being a positive thinker (and positive actions) … obviously. You have to be a positive thinker who is prepared to actually take positive action and accept that you won’t always win … and what do you do when you don’t win? … accept that there may be some different action to take to achieve it. You can be disappointed you didn’t win this time but you’d be crazy if you’re destroyed by it. Just keep moving positively towards the next attempt or the next goal. I have a great confidence reinforcing model that everyone resonates with.
One that has just come to mind is always reflecting on the question “How does this thinking impact on a real estate agent’s ability to perform their job and manage their challenges?”
Ray: This is still one of the longest siege situations in Australian history. Over 40 hours, more than 2000 rounds were fired. Correct?
Derrick: Yes – 41 hours all up and the largest number of rounds ever exchanged between police and an offender in recent history anywhere in the world.
Ray: The man you went to arrest was armed to the teeth with a high powered automatic weapon, yet the STAR force didn’t seem to suspect there would be any armed resistance. Do you think if this happened today, STAR force members would be more cautious and better prepared?
Derrick: We knew this person’s history and ‘threats of violence’. We had seized weapons off him in the past. We knew there was potential for this to happen and that’s why STAR Group did it. STAR Group do all the high-risk arrests. There is also the civil liberties issues – he has to have a certain violent history before we can use proactive force (Smash into the house with battering rams) to arrest him. If we act too early the Police will be accused and punished for excessive use of force.
We have slightly different standard operating procedures these days but these have just evolved over time as they normally would.
Ray: Any one of those 14 bullets could have taken your life. Why do you think that didn’t happen?
Derrick: Most of this part came down to just pure luck!! A bullet 1 cm one way or the other could have taken my life. There was one bullet that hit a ‘ceramic plate’ in my ‘flack vest’ (not bullet proof vest – no such thing exists). The ceramic plate stopped a bullet entering my heart or lungs. This was strategic placement of the plate to protect the most vital organs. It wasn’t luck.
Ray: Do you think your career experiences as a police officer (STAR Force Member) aided your recovery?
Derrick: Absolutely!! Lots of examples in this answer. It is also the way my parents set me up and allowed me to have the approach to life thatI do. Lots of people say I was lucky to survive. My father used to say to me as I grew up “the more you practice, the harder you try, the luckier you get”. We create our own luck in life if we choose to do so. I was lucky initially but then I also created luck by the actions I took before the shooting, during the time on the ground and during my recovery.
Ray: Do you think your personal mission and commitment to recovery was a positive distraction that kept you focussed?
Derrick: Deep question with a long and involved and oh so intriguing answer … in short … I was focused on the future and doing everything I could to make that future happen. My future was just to live my life as well was I could with children. If I could get back to work that’s a bonus. Yes there was some stuff from the past that needed to be dealt with but I compartmentalised that and dealt with it as I needed to.
I did not spend my time plotting or wishing for revenge or retribution. That would have been time and energy i wasn’t using to make the future happen and get better.
I am also the type of person that if i wanted revenge I would make it happen oneway or another. If I did make it happen … what sort of person would I be? – I’d be just like him and that’s not the person i want to be. Lots more to that answer and happy to further explore it
Ray: You’re on record as saying that the incident was the greatest thing that ever happened to you. How could something that traumatic be so rewarding?
Derrick: This incident gave me the insights into my personal strengths that I never really knew I had. I knew I was physically, mentally and emotionally strong but I had no idea I was this strong. I still don’t see myself as ‘bullet proof’ in anyway but I do realise that my capacity to achieve is so much greater than I ever thought it was. To get into STAR Group in the first place you have to have a certain mental attitude and belief or you just won’t make it … so it was certainly there before hand but never with this much comfortable confidence.
The more I achieve the stronger this belief gets. With all the achievements are also a whole lot of things that don’t quite go according to plan but that’s the same with everything in life. I have no issue with using words and phrases that other people say we should shy away from … I failed, I stuffed up, how could I be stupid etc … it’s not what you say but the context in which you say them and it’s what you say and do immediately after them that matters most. I guess this is a bit of stoicism – looking at life with reality. If I say I’m stupid – because I did know better – the next thing I do is immediately go about fixing the issue and remember not to do it again. I don’t say I’m stupid and then slink away into a corner and just keeping telling myself the same thing over and over.
Ray: Is there a particular or favourite ‘tool’ or mental concept that helped you recover and continues to help you today?
Derrick: This philosophy is essentially encapsulated in the philosophy of Durability – we are able to sustain optimum performance – if we have open, honest and confronting conversations with ourselves about the reality of the choices we’re making and the consequences we can anticipate as a result.
