New Mexico Sheriff's Deputy's Long Road Home

Bernalillo County Deputy Robin Hopkins has undergone nearly a dozen surgeries since being shot.


The loud clap of a rifle round slamming into the engine block of her police car was about the best sound Robin Hopkins could have hoped for.

Crack!

Crack!

For a split second, the 15-year veteran of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department thought her big Crown Vic had saved her from the guy who was aiming a sawed-off Romanian AK-47 out the window of a stolen cop car -- aiming right at her.

Then, Crack! Crack! She heard two more.

The balding 35-year-old who had strapped on body armor, pulled on a black face mask and gone on a shooting spree had already shot three police officers and was leading police on a chase that had ricocheted through Albuquerque's North Valley.

Now he was pulling alongside her and taking two more shots.

One of the rounds pierced the driver's side door -- making a neat bullseye of the sheriff's department shield painted on the door -- and blasted through her thigh.

It's a well-worn cliche that a life can change in an instant. For Hopkins, at 11:46 a.m. on a beautiful October day, it did. "Do you want to see ?"

Hopkins, balancing on her right leg in her room at a rehabilitation hospital in Albuquerque, pulls down her gray sweat pants and offers a tour of her dangling left leg.

Long scars from surgical incisions sweep across her hip bone, her hip crease and down the front of her thigh. More scars mark where pins were inserted and two long incisions stretch from her knee to her ankle on both sides of her calf.

Pointing to a dark purple pucker, she says, "Here's where it entered and did what it did." She's referring to the bullet, a 7.62 mm steel core round that is capable of piercing the body armor police officers wear, and tearing apart muscle and bone.

Hopkins is 5'5" with the lean physique of a distance runner. Her inseam is less than 30 inches and her leg now holds a total of 4 feet of surgical scars.

Hopkins picks up an X-ray taken as soon as she arrived at the emergency room at the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center. "That's the tourniquet and that's the rifle round," she says, pointing to a ghostly gray image of her pelvis, her left hip bones and her left leg.

Anyone who's ever looked at a plastic Halloween skeleton knows how the leg bone is supposed to be connected to the hip bone. On Hopkins' X-ray, there's just a mess of shattered pieces where the connection should be. The upper thigh bone, the femur, is the largest, heaviest bone in the body. Hopkins points to where hers should be and says, "This was blown away right here."

Another X-ray taken after orthopedic surgery shows a long rod extending from hip to knee in a vast expanse of black shadow. "This," she says, "is where I need to grow bone."

Hopkins spent a month in University Hospital before she was moved to rehabilitation. She's a marathoner, a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard and the mother of an active toddler, and when she arrived at rehab she wrote down her goals : "#1 Get to bathroom, toilet and shower use. #2 More bend in my knee. #3 More rest and get strong and return to work."

Hopkins, with a wide smile, crackling blue eyes and unforgettable red hair, counts small accomplishments now -- being able to use a walker, going to the bathroom alone.

Even though she has been on the mend for two months now, Hopkins knows that hers is a long haul with an uncertain outcome.

"It's going to be a long road, and I just have to accept that, which isn't easy, being a go-go doer. So patience is one of the many lessons that I'm going to have to learn."

--

Hopkins woke up as usual at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 26 .

She was working a Thursday-through-Monday morning shift, so Saturday was the middle of her week. Her husband and toddler still asleep, she put in a yoga DVD, laid her mat out in the living room and did a half hour of yoga poses.

Then, the house still quiet, she made some coffee and, as is her routine, sat still in the early morning darkness.

"I just sit with a cup of coffee and just breathe, just be quiet," Hopkins says. "I like to wake up early and just get centered and ready for whatever."

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