Wounded Wash. cop wants to keep serving community

By Kera Wanielista, Skagit Valley Herald

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Police officer Mike “Mick” McClaughry was sent on a journey Dec. 15 that took him literally to the brink of death.

The 31-year veteran of the Mount Vernon Police Department is now on his journey back.

“Wherever I’m at, whatever I’m doing, I’m going to have a smile on my face,” McClaughry said. “Because I’ve seen the depths and I’ve come back from that.”

On that cold December evening, McClaughry was doing what he always had, rushing to the aid of someone in his community after a reported shooting near North LaVenture Road.

What happened next has become well known among those who live in Skagit County. McClaughry was shot in the back of the head.

Two fellow officers pulled McClaughry to safety. He was taken first to Skagit Valley Hospital, then to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle in critical condition.

As an hourslong standoff ensued on North LaVenture Road, McClaughry was engaged in a different struggle — one for his life.

McClaughry doesn’t remember much from the days and weeks that followed.

“It was totally dark,” McClaughry recalls thinking at some point. “(I was) anxious not knowing what had happened.”

Sixty-two days after he was shot — and on his 39th wedding anniversary — McClaughry returned to Mount Vernon and the department that for decades had been his home away from home.

“It’s pretty much a miracle,” McClaughry’s daughter April said. “There easily could have been a different outcome.”

Nearly a month after his return to Mount Vernon, the McClaughry family home is bustling with activity. Fellow Mount Vernon police officers are in and out installing new carpeting, and a repairman is coming to fix the home’s garage door.

With a smile on his face, McClaughry sits in a plush recliner. A blanket — one of many sewn for him during his recovery — hangs on the back.

A box full of cards, well wishes and other trinkets of appreciation sits upstairs.

“It truly is overwhelming,” McClaughry said. “I had no idea just how compassionate people could be.”

To the thousands of people throughout the world who have been interested in his story, McClaughry has a message.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve got some challenges, but there’s plenty of other people I’ve met who have met those challenges.”

Because of the community support, McClaughry said he’s able to keep a positive outlook on what happened Dec. 15.

“If this had to happen, I’m really glad it happened here,” he said. “Because I feel safe, and that my family will be taken care of. That’s not something that you can appreciate until it happens.”

Being a police officer wasn’t something McClaughry dreamed of doing as a child, he said. But a change in the way policing was done during the 1970s led him to give it a shot as a reserve officer with the Everett Police Department.

Apprehending a suspect after his first vehicle chase cemented McClaughry’s career path.

“I stood up and said to myself, ‘Hell, yeah, I can do this job,’” he said. “You don’t really know until you meet that first test.”

It’s the opportunity to help people that has kept him as a police officer for so long, he said.

As a Mount Vernon officer, McClaughry served in a number of capacities, including as the Mount Vernon School District’s first DARE officer and as the face of the Officer Friendly program. He also helped train younger officers as they moved up the ranks.

“I tried to set the standard for other officers,” McClaughry said.

Some of the best moments of his career have been when people he helped in the past, including some of the youths he mentored, have come up to him and told him how he impacted their lives.

“I’ve always felt that my most impressive moments have been when people come up and say ‘Hi,’” he said. “It gives me motivation to keep going. It’s building the community.”

McClaughry is a firm believer in the value of community policing, the importance of helping people and the strength of local law enforcement.

“Somebody has to do this,” he said. “It’s the satisfaction that you get of keeping those boundaries intact so the playing field is safe for everybody. You’ve got to give of yourself.”

The 61-year-old McClaughry had hoped to be able to work 35 years with the department before retiring, a goal he is now realizing he will likely not be able to accomplish.

“Unfortunately, a random act got in the way,” McClaughry said.

He hopes to keep helping people, even if it isn’t in the blue uniform he’s become accustomed to.

“I can’t do much, but I can talk to people and maybe offer them some advice,” McClaughry said. “I want to be able to help as much as I can. Even if it’s just a little bit, I want to do it. It’s all about community, and I want to be included.”

Despite what he’s been through, McClaughry does his best to put a positive spin on things.

“You’ve got to roll with it and do the best you can,” he said. “No matter what, stay positive. That’s what I try and do. If I can inspire other people, all the better.”

The lessons he’s learned about strength in the face of adversity are ones he hopes others take away from his experience.

“Never regret anything,” McClaughry said. “That can eat at you. You’ve got to stay focused on what’s in front of you now. The path will clear, and it will be sunny again.”

While his vision has improved from the complete darkness he experienced early on, McClaughry said what he now sees is like “looking through a six-inch block of ice.”

But he remains hopeful that one day his vision will improve.

“Anything that is an improvement is a success,” he said.

Even if his vision doesn’t recover, he said, he’s thankful to be alive, home and able to encourage others to live their best lives, even when it’s hard.

“Don’t let this stop you,” he said. “Go forward. Be strong. Be loving.”