The day she was shot in the jaw during a rampage on Florida’s Turnpike, Key Biscayne Officer Nelia Real thought she was a dead woman.
Fragments from the bullet were found in her face, lungs, larynx and her carotid artery.
“When it happened, the first thing I thought was ‘I’m going to die,’ ” Real said Thursday, exactly two weeks after David Edwin Bradley shot two law enforcement officers before turning the gun on himself. Bradley died; his victims survived.
Flanked by life partner Yolanda Dearmas, Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press and Key Biscayne Mayor Franklin Caplan, Real, 54, talked about her recovery and her gratitude to the community for all the well wishes. Even someone she’d once arrested sent her a get-well card, Real said.
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Real’s injuries include a severed larynx, which makes it difficult to speak, a damaged nerve that has caused numbness and loss of feeling on the left side of her face. Her face seemed swollen and her voice low and hoarse. But despite her injuries, Real was able to clearly recall the events of the day.
“I remember everything up until I arrived at the hospital,” Real said.
She was driving home, when she passed a crash on the turnpike. She did what she does every day — stop to respond to what she thought was an accident. What she didn’t know was that it was that a distraught Bradley, who had already committed at least two carjackings, held up a barber shop, engaged a man in a shootout, and then crashed his second stolen car on the turnpike.
Bradley was armed, and in a panic.
He shot through the window of Real’s car when she pulled over.
Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Osvaldo Petitfrere happened to be driving on the turnpike when he saw the bloody Real holding her neck. He pulled over.
Real walked over to his car and immediately placed her legs on the rear bumper to help prevent further blood loss.
“Basically my training kicked in immediately,” Real said.
She was able to get into his car by her own will and Petitfrere put the lights on and sped to Memorial Regional Hospital.
“He’s my hero,’’ Real said of Petitfrere. “If he wouldn’t have been there I wouldn’t be here today.”
Despite the pain and emotional stress, Real holds no ill will toward Bradley.
“I have no ill feelings toward that man, even though he did what he did,’’ she said.
In the days after the shooting, she learned of the events like everyone else, watching TV during her recovery. Real says that when she saw Bradley’s family on TV she immediately forgave him.
Alecia Bradley described her brother as a generous and outgoing person who smiled so much one of his nicknames was “Dimples.’’
She couldn’t imagine what drove him that day to commit the crime spree, but said he might have been pushed to the edge after losing his job at a Miami restaurant.
“The person I saw out there was not the person I saw on TV,’’ Real said. “The person I saw was like possessed. I feel for his family.”
Real’s own recovery process will be slow. Her injurers will require therapy and she’ll have to continue seeing several doctors.
But one thing she’s certain of — to be out of the hospital.
“It was a good feeling to sleep in my own bed,” Real said. “I’m happy to be home.”
Real has been planning to retire in about 18 months, but Chief Press said her job is ready for her whenever she’s ready to return to the Key Biscayne department.
“I think we have a miracle here,” Press said. “But in a miracle it is going to be a lot for Nelly to recover.”
Friends and colleagues were not surprised that on the day Real was shot, she had stopped to help a distressed driver far outside of her jurisdiction.
Real, a 16-year veteran, leads the Key Biscayne Police Department’s DUI enforcement program, and was to be honored this month by the Miami-Dade chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“I was simply doing my job, a job that I loved,” Real said. “I would do it again if I had to.”
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Key Biscayne Mayor Franklin Caplan.