Each day, St. Paul police officer Daniel King carries in his pocket a 12-gauge shotgun slug, a small, benign-looking cylinder weighing just under an ounce that for him has become a powerful talisman of memory and motivation.
It's the same type of slug -- preferred by hunters for its massively destructive effect -- that tore through his left forearm on a terrifying night Oct. 23 on St. Paul's East Side, shattering his bones and leaving a large, now massively scarred, elliptical exit wound and paralysis in his thumb and two fingers.
"It reminds me that I'm lucky to be here," said King, who with his partner, officer Brian Wanschura, on Thursday described the ambush near the Police Department's Eastern District Office at the hands of a heavily armed young man who had been behaving erratically, then was killed when officers returned fire in a frantic blur lasting only minutes.
And the slug helps push King down his tough road of physical therapy so that he can return to a job he loves, despite those extraordinary dangers. "I want to come back. I want to come back just to prove to myself, above all, that I can come back from something like this," he said. "I really enjoy the work."
With King at the wheel of their marked squad car, he and Wanschura were taking a break about 11:30 p.m. from their night of patrolling, parked in the shadows near the Hope Community Academy charter school near the intersection of Payne and Minnehaha Avenues. A call had come in that a man, later identified as Chue Xiong, 22, had stolen a shotgun and a compound hunting bow from his brother's home and had left the house nearby. Xiong walked past the car.
"He didn't see us," King said. "We saw what appeared to be a pipe or a weapon on his back, and it clicked right away that this could easily be the guy."
As Xiong headed toward the school, the officers followed in their car, and Xiong ran into a small parking lot lined by a grassy area and a row of trees. As the car turned in to the lot, Xiong was waiting.
"I saw him begin to remove the shotgun, and I fired one round at him. I missed," King said. "As we pulled into the parking lot, we began taking rounds."
The first round hit King's forearm, whizzed past Wanschura's chest and through the passenger door. The second hit King again, this time in his back in an area not shielded by his bulletproof vest. A third shot smacked the side of the car.
Wanschura dove out of the still-rolling car, returning fire and repelling Xiong, who had been trying to move in closer. King scrambled out the passenger-side door, away from the line of fire, as more officers arrived.
"I thought the arm was gone, so I wrote the arm off," King said. "[I told myself] 'I've got to stop the bleeding, I've got to live through this.'"
The two partners lost track of each other. Wanschura said he heard King screaming but had no idea how hurt he was and was focused initially on Xiong. King feared for Wanschura. "I just wanted to hear him and make sure he was still with us," King said. "It was chaos."
Besides the semiautomatic shotgun, Xiong was also armed with hunting knives and throwing stars. The bow was never found.
King said he would not hesitate to go through the ordeal again if it would mean preventing others from being hurt.
A standard grand jury review of the incident last month found the officers had acted properly. King, 45, is an 11-year veteran of the force, and Wanschura, 32, has been with the department nearly five years. In addition to the police training they credit with their quick reaction, both officers also have military experience -- King served several years in the Army Reserve and Wanschura served in the National Guard, including a tour in Iraq.
"It happened so quickly," Wanschura said. "You always train and mentally prepare yourself for if a day like this ever comes. ... I'm just glad they teach the warrior mindset here."
Wanschura, who King says saved his life -- "I owe him everything" -- is back on the streets. Like King, his partner of three years, there was never a doubt about returning to the job.
"It wasn't easy for me to come back, to be honest with you, because of the way our partnership ended," Wanschura said. "... When you get that close to dying, it really makes you sit down and look at things. But this is all I've ever wanted to do, is being a cop. I can't imagine doing anything else."
Difficult as it is, both officers added, their families are supportive.
King said his mom dreads the day he returns to duty, "but she knows it's something I love. And my wife supports me no matter what, so I'm pretty fortunate."
Having been married during his deployment, Wanschura said he also has an understanding wife. "She knows that God has the number of my days," he said. Although if he faces a similar incident, he quipped, she might push for him "to become a barber or something."
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson