Diane Mead was in her car on Thoms Run Road when she got the call.
At the time, she knew nothing about the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue. It was just another Saturday morning in October, overcast and ordinary, and she was running errands. Just about an hour before she talked to her brother, Officer Dan Mead, about getting together that night.
He had reported to work at 10 a.m. at the Squirrel Hill police precinct. Shortly after, Diane’s phone rang.
It was Dan, calling from an ambulance. “’Diane, I’ve been shot. He blew my hand off,’” she recalls him saying.
Since the shooting that day that killed 11 people and wounded others, including four police officers, Diane Mead has seen up close the worst of humanity as well as the best of humanity.
Her brother was the first person to come face-to-face with the accused shooter, Robert Bowers, at the synagogue. It is believed that his actions — confronting Bowers as he was about to exit the building — sent the shooter into retreat at the synagogue where he eventually surrendered.
Dan did not fire, reports his sister. He was shot once through a glass door, the bullet entering his wrist and exiting his hand.
“He followed all the procedures,” she says. “He was well-trained. He came around the corner and he could see the shooter” aiming his gun.
Once he was shot, Dan retreated while his partner, Mike Smidga, took over.
Dan, 55, who has been on the force for 12 years and is unable to comment presently, was never in a situation anything like this. It was over in seconds, Diane says, and he now faces a “very long recovery with two to three surgeries and six to nine months of rehab.”
He was discharged from the hospital last night and if all goes as expected, it’s “very, very probable that he will regain full use of his hand,” Diane says.
Friends have started a GoFundMe campaign to help with his expenses while he’s recuperating. As of today, they have nearly $18,000 of a $50,000 goal.
Ask her how she’s holding up and Diane says, “The whole experience has been surreal.” A nurse by profession, she had some sense of what to expect when she arrived at the hospital. There was a lot of blood. And waiting for “a very long time” while he was in surgery having pins inserted to replace his shattered bones was difficult.
Through her work as a hospice nurse, she often talks with patients about a pain scale of one to 10. Dan, she said, was at about a 40.
Remembering the days in the hospital, she wells up and talks about how a rabbi and his son visited her brother and the son later posted on Facebook that they “met a hero who took a bullet for his nation.”
“I said, ‘Dan, do you understand that you’re a national hero?’ And he says, ‘I’m just Danny Mead from Brookline.”
She’s seen remarkable resilience and strength from her brother. “He just had a traumatic event most people will never see, but he’s always joking and making light of things,” she says. “Danny is as Pittsburgh a guy as there is.”
Has the experience changed her? She answers by saying that she started Bethany Hospice 15 years ago to focus on quality of life, not quantity.
“We’re about life, not about death,” she says. “It’s made me more committed. More committed to do right by people.”
Diane was at Presbyterian Hospital when President Trump visited and her brother wore a Bethany Hospice T-shirt for his sister. His idea. She beams at the thought and then gets serious again.
“You want to know the biggest lesson I learned?” Diane asks. “We had a disagreement a while back. We hadn’t talked for a little period of time and I missed him but I was too bullheaded to call him.
“When I got that call, I prayed that he would be there because we needed to forgive each other for our disagreement. My goal was to get into the ER to tell him that I loved him,” she says. “I got a second chance here. I told him, I love you with my whole heart. We need to forget the dumb stuff in our lives and just move forward and he said, ‘I promise you we will.’”
Dan has already been invited to Israel on a hero recognition day and he’s being asked to speak at schools. More invitations are sure to come, along with more letters and notes of thanks. A class of second graders sent him letters, says his sister.
“Dear Mr. Policeman,” one note read. “Thanks for making me safe. I love you.”
She smiles as she recalls reading it the first time. “I never cried so hard in my life.”