One year later, Phoenix police officer continues road to recovery
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A Phoenix police officer continues his recovery one year after being shot multiple times during a search for a suspicious person. Now Officer Tyler Moldovan and his wife, Chelsea, are discussing the ordeal and how he’s improving each day against all odds.
“It’s just mind-blowing to see that, a year later, he’s here talking and breathing on his own,” Chelsea said.
“Things are not as easy as they used to be, but they’re doable,” Tyler said. “Just take every day as it comes and see what happens.” Tyler and Chelsea recently spoke with Ryan Cody, a public information specialist with Phoenix police, about how everything changed early one December morning.
“That day, we were both home getting ready for work,” Chelsea recalled. “He was cutting the palm trees outside with my dad and I was inside; I think I was fixing the Christmas lights because I don’t like how they looked.” She’s a nurse at a Phoenix-area hospital and both went to work that night.
It was just after 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, when 911 received multiple reports of vehicles speeding and driving erratically near 19th Avenue and Camelback Road. Officers from the Phoenix Police Department’s Desert Horizon Precinct were dispatched to the area. Tyler was among the officers who responded, a rookie who had just completed field training after graduating from the police academy in March. He was newly married and young, having just turned 22 in November.
A few blocks away, officers spotted a car matching the description from earlier reports, a black Dodge Charger, turning into an apartment complex near 15th Ave. and Camelback. Police saw the driver get out of the car and jump a fence into the complex. Inside the abandoned car was an empty handgun case. Police set up a perimeter and multiple officers, including Tyler, began searching the apartment complex.
Moments later, Moldovan spotted someone hiding in a covered patio of one of the apartments. The suspect was reportedly on the phone telling someone he was going to jail. What happened next is detailed in information since made available by Phoenix police and court documents.
Moldovan asked the man if he had any weapons, to which the suspect responded that he didn’t, while the officer gave him commands to come out from the patio. The suspect then pulled a handgun from his waistband and opened fire. State prosecutors who later reviewed the officer’s body cam video say that even after Moldovan was wounded and lying on the ground, the suspect continued to shoot him.
Nearby officers heard the gunfire and ran to the area. The suspect had dropped his gun and was trying to pull Moldovan’s handgun from his duty holster. As other officers got closer, he tried even harder to take Moldovan’s gun but was unsuccessful. After a struggle with officers, he was arrested.
Officer Moldovan had been shot multiple times and was rushed to a nearby hospital in critical condition.
Chelsea’s phone rang, but she declined it because it was an out-of-state number, and she assumed it was a spam call. The same number called back immediately, and this time, she answered. “They [police officers] mentioned … something had happened to Tyler. He was in critical condition at St. Joe’s, and they were coming to get me,” she recalled. “I walked by [the officers]. I didn’t say anything in hopes that it wasn’t real. It was very hard to process.”
She said it also felt like a long car ride to the hospital. “All I could think is, how critical? … Was he shot in the femur? Was it a car accident? Was he beaten? I had absolutely no details at that point.”
When Chelsea arrived, she learned Tyler had been shot. She says it was about two hours later that she discovered his injuries’ severity. Doctors determined he had been shot eight times, including once in the head. “When they told me he was shot in the head, I had no words. I could only pray,” she said.
Tyler was placed on life support and was not expected to survive. But when others were saying their goodbyes, Chelsea refused. “There was this peace [she felt] that he was not going to be buried,” she said. “I don’t even know how to explain it, but whenever everyone was talking about funerals when they were having people say goodbye to him, I didn’t.”
Nearly a month after the shooting, Chelsea released a statement thanking the community for the outpouring of support. She said Tyler’s condition had been upgraded to stable but that he had “endured extensive neurologic injuries” and was still on a ventilator. Then on Jan. 24, 2022, he was released from Saint Joseph’s Hospital and taken to a specialized medical facility in another state for rehabilitation.
In March, Chelsea posted videos to Instagram showing his progress. Tyler could lift and squeeze his right hand, where there was no movement before, and could throw a ball with his left hand. It was also around that time that Tyler began coming to grips with what had happened that night.
“I really don’t remember anything about that day. Even that week is kind of blurry,” he said. “I would say maybe March-ish, I was mentally starting to understand what was going on, and then I was like, ‘OK, I got hurt on the job.’”
“I realized I have some stuff that I have to deal with,” Tyler recalled. “And then as time went on, I realized I had more things than I thought that I have to deal with … this may be more serious than I thought.”
He continued to make progress, and on June 2, he was discharged from the facility and allowed to return home. Members of the community lined street sides along the route.
Later that month, Tyler served as an honorary captain in Luis Gonzalez’s Hometown Heroes Community Softball Game, where he was presented with his own personalized badge. His recovery continued, and in early August, a tracheostomy tube was removed.
Just over a month ago, on Nov. 10, Tyler was able to attend the graduation ceremony for his brother, Mathew, who had just completed firefighter training. Tyler even pinned the Phoenix Fire Department badge to his brother’s chest. “It was nerve-wracking because the motor skills aren’t what they used to be … badge-pinning requires some more fine motor skills,” Tyler said. “So before the graduation, I was practicing on my own badge on my own uniform.”
Exactly one year after their lives were forever changed, Tyler and Chelsea say they’re grateful for the support they have received from the police department, community, and beyond. “Thank you is an understatement. The amount of support we’ve received is not something you can gather on your own,” Chelsea said. “We’ve even received prayers and cards, a bunch of things from out of state, even overseas. It’s mind-blowing that there are still people to this day praying for us, rooting us on, or willing to take care of us in any way, shape, or form that they can. We know we won’t be able to repay them.”
“I have no other words but thank you because every single person has been extremely supportive in ways I can’t imagine,” Tyler added. “I’m extremely humbled.”
“I signed up for this knowing that it could happen, and the support, because it did happen, from the department has been exponential. It’s been more than I could ask for,” he continued. “And because they’re so supportive of me, in this time, it makes me want to go back and work. If the department will let me, I’m up to go back.”
Tyler still has more work ahead. He goes to physical, occupational, and speech therapy five days a week. “To me, it just feels like a challenge I have to overcome,” he said.
Chelsea says this Christmas season has been far better than last year. The couple had planned on decorating their Christmas tree later in the day last Dec. 14, but neither of them made it home. “We had a little Christmas tree in his ICU room … so that definitely didn’t go to plan when it’s your first Christmas married,” Chelsea said. “You had all these plans on how you’re going to celebrate it, the traditions you’re going to start … So to be able to actually decorate the tree was the best start to this season.”
Now the couple is looking forward to what’s ahead. “I want to get back to where I was so I can do what I was doing. Going back to work motivates me every day,” Tyler said.
Essa Kolareh Eugene Williams, now 25, was arrested in Officer Moldovan’s shooting. He’s since been charged with multiple crimes, including attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer. Williams had nine prior felony convictions, including armed robbery and aggravated assault, and he was on parole at the time of the shooting.
Watch the Moldovan’s full interview with Phoenix police below:
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