Cpl. Kevin Holtry’s pain strikes unexpectedly. And often.
He compares it to getting stabbed and electrocuted at the same time.
“Stabbed with an electrical rod,” he told the Statesman. Some spasms are light, but he has waves of pain that can last up to 30 seconds.
When it happens, the Boise Police Department veteran stops what he’s doing to focus on breathing techniques. The pain is around his waist.
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“It feels like I’m wearing a big leather belt,” said Holtry, who continues to work with doctors on pain management. “It’s called banding pain. It’s not uncommon with lower motor neuron injuries. The real focal point is where my bullet entry is in my lower back.”
That would be one of the bullets fired by Marco Romero, as Holtry and other Special Operation Unit officers confronted the fugitive in the driveway of a Boise Bench house Nov. 11.
Romero shot Holtry five times at close range, the officer said. Two bullets and a fragment are still in his body.
The 49-year-old father, who played football at Meridian High School and earned a degree in English literature from Boise State University, hasn’t been back home since he went to work that day. He recently returned to Boise after more than two months at Colorado’s Craig Hospital — specialists in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries — but has been living in a rental while his house is renovated.
He hopes to get back to work later this year but is currently focused on learning how to do his life on four wheels. Daily tasks that he once did mindlessly now require significant effort from a wheelchair.
“Every single thing I do is hard,” Holtry said. He doesn’t expect to regain much of the feeling he lost from the waist down, but he plans to keep doing occupational therapy and hitting the gym with the determination of an athlete.
All the letters and other support he’s received from the community have lifted his spirits, he said. He’ll be doing something fun with his buddies on his 50th birthday in July.
“Maybe do some parasailing?” Holtry said to a fellow officer and close friend who scooped him up off the street after he was shot.
“Drag racing?” his friend responded.
“Harley drag racing,” Holtry said. “We’ll figure something out.”
Holtry was opening the backyard gate to a house on Irving Street when “I saw him out of the corner of my eye.” Romero, he said, was crouched down low behind two garbage cans and pointing a handgun up at him.
Holtry, who had an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, was too close to the fence to turn and engage Romero. He tried instead to get some distance.
Romero began firing.
“That first round went just below my belt in an upward trajectory,” he said. “I just went [down]. It paralyzed me, and I knew it right that second.”
Holtry was part of the initial search for Romero after he was spotted in a stolen car, which he quickly abandoned. That was why Holtry didn’t get a chance to put on his SOU gear, but he was wearing a bulletproof vest and plates. He said his SOU gear wouldn’t have made a difference because of the trajectory of that first shot.
Holtry used his arms to do a modified Army crawl down the driveway, ripping off the skin in the hopes of saving himself.
“It’s my understanding that he moved or stood up and was shooting me,” Holtry said. “I got shot in the leg, the femur, the hip, the stomach and another one in the butt.”
Holtry believes Romero was about to “finish him off” when Jardo — the heralded police dog — jumped on the fugitive. The dog was shot one time in the struggle. Jardo died less than a week later.
Holtry’s fellow officers carried him to the SOU Bearcat, which sped off to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. As he was being loaded in the vehicle, he saw the baseball-sized hole below his left knee.
“I said, ‘Man, that’s going to be a real problem later ... I’m going to lose my leg,’ ” Holtry recalled.
He did later lose that leg below the knee. A rod currently holds his right leg together.
‘You all right?’
Holtry has been a Boise police officer for about 18 years and was an Ada County sheriff’s deputy for a year and a half before that. He’d been to the emergency room at Saint Al’s many times — but not as a patient.
“It was really surreal laying there on the table,” he said. He saw Cpl. Chris Davis, whom Romero shot in the leg.
“I looked over at Chris and said, ‘You all right?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you doing all right?’ ”
Holtry blacked out soon after that exchange and woke up about 10 days later. He was told that a bullet that went into his stomach had hit an artery, but doctors had trouble finding the source of the bleeding.
“I had to go into (a radiology) lab, where they injected some dye into my veins, and then they could look at all the veins in 3-D,” he said.
He suffered a stomach infection after he woke. He described it as the worst pain he’s ever experienced. He was also so thirsty, he thought he might die.
