A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Pitchess Detention Center received the department’s Medal of Valor this week for her courage and heroism witnessed last year when she helped victims shot during the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Dep. Alesha L. Gonzalez was one of 51 LASD members to receive awards for bravery at the Medal of Valor Awards Ceremony held Wednesday at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center.
A half-dozen private citizens were also recognized for bravery, including Gonzalez’ husband, Derek Valiza, who was presented with the Humanitarian Medal.
The couple attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, when suddenly concert patrons began dropping around them.
Gonzalez called the award “a great honor” and certainly not something “expected or asked for.”
She and her husband, she said Friday, stood shoulder-to-shoulder, doing what each of them believed was the right thing to do.
“No one knows how they’re going to react until they’re in that situation,” she said Friday. “We decided to help. If I was shot and fell to the ground I’d like to think someone would do that for me.”
A lot of people were drunk, a lot of people ran, she said, many others helped.
As a couple, each of them sober, they remained together “not even thinking,” Gonzalez said, merely reacting.
It wasn’t until later that the two shuddered to reflect on the event as parents of two children, who could easily have been orphaned — son and a daughter, 13 and 9, respectively.
“Afterwards, I kind of lost it,” Gonzalez said, noting that both she and her husband took advantage of the counselling offered by the LASD. “Our family didn’t even know where we were.”
The first woman whom they helped, who was shot in the chest and the arm, later died, they learned.
“All I know is she was from Riverside,” Gonzalez said. “I would like find her family and talk to her family.”
Her husband, Derek Valiza, remembers that first victim vividly.
“I was squeezing her arm and my thumb was plugging her chest wound,” he said.
Between the time he placed the wounded woman into a car bound for the hospital and running to help the next victim, Valiza said, “I texted my son, just one text: ‘I love you guys.’”
When Valiza later watched he and his wife in a video of the shooting, he called the recorded scene “surreal.”
“At the time, I could hear a guy yelling for a medic, gunfire. It was either fight, flight or freeze,” he said, noting he and his wife chose to fight back by helping others.
Also surreal for the heroic couple was seeing themselves on the cover of People Magazine, within two weeks of the shooting.
In their printed Medal of Valor program, LASD officials described the shooting and brave actions of husband and wife.
Volley of gunfire
“Dep. Gonzalez was listening to the final songs of the evening when the first volley of gunfire rang out,” the LASD wrote in the Medal of Valor programs distributed to event patrons
“She did not know where the shots were coming from, but she was shocked into action by people dropping to the ground around her.
“A woman fell behind her, shot through the chest. The victim’s husband was desperately trying to help her, but cried out he didn’t know what to do. Dep. Gonzalez immediately assisted the victim by providing direct pressure to the gunshot wound.
“She continued her aid as bullets rained down around them, causing the crowd to panic in a frenzied attempt to escape.
“Dep. Gonzalez recognized the grave danger and told her husband that if they stayed, they would die.
“The couple rallied a small group to carry the unconscious victim out of the kill zone. They carried the victim out to the street, trying to stay clear of the sunshots as they fled.
“First responders had not yet arrived, but individuals were helping wherever they could. They loaded the victim and her husband into a passing car for transport to the hospital,” the LASD wrote.
Gonzalez and her husband displayed an extraordinary degree of valor in response to the incident, according to LASD officials, who also noted the pair: “off duty, unarmed and with their lives in danger… exhibited an extraordinary level of bravery while protecting others.
“Their willingness to become involved in this dangerous situation is truly worthy of recognition.”
Every year, department members who perform acts of great courage and heroism, who go above and beyond the call of duty to save the lives of others while placing their own lives at risk, are honored and recognized at the Medal of Valor Awards Ceremony.
The couple’s two “very proud” children attended the award ceremony, Gonzalez said.