COVINGTON, Ga. — This week, surgeons will consult Covington Police Officer Matt Cooper on repairing his skull. The officer, who celebrated his 35th birthday in January, has been on a difficult road of recovery since he was shot in the head while confronting a suspect last fall – but he is pushing forward, one step at a time.
“When Matt got shot, it affected all of us here,” said Holly Cripps, the wife of Porterdale Police Chief Jason Cripps. “I live here in Covington, and my officer just got shot. That was very loud for us.”
Cripps knew that she needed to do something to honor Cooper, to show him how many people are rooting for his recovery. She saw a unique opportunity to warm his heart in a simple way – having everyone involved in his rescue sign their name and a message on a cooler.
“When I saw the cooler, I thought, how neat if he could see the signature of everyone who loves him. Who has donated money to him, those who care about him and his recovery,” she said. “And for him to actually see … wow. There’s the dispatcher who called out for help or here’s the fireman or there’s a coworker.”
Hundreds of people signed it – and Cooper had to crack a joke that it wasn’t filled up yet. Through it all, Cooper hasn’t lost his sense of humor, his kindness or generosity. He smiles for every picture he’s asked to pose for, flexing his muscles in most of them.
It’s his warrior spirit that Cripps wants people to know about. His badge number, 148, has taken on special meaning as the community roots him on in his long journey of recovery.
“There’s 148 all over this country,” Cripps said. “Matt knows we love him.”
It was noon on Sept. 3, 2018 when Cooper and his fellow Covington officers responded to reports of shoplifters at the Walmart off Industrial Boulevard. Police detained two of the suspects, but the third, 21-year-old Aaron Fleming, ran off. Cooper and a sergeant took off after him. After some time, the sergeant heard two gunshots. He came around the corner to find Cooper unconscious and hurt. Cooper had been shot in the head, right between the eyes. Fleming was later found dead of an apparent suicide.
Cooper was raced to the hospital and officers reported back that he mouthed the words, “I love you” to his wife. He was alive.
After he was moved from intensive care, Cooper continued his therapy work at The Shepherd Center, which specializes in brain and spine injuries. He graduated from inpatient brain injury rehabilitation and was home just in time for the holidays.
The Army veteran and father is still healing – something Cripps doesn’t want people to forget. On the day that he met 11Alive’s Kaitlyn Ross, he had just left physical therapy, where he works to regain everything he lost last fall. And his community isn’t going to stop helping him.
“If you need a ride to the doctor, you need to go anywhere, we got you. We will take you,” Cripps said. “You’re still a cop. You’re still in this family. We are here and we are not going anywhere.”