ALLIANCE, Neb. — After a gunman held Charles “Chas'' Lierk hostage for more than seven hours, he sprinted for his life, got shot in the arm and back, and made it through 90 minutes of emergency surgery.
Later, in a quiet moment, the Alliance pharmacist turned to his wife of nearly 38 years and asked how she endured the day.
“I was scared. There were times when I cried, but I was surprisingly calm,” said Ellen Lierk. “He said to me, ‘I was, too.'”
Lierk said his nonconfrontational personality and a willingness to take a gigantic risk at the right moment made it possible to see his wife and three children again. He also credited the power of prayer.
“It got me out alive,” he said.
The couple gave their first interview Friday, three days after Lierk escaped from an armed standoff that lasted more than 14 hours and left three law officers with bullet wounds.
Andres Gonzalez, 27, died Tuesday after exchanging gunfire with members of the Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team who stormed the building. Authorities say he admitted to killing his father, Larry Gonzalez, and a friend, Joshua Bullock, in the days and months before the standoff.
Although they've lived in Alliance all of their adult lives, the Lierks have strong connections to Omaha. Chas Lierk, an Alliance native, obtained his pharmacy degree at Creighton University in 1974. Ellen Lierk, born and raised in Omaha, also graduated from Creighton.
Chas, wearing a heavy bandage over his right forearm and wrist, declined to discuss what happened inside the pharmacy, saying the matter remains under investigation.
He thanked the many law enforcement officers who responded to the standoff, putting themselves in harm's way. And he also thanked the doctors and nurses who cared for him at Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance.
He received myriad well-wishes from friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. A banner signed by dozens of townspeople hung above his porch. A photo of him at home, posted on Facebook, had received nearly 400 “likes” by late Friday afternoon.
“The community really went through this with us,” Ellen Lierk said.
The couple bought Thiele Pharmacy and Gifts in 1974 and have been in business together ever since. They have 18 employees.
Staff members have been working to reopen the business in a temporary location.
Two of their children, Brian Lierk and Jessica Martin, have returned to be with their parents. Their son Kyle Lierk is in Vietnam but plans to be in Alliance early next week.
Martin also brought along her infant daughter.
“She's the best medicine,” Ellen Lierk said.
Despite going through one of the most traumatic experiences imaginable, Chas Lierk's humor remained intact.
“I told the kids ‘I had to figure out some way to get you home for Father's Day,'” he said.
While he was in the hospital, one of the nurses who took him on a walk asked if she was going too fast.
“I said ‘Just don't run. I'm not doing any more running this week,' ” he said.
His run on Tuesday led him to a sheriff's deputy and state trooper who were stationed outside the pharmacy. They called for an ambulance and tried to stanch the severe bleeding from his arm.
He couldn't believe what he saw when he arrived at the hospital.
“There were at least 40 hospital staff waiting for me,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Ellen Lierk spent part of the day waiting at the Police Department. She had returned home with friends when she got the call her husband had escaped. She and Brian Lierk got to see him minutes later as he was being prepped for surgery.
“It was just such a relief,” she said.
The bullet that struck his arm shattered a bone and severed an artery. Surgeons tied off the artery and inserted a plate in his arm to take the place of his bone.
The prognosis is good for a full recovery, Lierk said as he wiggled his fingers.
A bullet fragment is lodged in his back, in muscle tissue near his spine. The doctors decided to leave it there rather than risk more damage by removing it.
Ellen Lierk mentioned that during her time waiting at the Police Department, she saw the family of the gunman.
“We have nothing but compassion for the Gonzalez family, nothing but compassion,” she said, fighting back her emotions. Her husband nodded in agreement.
In some of the quiet hours since the ordeal, Lierk said, he's caught himself thinking “What if?” But on Friday, he decided he won't allow himself to do that anymore.
“We're going to live where we are now,” he said.
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