Mary A. Castillo
“Count it all joy when you fall into trails; knowing this, that
the trying of your faith works patience,” Officer Larry Bammer read
from the book of James to a group of Laguna Beach High School
Before members of Club ROC (Righteousness on Campus), a
nondenominational Christian group, Bammer talked about how his faith
was reaffirmed after he had been shot by a robbery suspect on Oct.
“I’m really blessed that God had me go through this trial,” he
said. “When people hear that, they trip out [and ask], ‘How can you
be counting that as a blessing?’”
Bammer remembered that, as an ambulance raced him to Mission
Hospital, he felt a sense of peace even though he thought the wound
on his left side would kill him.
“I’m thankful I know God,” he said. “If I had died on the 23rd, I
had the peace and comfort that I was going to heaven.”
The experience inspired him to share his faith and to make good
use of the time he feels has been allotted to him.
“A lot of people don’t experience that until toward the end of
their life, when they realize they only have a couple of years left,”
he said. “I went through something like that at 24 years old.”
Bammer, who wasn’t supposed to be on duty that day, recalled how
he had responded to a call of shots fired in the 1000 block of South
Coast Highway. He and a second officer approached Laguna Seaside
Realty, where the 911 call for help came from.
"[The suspect] saw me before I saw him,” he said.
The suspect, identified as Nathaniel James O’Connor of Los
Angeles, reportedly walked into the Herb Import Co. According to
police, he handcuffed and then shot sales clerk Jacques Nenijian, 26.
O’Connor took a female clerk to the back of the store, allowing
Nenijian to escape to the neighboring real estate office.
When Bammer arrived on the scene, O’Connor walked out carrying a
duffel bag filled with cash, glass pipes and digital scales in one
hand, and a .357 revolver in the other, police said.
“Only one hit me, on the left side,” Bammer said.
The impact caused him to spin and dive for cover into the real
Horrified eyewitnesses watched O’Connor engage officers in a gun
battle that concluded just outside a nearby auto body shop. Later
that same evening, he died at Mission Hospital from gun shot wounds.
Lifelong Laguna resident and owner of the realty office, John
Stanaland recalled those unbelievable moments in a phone interview.
“It was crazy,” he said. “But if the police hadn’t taken care of
it the way they did, it would’ve been worse.”
Stanaland had been on his cell phone with his wife when he heard
gunshots and screams coming from the neighboring retail store. When
he stood up to see what was going on, he saw Nenijian walk through
the door, tell the receptionist that he had been shot and then
collapse onto the floor.
“I yelled at the receptionist to call 911 and I put a pillow under
his head,” Stanaland said. He remembers telling Nenijian, who was
fluttering in and out of consciousness, that he’d be fine and that
help was on the way.
About two to three minutes later, Bammer and the second officer
Stanaland recalled that he had been standing next to the officers
when O’Connor walked out of the store and fired. When he ran back
into the office to help Bammer, two bullets struck the door frame
where he had been standing.
“I’m grateful to be alive,” Stanaland said.
Now, two weeks later, Bammer has come to terms with the
experience. But he still shakes his head in disbelief at the support
and appreciation from the community.
In a room surrounded by cards and letters from well-wishers, he
admits it takes him a little longer to move around.
“It lets me know that when I go back out to work and if something,
heaven forbid, should ever happen again, these same people will be
here to comfort my family or someone else’s family,” he said.
* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.
She covers education, public safety and City Hall.