Nebraska City News-Press - Nebraska City, NE
  • Rishel marks 35th year after attack on police officers in Nebraska City

  •    Pete Rishel says there is a certain duty for the one who survived and he plans to be on the job at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Memorial on July 9.   He had been a Nebraska City police officer for 18 months when he and his partner, 24-year-old Gary White, heard a man from the parking ...
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  • Pete Rishel says there is a certain duty for the one who survived and he plans to be on the job at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Memorial on July 9.
    He had been a Nebraska City police officer for 18 months when he and his partner, 24-year-old Gary White, heard a man from the parking lot asking for help.
    Minutes later, White, who had been sworn in eight days earlier, was dead and Rishel lay critically wounded from a shotgun blast.
    On this 35th anniversary of the shooting, Rishel will lay a wreath at the memorial near White's name, just as he has ever since it opened in Grand Island in 2007.
    "I would hope that if I would have died that night, someone would have done it for both of us," he said. "I don't think people should forget."
    Rishel has not forgotten.
    He and White were about the same age and both were fulfilling childhood yearnings. Rishel wanted to a be cop from his freshman year of high school at Plattsmouth and joined the cadets on the Omaha Police Department.
    White's brother Kenny said White had similar aspirations growing up in St. Jospeh, Mo.
    Both men intended to use their earnings on the night shift to pursue criminal justice degrees during the day.
    "He was very likable guy, a good guy. I thought we had so much in common," Rishel said.
    Nebraska City also remembers.
    The conference room at the new Rowe Safety Complex is named after White, there is a tree dedicated to him on the grounds and his photograph is posted prominently at the police station.
    Beyond the visible markers, Police Chief Dave Lacy said every new officer is invited to truly consider what happened on that summer night in 1977.
    It had been a typical night in Nebraska City when the officers returned to the police station around 3:30 a.m. Rishel had been showing White around and they had completed their nightly tasks, when a dispatcher told them that a man had called from the phone outside the police station and wanted to talk with them.
    The man was Steve Gruber, who was trying to rouse help for a neighbor woman that had shown up at his house beaten and frightened. Gruber's house did not have a telephone, so he told the woman to sit tight while he drove to the station.
    Page 2 of 5 - Gruber said the woman’s husband, Robert Beers, was driving around trying to find her.
    The officers decided to locate Beers, settle him down and get him home.
    "We knew his wife could see the county attorney in the morning to file charges against him. We just wanted to get him off the streets at that point. Right or wrong, that was the plan," Rishel said.
    As they reached the patrol car, a pickup truck came through the alley and Gruber yelled, "that's Beers, there he is," Rishel said.
    The officers got into the car to follow, but by the time Rishel started the engine, the pickup was coming back down the alley. It stopped behind the police car.
    Rishel said he told White "let's go talk to him, we'll get him settled down, and I'll take you home," as White's shift was ending at 4 a.m.
    Rishel said he was close to the pickup when Beers emerged in the alley with a .20 gauge, double-barrel shotgun.
    "I yelled at him to drop it. He raised the gun and fired," he said.
    Beers, a self-proclaimed junk dealer, told Nebraska State Patrol investigator George Fauver that he and his wife Christie had been separated on July 8.
    He accompanied her to Peru to collect the personal items she needed to move out. Later he left her at their residence while he went to get boxes she needed to pack.
    When he returned home near First Street and Fifth Corso she was gone. Beers told investigators he went drinking.
    Around midnight, he said, he found his wife with another man. When she returned to the house, a fight broke out and Mrs. Beers fled to Gruber’s house.
    She was later treated for a broken nose, black eye and two broken bones in her foot.
    Both White and Rishel returned fire, but Beers escaped on foot, took a car and left town.
    Kim Kohout, a Nebraska City police officer and a rescue squad member, answered a dispatcher’s page of trouble at the station.
    When he arrived, firefighter Larry (Butch) Raines was yelling “get down, get down, they are shooting.”
    Kohout said he was exasperated at first, thinking it was a training drill at that time of the morning, but when he saw the look on Raines’ face, he knew it was serious.
    Beers’ first shots woke Raines, who looked out a second-story balcony to see Beers reload his shotgun and fire again at the police car, shattering the back window.
    The rescue EMTs did not know where Beers was, and considered the possibility that he was still right outside the door, but decided to run into the alley. They could hear Rishell calling for help.
    Page 3 of 5 - Kohout and Ray Bohl would grab White and John Lant and Rick Billings would grab Rishel.
    The EMTs pulled both men into the fire station, ripping the protective vest off of White, packing his underarm with trauma gauze and putting the vest back on the keep it in place.
    Lant said the men were focused on their patients, but were relieved when they opened the bay doors to drive the ambulances out that sheriff Harris Esluer was there standing guard.
