By Jerry LaMartina
Joshua James Owen’s life changed on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2016.
The now 34-year-old Kansas City, Mo., resident was sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Shawnee Walmart Supercenter at 65th Street and Maurer Road when he heard a scream about 100 feet away. He turned to find two men attacking a woman, who had been hit on the head and was bleeding. Owen rushed to her aid, punching and tackling one of the assailants. During the altercation, that assailant turned a gun on Owen, shooting him in the face, forearm and shoulder. Another bystander responding to the melee fatally shot the attacker. But Owen was left in critical condition.
Today, Owen has largely recovered from his wounds. And at the Shawnee City Council’s Monday night meeting, Mayor Michelle Distler presented him with the Carnegie Medal for his heroism.
“It was kind of a traumatic moment at first,” Owen said before Monday’s meeting. “It takes awhile to get used to. The city was really nice, and the police department, to get me a therapist to talk to for a while to help me through everything.”
The late industrialist Andrew Carnegie established the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in 1904. The commission awards the Carnegie Medal “to civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.”
Winning the medal, Owen said, prompted him to wonder what he should do next.
“There are a lot of people that’ve lost their lives for this medal, and I was just lucky enough to survive it,” he said.
He recalled the moment of decision that day.
“Sitting in the car and just being there, and then hearing a lady scream, you wonder what’s happening and what’s going on, and then you hear her just scream again as loud as could be,” he said. “You have two reactions: One, you can walk away from it or, two, you can go see what’s happening. I just happened to go toward it and see if I could be of assistance to her, and then realized that the situation was much more severe than initially thought and went to help out.”
Owen is a construction worker and a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His military training helped him react that day, he said.
“I think in those situations, muscle memory plays a big role,” he said. “It’s just something you train for it instinctively, and then just practicality comes out in the moment…How much are you willing to actually help your fellow man? Are you willing to stand by and watch their world collapse in front of you, or are you willing to walk away, or are you willing to help out?”
Owen praised the people who responded and gave aid “in helping me stay alive.”
“It was a big community moment,” he said. “The whole police department, fire department, ambulance, medical staff, civilians that were there — countless amounts of people that put forth a huge amount of effort was pretty incredible.”
Shawnee Police Sgt. Craig Herrmann was a detective the day the incident occurred and one of first detectives to arrive on the scene, and he was the investigator on the case.
“I’ve been an officer for about 25 years, and people generally either run to get help, run to help or just run away, and (Owen is) certainly one of the rare few who run to help, at incredible risk to himself,” Herrmann said. “There’s no doubt at the time, though, … that he was in bad shape. I was concerned that he was going to make the ultimate sacrifice that day.”