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'Taking it a day at a time': WSP trooper shot in the face hopes to return to patrol

Walla Walla Trooper Dean Atkinson Jr. was shot in the face and hand while in his patrol car on Sept. 22.

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Serving his community is all Dean Atkinson Jr. has ever done.

Despite being shot in the hand and face in September, the Washington state trooper hopes to return to patrol as soon as possible.

“It’ll be more of a ‘when’ I go back to work, not an ‘if,’” Atkinson said from his hometown of Walla Walla, where he is recovering from his injuries.

On Sept. 22, Atkinson was parked in his marked WSP patrol car on a Walla Walla street when witnesses said a man walked up to the car and started firing. Investigators called it an ambush.

“When I realized what was happening,” Atkinson said, “I drove away and ducked down to the right to try to protect my face.”

He was shot in the face and his left hand, but was able to drive approximately a mile to the nearest hospital.

“I lost part of my left ring and middle finger,” Atkinson said.

Brandon O’Neel is charged with the attempted murder of Atkinson, and is scheduled to go to trial in November.

According to investigators, O’Neel made prior threats to kill police officers after he was notified that he was going to be evicted from his apartment.

Atkinson, who joined the Washington National Guard after graduating from Walla Walla High School, said he enjoys helping others.

“When people are in need, it’s always enjoyable contributing to make their lives better,” said Atkinson.

His priority is recovering and rehabbing so he can put on the uniform again. The 27-year-old does not know what other job he’d take if he couldn’t return to the Washington State Patrol.

“I don’t have many other skills,” Atkinson said, “I wouldn’t do well in a bank. I’m not good at math.”

Watch the full interview with Trooper Dean Atkinson Jr. here:

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