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Obama honors 13 police officers with Medal of Valor

President Obama honored 13 public safety officers with the Medal of Valor May 16. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Reuters)
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President Obama on Monday honored 13 police officers who have performed extraordinary acts of bravery, awarding the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to men and women who had suffered stab wounds and burn wounds and had defused tense hostage situations to protect members of their communities.

The honorees hailed from large and small police departments across the country, from Florida's Miami-Dade County to Midwest City, Okla. The incidents involved a mass shooting on the campus of Santa Monica College as well as the captivity of a 2-year-old girl, and in the case of Philadelphia officer Robert Wilson III, the loss of his life.

"It’s been said that perfect valor is doing without witnesses what you would do if the whole world were watching," Obama said. "The men and women who run toward danger remind us with your courage and humility what the highest form of citizenship looks like."

"But their bravery, if it had not been for their bravery, we likely would have lost a lot of people -- mothers,  fathers, sons, daughters, friends and loved ones," he said. "They did it instinctively. This is an award that none of them sought. And if they could go back in time, I suspect they’d prefer none of this had happened."

Obama also made a point of thanking the families of these officers, including in the case of Wilson, who was off duty in a video game store buying his son a present in March 2015 when two men held up the store. He was shot multiple times as he kept others out of the store, and the two suspects were ultimately apprehended.

Stopping to buy his son a present, Officer Wilson died trying to prevent an armed robbery

"We know that you wait up late, and you’re worried and you're counting down the minutes until your loved one walks through the door, safe, after a long shift.  We know it never gets easier, and we thank you for that," he said to the officers' families, before specifically thanking Wilson's surviving relatives. "To his family who’s here -- his grandmother, Constance, his brother and sister -- please know how deeply sorry we are for your loss, how grateful we are for Sergeant Wilson’s service."

Other honorees included Miami-Dade Officer Mario Gutierrez, who suffered several stab wounds as he subdued a knife-wielding assailant attempting to set off a gas explosion; Santa Monica police officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks and Capt. Raymond Bottenfield, a member of the campus police force, who intervened during a campus shooting; Midwest City, Okla., Maj. David Huff, who defused a hostage situation; and Los Angeles Police Department officer Donald Thompson, who pulled an unconscious man to safety from a car that then burst into flames.

New York state boasted two honorees, including Johnson City patrolman Louis Cioci, who pursued and apprehended a suspect in a crowded hospital after the assailant had killed an officer; and deputy Joey Tortorella in Niagara County, who subdued a gunman after he had shot and wounded his parents, thereby preventing a potential shooting at a nearby elementary school.

Officer Gregory Stevens of Garland, Tex., prevented a mass shooting by exchanging gunfire with two assailants at close range, while Omaha Police Department officer Coral Walker single-handedly incapacitated a man who had killed others on a shooting spree in Nebraska. North Miami Police Department officer Niel Johnson managed to end a violent crime spree by a man who had shot a Miami police officer and two other innocent bystanders.

One Federal Bureau of Investigation officer made the list: Special Agent Tyler Call, who was off duty with his family when he helped rescue a woman who was being held at gunpoint by her ex-husband.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said that although the natural instinct would be to take shelter during such violent confrontations, "they ran toward the sounds of gunfire that were in the air."

Obama noted he had just signed multiple pieces of legislation in honor of National Police Week, including one that would provide additional funds so police departments across the United States could buy more bulletproof vests. That measure gives preferential consideration to grant applications seeking to provide bulletproof vests uniquely fitted to officers, including female officers.

"We can show our respect by listening to you, learning from you, giving you the resources that you need to do the jobs. That’s the mission of our police task force, which brought together local law enforcement, civil rights and faith leaders, and community members to open dialogue and build trust and find concrete solutions that make your jobs safer," he said. "Our country needs that right now."

And he noted that all police officers should be honored for the "daily grind" they experience on the job.

"Although this particular moment for which you are being honored is remarkable, we also know that every day you go out there you’ve got a tough job," he said.