Unarmed officer tackles gunman to end brutal home invasion
Produced by Shoshanah Wolfson and Sara Rodriguez
[This story was first broadcast on May 19]
(CBS News) St. Louis, Mo. -- She was shot five times at point-blank range; now a brave police officer tells her riveting story of survival.
Isabella Lovadina: I was so proud when I became a police officer. I knew that it was not a job that a lot of people can do. And it made me feel so good that I could go out there and do that.
I knew that I wanted to do something that was gonna make a difference and that I could help people.
Nick Koenig: I met Isabella -- on an accident.
Isabella Lovadina: I knew that he was a fireman and was wearing all his fire gear. And every girl thinks that's attractive [chuckles], or most women.
Nick Koenig: I thought, "How cool is this? This beautiful, little, petite girl that's, you know, a police officer." It was literally love at first sight.
Isabella Lovadina: He seemed like he would be really kind.
In October of 2009, Nick and I were taking an EMT class together.
Nick Koenig: I said, "Why don't you come over to my grandmother's house. We could have dinner. And -- after dinner, we can study together."
Isabella Lovadina: I really -- felt comfortable in that house. There was just a really warm feeling. I'm sure the people that lived there, you know, Nick's family, had a lot to do with why I felt that way.
Nick Koenig: Isabella and I finished studying around 12:30.
Isabella Lovadina: Nick always walked me outside and -- to watch me get in the car, make sure I was safe.
Nick Koenig: I walked her out to car and she put away her gun and her bulletproof vest.
Isabella Lovadina: I went back to give Nick a hug goodbye. It was only a matter of -- a minute before I heard tires squealing.
Nick Koenig: I remember her eyes getting really big and I see the fear in her eyes.
And I turn and right as I'm turning there's two black males walking really fast at us with their guns drawn.
Isabella Lovadina: One of them said... "Give me whatever you got." And I said, "I don't have anything."
I can't give him my car keys because I have a gun in the car.
Nick Koenig: And right away they point towards my grandmother's house.
Isabella Lovadina: One of the guys said, "Who's in the house?"
Nick Koenig: I said, "Please leave, there's women and children in that house."
Isabella Lovadina: I knew that there was two little boys in there, I knew that Nick's grandmother and aunt were sleeping inside.
I knew that it wasn't gonna end there. I knew that they weren't just gonna leave. ...Then they directed us at gunpoint to go inside.
Right when we get into the house ...they became very angry, it was "Put your f---ing head on the ground, I'll kill you."
Nick Koenig: They're going to kill us all [sighs].
Isabella Lovadina: My mind just went into police mode. What am I going to do to keep everybody in this house safe... and get them out?
Isabella Lovadina: We got down on our knees in the hallway...and it's a very narrow, long hallway, and we were facing the wall.
I was constantly peeking at them, trying to...memorize their features, what they were wearing, any kind of description I could give to the police.
One of 'em was wearing a red hoodie and dark pants. The other one was wearing a black hoodie. ...The guy in the black hoodie...kneeled down behind me. And he leaned over and I could feel his breath on my ear. ...And in a very sexual way grabbed my butt. At that point I started to think, "I'm gonna be raped tonight." I started to prepare myself to be raped.
Nick Koenig: I remember gettin' so angry. And I tried to get up a little bit, and right away he stuck the gun to my head and said, "I'll blow your brains out." He made me feel [pauses] just really small.
I remember seein'...the guy in the red hoodie go upstairs ... My grandmother was there, my Aunt Rosie, and my cousin, Gina, was there with her kids -- Ben and Sam.
Rose Whitrock | Nick's aunt: I'm not sure what time it was. And I heard my daughter Gina crying at the foot of my bed.
And I immediately woke up and I said to Gina, "Are you sick?" Because...she had been in the hospital. ...And when I turned to my left, I saw -- a man in a red hoodie next to my bed with a gun. And he was telling me to get up.
He pointed the gun at Gina and said, "Get the TV." By that time, Gina was crying, and said, "I can't lift it, it's too heavy." He told her that he was gonna shoot her if she did not -- pick up that TV.
Gina was diagnosed at 19 with stomach cancer.
