Remembering the unthinkable after a decade

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Remembering the unthinkable after a decade
Officer Peter Laboy loved being a ‘motor cop.’ He’s shown here riding with fellow officers in one of Alexandria's many parades.
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By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Ten years ago, Peter Laboy received a call for assistance in Old Town. An Alexandria Police Department motorcycle officer at the time, Laboy rode to confront a taxi driver at the intersection of Wilkes and South St. Asaph streets, near Lyles-Crouch Elementary School, who had been reported as acting erratically that morning.

He took a shortcut through a nearby alley to get to the car, and was several feet away when gunfire sounded. Then it went black.

“I remember responding, making a turn on the street, and that’s it,” Laboy said. “… Then I remember waking up in the hospital after three or four days.”

Monday marked exactly one decade since Laboy was shot in the head by Kashif Bashir, a Woodbridge resident who had been stalking a woman in Old Town that morning. The Times was the first publication on the scene that day, though by the time Laboy was medevaced by helicopter and a car chase between police and Bashir ensued – which resulted in Bashir’s arrest in Fairfax County – regional media were swarming the scene of the shooting.

The event, an unprovoked, near-fatal attack on a police officer by a deranged shooter, deeply rattled Alexandria residents. And while Bashir was apparently stalking a woman, the fact remains that he had stopped in front of an elementary school – which had a playground full of children – when Laboy approached the taxi.

Peter Laboy was carried into a helicopter after being shot in the head by Kashif Bashir while on duty in 2013. Derrick Perkins, who was Times editor, won a Virginia Press Association award for this photograph.

Eyewitness account

Winnie Garner, who lived at 601 Wilkes St. at the time, still remembers the day’s events clearly. It started normally; she was putting clothes into the drying machine when suddenly she heard a gunshot. Garner, who was 78 at the time, looked out the window of her fourth floor condo to see a car speeding away and a man falling from his motorcycle to the ground.

Other bystanders heard the ruckus too. One woman got out of her car to go check on him, as did a mailman who was nearby, Garner said. Lyles-Crouch teachers hurried their students, who had been on the playground for recess, inside the school. Soon after, Garner discovered through talking with others that the man who had fallen was a police officer.

“The first thing I did, even before I knew it was a policeman, I was praying ‘Lord please,’ because I was afraid some car would come down the street and run over him or something,” Garner said. “I still get kinda shook up over remembering it all.”

Garner said she spent most of that day peering out the window as the investigation progressed. She also called her daughter, Times publisher Denise Dunbar, who immediately sent a reporter to the scene.

Police officers later stopped by Garner’s condo to ask for her eyewitness account of what happened. Learning that this week marks the 10th anniversary of the shooting has left Garner reliving the events of that day in her mind.

“They had all kinds of sirens coming. They had ambulances, and then there was a helicopter that came later. It landed in the school yard,” Garner said. “… It was a long day.”

Surviving

Laboy was transported to Medstar Washington Hospital Center and placed in a medically induced coma. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter, who knew Laboy well from his own days as a police officer, thought Laboy’s likelihood of survival was low. Porter called Feb. 27, 2013 “one of the saddest, most intense and most memorable days” of his career. In the days following the incident, he visited the hospital to say goodbye.

“The day was a blur,” Porter said. “… I went to the hospital to pay my respects because everyone thought he was going to unfortunately pass away.”

But that’s not what happened. Suzanne DeVine, Laboy’s ex-wife, who is a nurse anesthetist, remembers arriving at the hospital and feeling a sense of hope after seeing his test results and vitals. Laboy’s eyes were reactive, according to Suzanne, which was a promising sign ahead of surgery.

While Laboy was undergoing surgery, DeVine waited in a room where more and more police officers began showing up, most of them really emotional.

“They put me in a room with police and we’re just all sitting there waiting and people are showing up in tears. People are crying. And I’m consoling everybody. I’m saying, ‘It’s OK. I think he’s going to be OK.’ … I mean I didn’t really know, but everything I knew so far looked good,” DeVine said.

After Laboy came out of the operating room the surgeon said everything went well – then it became a waiting game.

“The ICU doctor wanted him to wake up from anesthesia enough to see if he would respond to command and then immediately put him back down,” DeVine said. “That’s what you do, you put him back to sleep. So Peter woke up from anesthesia enough that they said, ‘Squeeze my hand. Give me a thumbs up.’ … And he did all of that. And I was like, ‘Oh my God. He’s going to survive this.’”

Eventually, Laboy woke up and slowly yet meticulously began his road to recovery. He remained in the ICU for a week, and then spent several more days in a step-down room at Washington Hospital Center. He then moved across the street to the National Rehab Center for eight weeks of rehab. Doctors determined they would not be able to safely remove the hollow-point-9-millimeter bullet, which is still in his head today.