    “He was a brave man. He had walked the alley and had gone in front when we opened the doors. We didn’t know where the bad guy was, so the sheriff was sort of exposing himself to take fire,” Lant said.
    While officers assembled, some from out of town, to search for Beers, the hospital prepared Rishel for transfer.
    Beers’ first shot tore off the tip of Rishel's thumb and struck him in the side. Beers then turned and delivered to fatal shot at White.
    Rishel was able to get one shot off and White shot twice, all missing.
    Kohout said multiple bullets hit a tree trunk across from the parking lot. It has become the thought over the years, he said, that in the darkness the tree might have looked like the shadow of Beers running away.
    Omaha police met the ambulance carrying Rishel on Interstate 29 and escorted it to the hospital. It would take six hours of surgery to keep the 22-year-older alive. A News-Press story said doctors had given him a 65 percent chance of survival.
    Surgeons removed 60 pellets, but 65 remain today. His kidney, gall bladder and liver are damaged.
    When the EMTs reached Rishel, he asked how White was, but even by July 13 no one had told him his partner had died in the attack.
    It is news that Rishel is still processing today and an experience that ended both of their law enforcement careers.
    Rishel attempted to come back to police force by November, but was put on day shift where not he was not familiar. He struggled to know how to answer people's questions and was perplexed by his own.
    "I had no answers for the question of, 'Am I going to shoot, am I going to hesitate," he said. "If you can't decide what you will do, then it's time to think about getting out."
    Even routine calls were stressful and any call that involved a gun caused him to rely heavily on other officers.
    "I finally said I can't do this," he said.
    He left the department and took a job as a driver's license examiner in Kearney.
    In 2008, Rishel wrote a letter to White on the Officer Down Memorial Page.
    Page 4 of 5 - "You and I just wanted to help the people of Nebraska City, that was our calling in life. I know that you are in the hands of the Lord, and you were a great man," he said.
    Kohout said he believes the incident has influenced the police force in Nebraska City and has had a great impact on everyone involved.
    “When we got Rishel to the hospital an Omaha police officer looked at us and shrugged. The officer said if they’re shooting police in Nebraska City, it’s not a small town anymore,’” Kohout said.
    “People say there are benchmark moments in their lives, in that things were never the same. I know it was a benchmark moment for Pete and I know it was for me,” he said.
    Kohout was with White at the hospital trying to reassure him.
    “I had been telling him he was going to be okay that we would take care of him, but he knew,” Kohout said shaking his head. “He literally grabbed my face and pulled me toward him and said ‘I’m not afraid to die.’
    “I said you’re not going to die and he said, ‘Kim, I’m not afraid.”
    Moments later, White was dead.
    By that time, investigators say, the 39-year-old Beers had run from the scene to car he was in the process of buying from David Umphrey of Thurman. He filled the car with gas at Fitzekam’s service station, 112 Third Terrace, and left town.
    Nebraska State Troooper John Adler spotted the vehicle at a rest area near York and found Beers sleeping inside.
    Beers was sentenced to 60 years for shooting Rishel and a life term for killing White.
    He died in prison after serving 16 years, still serving the 60 years. He never began his life sentence.
    His appeals claimed the jury should have been able to consider manslaughter, but the judge said his claim of self defense required the jury to convict or acquit.
    Chief Lacy was a high school homecoming king who worked at the Derby Station when the shooting occurred.
    He said the story encourages officers to stay alert to changes in a person’s state of mind.
    “In a small town there is a certain familiarity with people. You may know someone, but you don’t know what has happened in their life and how that may be affecting their behavior,” he said.
    Lant, a former deputy for the sheriff’s office, has a son, Jeff, currently serving as a police sergeant. He said his son received excellent training in the U.S. Air Force and at the state training center and his family trusts in the purposes of God.
    Page 5 of 5 - “We are concerned, but we don’t worry about his safety,” Lant said. “Poor Gary and Pete were victims of a terrible circumstance. I guess my time as a sheriff’s deputy helped me see it that way,” he said.
    Sgt. Lant said his dad talked to him about what happened, but it didn’t have an impact on his decision to become a police officer.
    It’s impact, he said, has been on officers’ awareness.
    “I think it’s a good reminder, that even in Nebraska City, even in a small town, bad things happen to good people. It’s a good reminder to be careful,” he said.
    Vickie Rhoades, who started working with the police department in 1976, said the shooting changed a lot attitudes about safety.
    “It brought to light that being a police officer in Nebraska City is dangerous job,” she said.
    Kohout said he does not avoid his memories of White or of that night.
    “It was terrible thing that happened, but those memories are what you have to hold on to,” he said.
    Six months after the shooting, Kohout solidified his decision to transfer from the police department to become a firefighter.
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