Law enforcement officers from across Massachusetts were honored for acts of bravery at the 29th annual Trooper George L. Hanna awards at UMass Boston. (John R. Ellement/Globe Staff)
It’s just a piece of tri-colored ribbon — red, white and blue — with a small medal hanging from the end. But it means the world to Woburn Police Officer Mark Gibbons, who never expected to receive the Hanna Medal of Honor for taking on a robbery suspect and prevailing in a gun battle.
“I never thought I would be getting the Hanna medal in my life,’’ Gibbons said today after he and 27 other law enforcement officers from across the state were honored by Govenor Deval Patrick at the 29th annual Trooper George L. Hanna Awards for heroic acts they committed during 2011. “Trooper Hanna gave his life protecting others. It’s something to be proud of – and I will cherish it.’’
Gibbons, the son of a Woburn police officer, was on duty on Sept. 6, 2011, when multiple suspects tried to rob the Musto Jewelry store on Cambridge Road. Gibbons’s colleague, Officer Robert DeNapoli, arrived at the jewelry store and came under fire from one of the suspects as the group fled out a rear door.
DeNapoli – who was honored Tuesday with the Medal of Valor—had his gun shot out of his hand and was lying on the ground when the suspect climbed on top of DeNapoli’s cruiser and fired repeatedly at DeNapoli. The burly officer, who is still out of work, lost a piece of his index finger and sustained eye damage from pieces of his shattered windows flying around the area.
“It’s an honor,’’ said DeNapoli. “I am very proud of it.’’
The suspect, later identified as Antonio Matos, ran from the store and was tracked down by Gibbons into a nearby neighborhood. He was on Lexington Street—when the gunfire started again. The suspect shot first, according to a summary of the violent incident read aloud at Tuesday’s ceremony, firing three times into the driver’s side of Gibbons’ marked cruiser.
Gibbons slid down in his seat and fired five shots through the windshield of his cruiser, striking the suspect. He then crawled out his cruiser and exchanged a second volley of gunfire with the suspect – and the two rounds Gibbons fired finally brought an end to the struggle. Matos was captured and hospitalized.
“All I was thinking about was staying alive,’’ said Gibbons.
Two Boston police officers – Francesco G. Recupero and Dennis J. Murphy – were also given the Medal of Honor for their roles on Aug. 10, 2011, when an armed man shot a neighbor and then barricaded himself inside a Brighton housing development. Recupero and Murphy helped medically stabilize a shooting victim – who later died – and also rushed back inside even as the suspect was firing.
A total of 12 other Boston police officers, including members of the Special Weapons and Tactical Operations Team, were also honored for their actions on Ledgemere Road, which ended with the arrest of the suspect.
Speaking about his officers and others who were honored, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said the committee that selected the honorees faced a difficult task winnowing the candidates from departments across the state.
“But these heroism-under-fire stories ... are the ones that are special, that stand out,’’ he said. “Even though there are many things that happen, many stories each day in the police services ... these individuals have been honored, rightfully so.’’
Three Springfield police officers and a state trooper were also given the Medal of Honor for capturing an escapee from a Department of Correction facility in Shirley on April 30, 2011, after he had killed a man in a Springfield barber shop and critically wounded the barber.
Trooper Stephen J. Gregorczyk, Lieutenant Alberto Ayala, Officer Raul Gonzales, and Officer Marcus Starks traded gunshots with the escapee, who popped out of the trunk of a car and began firing. Officer Starks also removed two children from the vehicle during the incident.
Hanna was a member of the State Police for nearly 10 years when in February 1983 he was fatally shot by three assailants after stopping a car in Auburn.