Laboy had to relearn how to walk, talk, write and perform other basic motor skills. The succeeding months involved extensive rehabilitation, from medications to doctors’ appointments to neuropsychologist visits.

The image showing where the bullet that Kashif Bashir fired at close range remains lodged in Peter Laboy’s brain.

The fact that Laboy survived was collectively deemed a miracle.

“It really is nothing short of a miracle that he is walking, talking and has as much of [his] personality and is able to have a life,” Porter said. “… While there’s a lot of sadness involved in the story, there’s also a lot to be proud of him about.”

Although Laboy inexplicably survived such a violent event, the aftermath proved to be challenging. Laboy was forced to retire from APD due to constant seizures, which impaired his ability to drive. The motor unit officially retired his number – Motor 8 – in 2014. To this day, Laboy yearns to return to work.

“[I wish I could] tell the chief, ‘Be sure that tomorrow you have my uniform ready and you have my motorcycle parked in my parking spot,’” Laboy said, an undercurrent of sadness in his voice. “It’s better than being here doing nothing.”

Impact

The incident greatly affected Laboy’s personal life. He and DeVine eventually divorced, but the two remain vital parts of each other’s lives. They are raising their children together and live across the street from one another, communicating regularly.

“Peter and I are no longer married. … I consider us friends. But he’s not the man I married. That person died that day I believe. But I’m probably not the person he married either,” Suzanne said. “You go through something like that and you have trauma. You have PTSD. I’m in therapy and I have a great therapist. … That’s how I cope.”

DeVine said she and the couple’s four children made it through that difficult time with the help of family, friends and the caring, larger Alexandria community.

“My family was very supportive. My mom moved in with me for nine months. My sister moved in for three or four months. … The support was amazing. People were bringing food and dropping off things for the kids. And constantly fundraising. That blew my mind,” she said.

Laboy feels a mix of gratitude for his survival and anger at both his perpetrator and his perpetrator’s verdict. In 2014, Bashir was found not guilty by reason of insanity by Alexandria Circuit Court Judge James C. Clark.

Bashir subsequently entered a mental institution for what was ordered to be five years, where he received treatment for paranoid schizophrenia. In 2018, he was found to be competent and conditionally released. He was given an apartment in Prince Williams County and required to check in with a treatment team periodically.

Then, in February 2019, Bashir was arrested and charged with arson, two counts of attempted arson and two misdemeanor counts of possession of a firearm by a person acquired by reason of insanity. He obtained the guns legally, even though his name should have been listed as prohibited. The Virginia State Police would later admit to a clerical error.

Peter Laboy with his sons.

“It seemed outrageous to me that he would be released so quickly to the community after committing such a violent act,” Porter said, noting that the reason Laboy was shot in the first place was because he was investigating Bashir as a suspicious person.

On that fateful day 10 years ago, Bashir had been stalking a woman in Old Town, and according to Porter, was likely intending on abducting and sexually assaulting her.

“I made all of those arguments in court and really was surprised that the court ended up granting release over our strenuous objection,” Porter added. “I actually think I warned the court that this was a recipe for disaster or something.”

It was determined later that the women whose homes he set on fire were part of his medical treatment team. According to Porter, the crime was a result of both women rejecting his romantic overtures.

In July 2022, Bashir was sentenced to life in prison plus 11 years for his crimes. For Laboy – who found out after Bashir was sentenced that he had been searching Laboy’s home address online – knowing that he’s behind bars brings relief.

“He probably wanted to go and finish the job,” Laboy said. “… I feel better now.”

Laboy said he still frequently thinks about how sharply Feb. 27, 2013 altered the trajectory of his life.

“One of the things they teach you [at APD] is that when you go to work in the morning, you never know if you’re going to come back,” Laboy said. “I went to work in the morning and I came back four months later.”

These days, Laboy’s life looks much different than it did before. He spends the majority of his time with his children or friends, and has recently taken up going to the gym. The seizures have let up, too, though he still takes medication and has regular doctor appointments. He recently fulfilled a longtime dream of becoming scuba diving certified, and plans to go deep sea diving in the future.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary, he had dinner on Tuesday for the first time with some members of his rescue team, including several medics and the helicopter pilot. In many ways, Feb. 27 is a rebirth for Laboy. He received calls on Monday wishing him a ‘Happy 10th birthday,’ which is exactly how he wishes to view it.

“I thank God every day that I’m here,” Laboy said. “There’s a reason that I’m still here.”

Denise Dunbar and Leslie Golden contributed to this story.

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