A Niagara County sheriff’s deputy who, 13 months ago, saved several lives by putting himself between a gunman and an elementary school, will accept the Presidential Medal of Valor from President Obama at the White House on Monday.
Joseph L. Tortorella will be one of five law enforcement officers that the U.S. Department of Justice selected for the honor, which recognizes officers who exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in an attempt to protect human life.
Tortorella has also received numerous local and state awards, including the New York State Deputy Sheriff of the Year award, for his actions on April 17, 2015, when he decided to stand between that shooter and Errick Road Elementary School in Wheatfield.
One of the gunman’s bullets struck Tortorella in the chest, but was deflected by his bulletproof vest. By the time the shooting was over, the two had exchanged 15 rounds, the gunman was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and Tortorella was credited with saving three lives, and maybe more.
“I wasn’t going to let this guy kill me,” Tortorella told the Buffalo News after the incident last year. “All I could think about was my family and the people inside the school. I wanted to win for my family.”
By sheer chance, the house where the shooting incident began was next door to the school – where Tortorella’s wife, Erica, was a teacher, and where his son and daughter were students.
Tortorella, sheltering from the gunman behind a tree, called a dispatcher to have the school placed on lockdown.
The shooter, Duane A. Bores Jr., 25, had shot and seriously wounded his parents, Cynthia and Duane Sr. inside the house.