From being sick when she was younger, she had a chronic illness. And so a couple times a year she would end up in the hospital overnight. That night...I went to the hospital to pick Gina up. Talked her into coming to spend the night. She really didn't want to.
In all the times, in all the years that I brought Gina home from the hospital, this...was the only time that I brought her to my house.
Isabella Lovadina: I saw Gina carrying this large -- older television down the stairs and -- and the guy in the red hoodie had the gun pointed to her back following her down. And once she got downstairs and knelt down next to me ... all she wanted -- all she asked was if it was OK, if she could check on her kids. They just yelled back, "I'll kill you, bitch. Shut up. Put your head on the ground."
Tears were rolling down her face and...she looked directly at me and she said, "Oh my God, Isabella, please help."
And I felt so helpless...I was playin' scenarios in my head of, "How can I get my gun out of the car and help people?" I -- I just kept trying to think of a way.
Rose and Ida...were brought downstairs.
One of the gunmen directed Gina to go down to the basement with him. ...I believed that they were gonna rape her down there ... I stood up and I turned around and I said, "Gina you stay here I'll go down there... After I stood up...they said every one go down in the basement.
I thought I was going to die, I thought everyone was going to die... And that was my breaking point. I thought, "I'm not gonna let this happen... I'm not gonna go out that way."
I looked down the barrel of the gun...and with everything that I had in me, I -- lunged [gasps] towards the guy with the black hoodie and -- and just began to fight.
Rose Whitrock: He was airborne into the front door -- she literally threw him into the air.
At that point, Nicholas jumped up.
Nick Koenig: The guy in the red hoodie...I'm wrestling with him. It happened so fast.
Rose Whitrock: I ran out the door and as soon as the door slammed I heard...Pow, pow. Bam, bam, bam.
Nick Koenig: I remember hearin' a bunch of gunfire. Pop, pop, pop
Rose Whitrock | Nick's aunt: I thought, "Should I go back in there? I gotta try and get help. I gotta-- I have to try to get the police here."
I did not know who had survived or who had died.
I started just running up to random doors screaming and pounding on the doors, begging for somebody to open the door. Nobody would open their door. I just kept running. I'd run down one set of steps and run up another set. Please let me in [tears up].
Nick Koenig: I turn and all I see is Isabella down on the floor-- in a fetal position. And the guy in the black hoodie is standing right over her, just shootin' her, shootin' her, and shootin' her.
Isabella Lovadina: I looked down and I saw blood on my-- on my t-shirt. And at that point I realized that I had been shot in the chest.
Nick Koenig: Then I feel an explosion from my neck. And then, right after that, I can feel warm blood just dripping down the whole front of my chest. ...Then they were gone...they must have run out of the house.
Isabella Lovadina: I remember people screaming, "Where's the cell phone? We don't have a cell phone." Nobody could find the cell phone to call 911. Ida was screaming, "Where's Rose? They took Rose."
Ida Rask | Nick's grandmother: I couldn't find Rosie. And I panicked.
I don't know where my daughter is, they must have taken her. Where's Rose? Where's Rose?
Rose Whitrock: Finally, I ran to the end of the street. And there was a light on. And I saw a woman in there. And I was begging and screaming for her to open the door and let me in. But she wouldn't let me in.
Nick Koenig: I remember Isabella crawling towards me saying, "Nick, Nick, I can't breathe. ...I said, "Bella, Bella, everything's gonna be OK. Just stay with me. Keep your eyes open and keep breathing." And I said, "Hold on one second," because I saw [long pause with tears in his eyes] -- I saw Gina layin' there. ...Her eyes were wide open.
Ida Rask: I kept thinking maybe she passed out or they knocked her out.
Nick Koenig: And her son, Sam, was right behind me and said, "Nick, is my Mommy OK?" I said, "Honey, she's -- she's OK, she fainted. She's gonna be OK."
I didn't know what else to say to him.
While all this chaos is going on in the house, somehow, Sam is able to find a cell phone and he makes a call to 911.
Sam on phone: Hello, is this 911?
911 operator: It is, can I help you?
Sam: We've got three people shot and we've been robbed.
911 operator: Did they come into your home?
Sam: They came into my grandma's home, I'm at my grandma's. We're at 902 Hickory.
