Three months ago, Tony Harris was bedridden, unable to walk and doubtful that he would ever return to his work as a security guard. Now, Harris walks around his Prince George’s County neighborhood every morning and is determined to return to the security desk at GDS. His goal is to be back by April, which will mark one year since he was critically injured in a shooting while directing traffic outside Edmund Burke School.
“If you’d asked me when I was in the hospital, you would have got the answer, I’m done working,” Harris said recently in an hourlong interview with the Bit at his home. “But I think I’m too young to just be sitting in the house.”
Harris was discharged from George Washington University Hospital on June 10, seven weeks after arriving, aided by a walker and 45 pounds lighter than he had been before the shooting. He said he’s been moving without a cane or walker for weeks and feels better on each daily walk.
The last information students received about Harris came in an email from Head of School Russell Shaw in late April, when Harris was in intensive care. Shaw told the Bit that administrators have updated faculty and staff more recently on Harris’ condition .
Shelley Harris, GDS’ all-school director of security, who is not related to Tony, told the Bit she visited Harris once this summer. “I just felt like he’s like a walking miracle,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to having him back in April.”
She was running afternoon carpool at GDS on April 22 when she heard about an active shooter at Burke. “I tried reaching Tony and I couldn’t, which was unusual because there was never a time that I could not reach him,” she said.
That day, Tony Harris had left GDS at 2 p.m. for Burke, where he directed traffic on a few afternoons each week in addition to his full-time job at GDS. “Carpool was just about to begin,” he said, when the shooter, 23-year-old Raymond Spencer, opened fire from a nearby apartment. “Lucky it had not begun, because he would have been able to pluck off as many people as he wanted.”
Harris heard shots ring out but couldn’t tell where they were coming from. As he was directing the few students around him to go back inside and looking to take cover, he was shot in the back. His wounds were by far the most serious of the four people who were shot and included damage to his jaw from falling to the ground, he said.
He remembers remaining conscious as the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) SWAT team arrived and lifted him into an ambulance on Connecticut Avenue. “They put the little oxygen cap over my face, and I don’t remember anything after that,” Harris said. “All I remember is waking up on April 27, five days later.”
He awoke from his coma in the intensive care unit to the news that police had found the shooter dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After three weeks, Harris said, he was moved to a regular hospital room. “Although they do everything they can to make you feel better, it can be very depressing in a hospital,” he said. “Everybody says the same thing when they leave your room: ‘Try to get some rest.’ Can’t get no rest. Soon as I try, somebody else is coming through that door.”
And no matter how tired, hungry or sick he felt, Harris said, he never wavered from his physical therapy regimen.
Brian Holt, a security guard at GW Hospital, told the Bit that trauma patients who are part of an active police investigation are checked in under aliases. Harris said his was “Trauma Iowa,” and he used it, for example, when requesting meals from hospital staff. He also said he was guarded by a police detail for about a week.
The day after the shooting, Shaw announced in an email to the community that Harris had been shot, had had surgery the night before and was in stable condition. Three days later, Shaw wrote that Harris’ condition remained stable and that students could write cards or emails to him to express support.
A GoFundMe campaign that began on May 4 raised over $40,000 for Harris’s family. The text at the top of the fundraiser’s page describes Harris as “loved by family, his colleagues, and members of the communities in which he serves.” Below that are dozens of warm messages from donors, many of whom are GDS parents or employees.
On Aug. 5, Shaw spent an hour at Harris’s home, catching up with him in person for the first time since the shooting. “There was a funny moment in the visit where he shared that there’s essentially a waiting list of people who want to come and visit him,” Shaw said in an interview. “I sort of apologized—I didn’t want to jump the line, and I was grateful.”
Before becoming a security guard, Harris spent 26 years in the MPD. According to Shaw, Harris worked with independent schools as a police officer, and he has played a major part in recruiting current and former officers to work security and help with traffic management at GDS.
“Tony is an indispensable member of our unit,” Nick Prout, the high school director of security, said in an interview. “He’ll always have a spot here.”
Harris doesn’t plan on returning to Burke, or to providing security at local synagogues or other schools besides GDS, which he used to do. After a career of fitting in extra jobs, always looking to stay busy, Harris said he wants to “just sit back there with Nick (for however much longer he plans on being there).”
Harris said his doctors gave him an estimated recovery time of six months to a year, putting him on track to return to GDS in the spring.
Before then, Harris said, he’s been asked to return to GW Hospital in November as the guest of honor at a yearly ceremony the hospital holds for its most critically injured trauma patients.
“I didn’t know how to feel about that the first time they brought it up,” he said. “It ain’t nothing that somebody strives for.” When Harris considered what he might say at the ceremony, tears came to his eyes. “All I know is it gives you a chance to tell your story—that’s gonna mean something to somebody,” he added. “I don’t need the plaque.”