Wounded Auburn Officer discusses miraculous recovery and heartfelt gratitude

Local News

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Auburn Police Officer Justin Sanders and his family invited News 3 into their home on Monday to share an update on Sanders’ recovery and thank the community for their unwavering support after Sanders was shot in the line of duty.

On February 15th, Officer Sanders was shot multiple times during a traffic stop.  Sanders was critically injured, with bullet wounds to his pelvis, chest, and face. His jaw was shattered by a bullet.

Monday, Sanders told News 3 he remains overwhelmed by the love he has felt from his family, girlfriend, law enforcement brothers and sisters, medical team and the Auburn community.

“It is what probably helped me get better as fast as I did. I had unlimited text messages, phone calls. School kids wrote notes, and the money has been great, it has helped out a lot. But I really think what helped out the most was the community’s constant support.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or work for any other community,” shared Sanders.

Jesse and Melinda Sanders agree the community has been behind them every step of the way. They say the entire city of Auburn, starting with Mayor Ron Anders, Police Chief Paul Register and Captain Scott Mingus have been supportive and comforting.

Local businesses have helped raise money for Sander’s recovery. A GoFundMe page raised thousands of dollars, from donors all over America.

Thousands of letters and cards poured in. Sanders’ favorite cards are from children and students who drew him pictures and sent him sweet messages of encouragement.

Others planned special events to cheer him up during a lengthy recovery that continues. His family got to meet Alabama Coach Nick Saban. Sanders says despite being born and raised in Auburn, he’s an Alabama Fan. AU’s Bo Jackson also gave him a phone call.

Sanders’ brothers and sisters in blue will often call or message and stop by for visits. Sanders and his family have felt loved during times of uncertainty and fear.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, watching our son go through something of this magnitude. And the community has just been outstanding,” shared his mom, Melinda Sanders.

Sanders suffered two bullet wounds to his pelvis, one wound in his chest that exited in two locations and a bullet to his face, that shattered his jaw.

“I lost my teeth, and I was wired shut for six weeks, but all of that is coming back together now. For sure, not being able to eat for eight weeks was the hardest part of my recovery.   Eating out of a syringe was horrible, but I made the best of it. When I first got there, I was told I would be there four to six weeks in the hospital. 11 days later, getting escorted back home,” shared Sanders.

Sanders’ quick recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. Sanders recently learned he would not have to undergo another major surgery on his jaw. Instead, his doctors are pleased with the progress he is making. They will remove some metal plates at a later date. This was welcomed news.

“My son is a fighter. He’s always been a very strong young man.  He fought that night and continues to fight. It’s an uphill battle and continues to be for all of us,” shared Melinda.
Officer Sanders says emotionally, he is doing very well.

“I’ve always tried to be a strong-minded person. But the worst part is seeing my family. They have been emotionally hurt through this and watching them go through that has been the most difficult part for me,” he shared.

The Sanders are a close-knit family. They are durable and supportive. They love fiercely and after the shooting, enjoy spending even more time together. They are deeply appreciative for the way friends and strangers have supported them both near and far.

For the community, Officer Sanders is a source of hope in a time of sorrow.      Lee County has experienced a catastrophic year. The March 3rd tornados killing 23 in Beauregard was the worst natural disaster in Lee County History.  

The Auburn Police Department experiencing back-to-back officer shootings, one who killed Auburn Police Office Will Buechner and two more Auburn officers injured answering a domestic violence call last month.

Officer Sanders isn’t ready to speak openly with the public about the events that led to his shooting the night of February 15th.  Sanders also says it’s too difficult to talk of Officer Buechner’s slaying.

Officer Sanders does understand his service, sacrifice, and survival are a source of hope for many during times of sorrow.
“Times have been rough in Lee County, but times will get better. It’s a great community, and everybody has been here for each other through all the events we’ve faced. In time, it will get better, I believe,” shared Sanders.
Monday was a good day in Auburn. Officer Sanders is recovering well,  and once again, we are seeing firsthand how deeply this community supports one another in times of need.          

Officer Sanders plans on getting back to policing in the city of Auburn as soon as he is cleared by his doctors.  The Sanders family covets prayers for all first responders.


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