Many people avoid the confronting conversations because they are uncomfortable. We are all, generally, aware of the dangers of the choices we make but we still don’t confront them. We think “that could happen but I won’t happen to me and if it does I’ll deal with it at that time. If I think about it now it’s just too scary”
I had the confronting conversation about the ‘possible’ reality of the consequences of my choices. I went to my wife and said, “I’m a cop and I’m going to STAR Group – there’s a very real chance of being shot and injured and a very real chance of being shot and killed”.
I then prepared for the future – physically, mentally and emotionally – based on that reality.
Lot’s more to explore here. Short answer is – we can sustain optimum performance if we prepared yourself properly.
Ray: 6 days after you were shot, you asked to see a psychiatrist and were empowered following this meeting. What happened during this visit
Derrick: I asked to see the psychiatrist after 6 days but didn’t see him for 3 months – long and political discussion.
However, at the time I did see him everyone expected me to be in therapy for decades. I had 1 x 3 hour meeting with the psych. We discuss my thinking prior to the shooting, how I managed it on while on the ground, and how I was anticipating dealing with it during my rehab and return to work.
I was able to articulate a very clear understanding of the challenges I may encounter in my return, how I would manage them if they did occur, when I would decide to withdraw from the return to work process and what would encourage me to continue on.
The psychiatrist said I was mentally and emotionally able to return to work that day and he did not actually need to review me again unless ‘I thought there was reason to’.
Obviously physically I couldn’t return to work but mentally and emotionally I was good to go and I revelled in the chance to do just that.
Ray: Not everyone is born with durability, mental toughness and stoicism. Do you think these qualities can be learned or does it take an experience like yours to acquire them?
Derrick: Durability is definitely a skill you can learn … just the same as resilience is a skill you can learn.
By reflecting on what I did before/during/after the shooting I found that I had Durability in place prior to the shooting and then utilised it at the time of the shooting. I didn’t know that what I had in place, durability process, was any different to what anyone else did but obviously it was/is.
The program that I run is the teaching of how people can change their attitudes and behaviours to become more durable.
Ray: Given your experience, what advice can you offer to anyone recovering from a traumatic event or suffering PTSD
Derrick: Anxiety, depression and PTSD is a challenge for anyone. I was diagnosed with PTSD just after I had made a return to STAR Group. My PTSD was nothing to do with the shooting itself it was all to do with how superiors were treating me at work – long story for email but happy to discuss it.
However, the durability process came to the fore here too. Again I didn’t consciously know what I was doing it just turned out that I was implementing what I know have named Durability.
Essentially it came down to the stoic attitude of accepting that PTSD/Depression was always possible – I had discussed it with the Psychiatrist – and when it did happen I was just very proactive about ‘managing’ it.
I have also worked with other people who have depression, PTSD, survivor guilt etc and the process worked perfectly. It doesn’t make the process easy and part of the PTSD/depression etc is that nothing is easy. But it gives you more incentive to have a crack at it if you know the process has worked for others.
Sometimes an interview ‘winds’ it’s own way like a new river and I don’t ask a particular question which is cool. I’m constantly thinking “what would our audience be interested in” and how can we deliver?
I’m very happy to go with the flow of the interview and not put off if you throw in a question out of left of field … i can generally handle any question.
(the only question that really threw me was when the MC for a ‘printer cartridge’ conference asked me a final question at the close of Q&A – his question – “Derrick, what would you recommend to bring about world peace?”)
Anyway, I have attached a copy of the model and explanation. I’ve also attached the continuum and I can speak to these and describe them if we need to in the interview. It will just give you more of an idea how to discuss them if you have the visuals.
What hasn’t been reflected so far is the sense of humour that comes out in this incident. There are heaps of very funny moments.
There’s a little story to lead into this but … At the time the bullets were pounding into my body … I’ve fallen to the ground and lying on my back with my feet pointing directly at where the bullets are coming from. I know that to stop the offender shooting at me I have to shoot back at him. I can’t see him in the house but I can hear where the bullets are coming from. I line up my pistol to shoot back but as I do I realise that I am going to be firing along the line of my legs and my feet are at the end of them and when lying on my back my feet are pointing upwards. I realise that I need to get up just a little to shoot over the top of my feet. However, I have a very heavy ‘flack vest’ and other equipment on my other body and as I try to lift my upper body up, my feet coming up to counter balance. The thought that runs through my head a this time is ‘I better not shoot myself in the foot … because the rest of STAR will give me shit for the rest of my life!’ You can just imagine getting shot 14 times and then shooting yourself as well 🙂
There were quite a number of other very funny moments either at the time of the shooting, while lying on the ground waiting for rescue or at the time I meet with the doctor.