“I thought I was in hell,” he said. “It took a couple weeks to get through that. But, eventually, the clouds parted, and I started feeling a lot better, and I was able to get out of bed.”
Hard work at Colorado hospital
Holtry said his sister encouraged him to go to Craig Hospital in Colorado because of its specialization in neurorehabilitation. He began doing physical therapy in early January, about 10 days before leaving for Craig.
His time at Craig was grueling.
“It’s not summer camp. I wasn’t doing decoupage,” he said. “It was hard-ass work from 8 in the morning until 4 or 5 at night, except Saturdays and Sundays.”
Craig’s patients each arrived with different injuries, and outcomes were equally varied. Holtry recalled a 16-year-old boy who had broken his neck. The boy arrived as a full quadriplegic but regained his ability to walk with crutches and braces below the knee.
In the roughly 2 1/2 months, Holtry’s feeling increased about one vertebra. His paralysis began just above his belly button, and now it starts just below it.
“You gotta understand, especially about spinal cord injuries. ... You have zero idea if you’re going to get any sensation back,” he said. “It’s all hope and luck, really.”
He learned the basics of how to get around, to move in and out of car and plane seats, to shower. He also had to learn how to instruct other people to help him. The hospital learning environment was easier than what he’s experienced back in Boise.
“Craig is smooth, wide, flat,” he said. “The real world is narrow, bumpy and difficult.”
He said adjusting to his body’s new physical limitations has been harder than dealing with the psychological impacts of the shooting. He won’t say the name of the man who shot him — and he doesn’t spend any time thinking about him either.
“You know what I think about him?” Holtry said. “Honestly, I just hope that he’s in hell, and there’s 50 Jardos biting him over and over for all of eternity. I don’t waste one breath of my thoughts. I don’t think about him. I don’t do any of that. He’s done. It’s all over. It’s behind me. And I’m just moving forward.”
Back to police work
Holtry, who was born in Nampa and grew up on the east side of the Valley, wanted to become the “next great American writer” when he was young.
He did a four-year stint in the Army, which helped him cover the costs of his literature degree. He minored in secondary education but was more interested in writing. For several years, he worked as a fishing guide, lived in a bunkhouse in Picabo and wrote for magazines.
Holtry’s cousin works for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. After doing a couple of ridealongs, Holtry got interested in joining the force. He worked at the jail for about 18 months and had planned to stay at ACSO, but when he took a patrol test for BPD, he was offered a job in 1999.
The Fraternal Order of Police set up a GoFundMe account for Holtry after the shooting, with a goal of $100,000. People are still donating to the account, which now stands at more than $88,000. The group also held its first-ever policeman’s ball to raise another $60,000 for Holtry.
He is still a sworn peace officer, and he’s looking forward to getting back to work — in the training department, he said.
“I have a lot to offer and a lot of experience, so I’ll be good to go there. I have no desire to go anywhere else [in the department],” he said.
He boasted that he’ll be the most “badass wheelchair officer” at the Boise Police Department.
Are there others?
“No, that’s what makes it easy,” he said with a laugh. “When I say that, I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek. I’m going to be the most capable wheelchair guy I can be.”
About this series
Years of drug addiction and poor decisions by Marco Romero of Boise ended in a span of four days in November 2016, bookended by two shootings — one of which killed him.
Sunday: Jailed or in prison for nearly a quarter of his life, and a drug addict starting in his teens, Romero never learned to function without the structure and supervision of incarceration.
Monday: Years of drug abuse and apparent growing paranoia end with Romero’s involvement in two shootings, one of which wounded Boise officers and killed a police dog.
Tuesday: Paralyzed and missing a leg after the Nov. 11 shooting, Cpl. Kevin Holtry navigates his new life in a wheelchair.
Romero’s last week
Nov. 8: Marco Romero shoots two friends at the Cherry Lane Apartments in Meridian, then flees.
Nov. 10: Romero carjacks an 89-year-old woman in the parking lot of Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village retirement community. The woman was not physically harmed when he stole her car, purse and keys.
Nov. 11: Romero is spotted in the stolen car in a Boise Bench neighborhood. He ditches and flees on foot. He is killed in a shootout with police, but not before wounding Boise Cpls. Kevin Holtry and Chris Davis and K-9 Jardo. The police dog died about a week later.