During the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, officers had already counted Madeleine Wilford among the dead when they found her unconscious, with gunshot wounds to the chest. However, Lt. Laz Ojeda realized she still had a chance, and made the decision that arguably saved her life.
Ojeda is a lieutenant in the Coral Springs Fire Department, which is located one town over from Parkland. He is a cross-trained fire fighter and paramedic, and he arrived on the scene of the shooting early, according to a report by The Washington Post. He discovered Wilford with dropping blood pressure and a collapsed lung, but recognized that she was alive.
Ojeda put a chest seal on Wilford to block air from entering her chest. However, he knew that she needed to reach a surgeon or else she could drown in blood. He had been instructed to take injured students to a hospital 30 miles away, where policy dictated young patients should go. However, he feared Wilford wouldn't make it in time.
Another emergency responder had told Ojeda that Wilford was 15, but he doubted that estimation. He revived her just enough to get her to say that she was 17. At that point, he decided to take her to Broward Health North, an urgent-care facility only 12 miles from the crime scene.
“That decision contributed to saving her life,” Ojeda told The Washington Post, referring to what a physician had later told him.
Wilford underwent three surgeries in 40 hours, and she survived. On Monday, she sat just three seats down from Ojeda in a press conference.
“I’d just like to say that I am so grateful to be here. And it wouldn’t be possible without the doctors and first responders and... all the love that everyone sent,” Wilford said. Both she and Ojeda shed tears on stage, recounting the harrowing afternoon.
Wilford's story is one of the few hopeful accounts surfacing after that chaotic day at Stoneman Douglas High. The nation has been infuriated by reports that Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson remained outside the school during the shooting, and later resigned.
Officers from Coral Springs have reported that as many as three more deputies were seen standing outside rather than entering the building. Sheriff Scott Israel and his office have been under heavy scrutiny, though they've maintained that the investigations are ongoing.
For Wilford, and the other 15 injured survivors, it's hard to be enraged by that news when they're so grateful to be alive.
“It’s hard for me to feel anything but gratitude and thanks for the miracle that’s happened with her,” said David Wilford, Maddy’s father, also choking back tears at the press conference.
Igor Nichiporenko, Wilford's surgeon, called her recovery "miraculous." “She is very lucky,” he told reporters. “Because we’re talking about large-caliber bullets penetrating through the chest and the abdomen.”
Nichiporenko estimated that Wilford could return to school as early as next week.