On Dec. 2, 2015, as the country stood affixed to the terrorist attack unfolding in San Bernardino, little did anyone in Turlock know that it was a former resident helping bring the incident to an end.
Joseph Aguilar, a 2001 graduate of Turlock High School, is an officer with the Redlands Police Department and was one of the six law enforcement officers that ended the terror being perpetrated by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik on that day.
On Sept. 12, Aguilar and the other law enforcement officers were presented with the Public Safety Medal of Valor from Gov. Jerry Brown and California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris.
“It still doesn’t quite feel real,” Aguilar said of his involvement. "I feel like I was just doing my job.”
On the morning of Dec. 2, 2015, Farook and his wife Malik opened fire upon attendees of a holiday banquet for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health at the Inland Regional Center. The eruption of gunfire left 14 people dead and 22 seriously wounded. The two suspects fled the scene, but soon investigators had indentified their vehicle and knew they lived at a home in Redlands.
“Everyone in law enforcement was looking for that vehicle,” Aguilar said. “I kept getting texts from my family and friends if I was involved and I kept telling them ‘no that’s further away’ but then all of a sudden it wasn’t.”
Around 3 p.m. that day the black sports utility vehicle the couple was in was spotted near a home in Redlands. The pair led law enforcement on a brief pursuit before launching an assault on the officers that lasted more than five minutes.
San Bernardino Police Department Officer Nicholas Koahou saw that a deputy was pinned down and in need of rescue. Koahou shot at Farook, who exited the SUV. Malik, still inside the SUV, focused attention on the pinned down deputy, and as Koahou moved towards the deputy, he was shot in his left leg and fell. Koahou continued to return fire.
Law enforcement personnel quickly devised a plan to use a patrol vehicle as a moving cover to rescue Koahou and the pinned down deputy. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Chad Johnson drove a patrol vehicle, with Aguilar joined by San Bernardino Police Department Officer Brian Olvera, and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Deputy Bruce Southworth on foot, taking cover behind the vehicle. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Rafael Ixco drove another vehicle and followed Johnson's vehicle to create additional cover.
As both vehicles and the officers on foot moved forward, Malik shot at them, with Officers Olvera and Aguilar and Deputy Southworth returning fire. Officer Koahou and the pinned down deputy were successfully removed by the team and taken to a safe area. Both suspects were killed at the scene. Inside the suspects' vehicle, two handguns, 200 rounds of handgun ammunition and 1,400 rounds of assault rifle ammunition were found.
"For extraordinary bravery, heroism and courage in the face of imminent and personal life-threatening peril, Redlands Police Officer Aguilar, San Bernardino Police Officers Koahou and Olvera, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Corporals Ixco and Johnson and Deputy Southworth's actions were above and beyond the call of duty, and exemplify the highest standards of a California public safety officer,” the governor’s office stated in a released statement.
“I was in shock,” Aguilar said of receiving the Medal of Valor. “It is such a tremendous honor.”
Aguilar’s family didn’t learn of his involvement until after the ordeal had ended and their pride in him is only equaled to their relief that he wasn’t injured or killed.
“We are so proud of him that we can’t hardly stand it,” said Aguilar’s grandmother and Turlock resident Faith Eskue.