Captain Tommy Carnline, public information officer with the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Department, spoke to eighth grade students at Natchitoches Magnet March 22. His brother Robert Carnline, a teacher at Magnet, invites his brother to speak to the eighth graders every year before they move on to high school.
Magnet’s theme for the 2017-2018 school year is Super Heroes, and Carnline proudly told the students that not all super heroes wear capes. “My brother is my hero,” he said.
Tommy said that much like law enforcement, teaching is a special calling. “It’s humbling for Robert to call me his hero because he’s mine,” said Tommy.
Tommy began speaking to the students by telling them how when he was in the eighth grade he told his father that he wanted to be a police officer. His father said no because police officers don’t make any money. So, Tommy geared his studies toward being a vet.
In the spring of 1978, during Tommy’s tenth grade year, he was carrying his uncle’s six-shooter .22 cal on his family farm in Robeline. Tommy liked guns and practiced shooting often. He had a BB gun that he’d learned a few tricks with such as twirling it and fast draw.
His father saw him wearing his uncle’s gun and told him to take it off. A while later they were heading down to the creek and his uncle asked Tommy to bring the gun in case they ran into any snakes.
Tommy knew but failed to follow the second rule of gun safety. His eyes had been off the gun since his father told him to take it off, but he didn’t recheck it to make sure it was still unloaded when he headed down to the creek with it.
He went to show his aunt a trick that he knew, pulled the gun, cocked it and twirled it, and that second changed all their lives forever. Tommy accidentally shot himself near his collar bone. The bullet severed his carotid artery, ricocheting through his body before lodging in his spine.
His family rushed Tommy to the Natchitoches Hospital as he passed out and began to turn purplish gray. His father prayed as they rode in the ambulance that God might spare Tommy’s life and he immediately turned pink. Arteries aren’t known to clot, but Tommy’s had, which he considers an absolute miracle.
“The choice I made to not recheck my uncle’s gun created consequences I’ve had to live with every day,” he said. “A lot of decisions we make as young people aren’t as profound as this, but the choices we make can shape the rest of our lives, whether it’s gun safety, learning to drive, saying no to drugs, etc…Don’t do anything that could derail your future by making a poor choice that could turn out to have catastrophic consequences.”
Tommy has rolled in his wheelchair for 40 years now, but he’s gotten to do a lot of things in his life including serving on the Rapides Parish SWAT Team for communications and logistics, being appointed by the governor to the LA Rehab Council, serving on details to protect three presidents and two former first ladies, scuba diving, repelling off a tower, being among the first graduating class from Northwestern State University in its vet tech program, and so much more.
“With the amount of things I’ve gotten to do, the limits for all of you are unbelievable,” he told the Magnet students. “Ya’ll can do anything.”