Isabella Lovadina: It just began to get more difficult for me to breathe. My eyes kept closing, my head kept dropping.
Nick Koenig: "Bella, hang in there. There's an ambulance on the way -- just stay with me. Stay with me."
Rose Whitrock: Then I heard sirens. And I thought, I'm just gonna run back to the house, because, thank God, the police are finally here.
Officer Lori Brewer | St. Louis Police Department : We see a female running down the street in her night gown, she's waving her hands over her head. She states over and over again, "My God, they're shot. Everybody's shot."
I'm yelling to the female, "How many are shot? Are the suspects gone?" All she keeps saying is "They're shot, she's a police officer, she's shot."And at that point, I ran as fast as I could towards that home.
The night watch sergeant was on the scene and he just turned and looked and said, "It's Izzie." I knew immediately he was referring to Officer Lovadina. I wasn't sure how bad she was hit.
Once I got through the door ...there was a look of relief on her face that there were police officers there.
Rose Whitrock: It was chaos. There were police cars and paramedics and ambulance.
Nick Koenig: I said, "Look, my cousin, go get my cousin."
Rose Whitrock: I just remember bringing Isabella out on a gurney, bringing Nick out.
Where's Gina? Why aren't they bringing Gina out? I just had a really, really bad feeling.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt | St. Louis Police Department: I hate bullies. I've always hated bullies. And criminals are bullies.
My pager went off. The text message on the pager was that a police officer had been shot and uh, I knew I had to get to the scene right away. And I knew that responsibility was going to fall heavily on me. To make sure that everything got done properly. ...And as I'm walking up, I'm seeing officers walking away from the scene. Some of them are crying. And all have that stunned look on their face 'cause a police office just got shot. ...I felt a lot of pressure not to make any mistakes.
I immediately assigned two detectives to process the crime scene. I needed to assign detectives to take care of those two small kids. I need to make sure that they get with somebody that's gonna comfort them. ...These little kids that were there, you know, they -- they're defenseless. Gina Stallis -- was defenseless.
Isabella Lovadina: When I woke up from my first surgery at the hospital [fights back tears] they told me that Gina didn't make it. And-- and I had this overwhelming sense of -- guilt. Maybe if I would have trained a little bit harder and be -- taken a gun away from some -- body. Maybe if I would have done -- a better job that she'd still be here.
Rose Whitrock | Nick's aunt: The kids really didn't know until I told them the next morning that their mom had died. Although I believe that Sam already knew that. He saw a lot. Way too much for a little boy that's 10 years old.
She was a single mom. She loved being a mom to those two boys. I mean Gina was all they had. ...She did everything for them.
Sam and Ben know how wonderful Gina was, but most of us get to experience that for our whole lives, about how great our mom is, and uh, they just won't have that.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt: And I sent two detectives to St. Louis University Hospital to interview Nick and Isabella if possible...so we can get some information, better descriptions, or anything else that we can glean to help find these guys.
Officer Lori Brewer | St. Louis Police Department : Nick was being tended to by doctors and I asked if he could give me more of a description ... now that he's had a little bit of time. The doctor yelled "No, nobody's coming in here," Nick yelled right back "No she's coming in, she's getting a description."
Nick Koenig: So I told one of the detectives that...they both had sneakers on...dark pants...one individual had a red hoodie and one individual had a black hoodie. The individual with the red hoodie had two gold teeth.
I was shot three times...and I have one bullet that went just under my ear and it traveled through the back of my neck, hit my spinal cord. ...The doctor came in and said we're not going to operate on you. It's gonna be too risky. You could get paralyzed. ...And now the bullet sits vertically up and down in front of my C1.
AT ANOTHER HOSPITAL ACROSS TOWN
Beth Orwick | Prosecutor: A short time after the robbery at 902 Hickory a man goes to the ER at Barnes Hospital here in the city of St. Louis.
He's there because he's been shot in his hand. ...He tells the people in the ER that he's a victim himself. And he tells him he was shot during -- a botched robbery, basically. The police were notified that there was a gunshot victim at Barnes Hospital ER.
A very smart and astute X-ray tech takes note of several things while she is -- treating him.
She notices that he has gold teeth. And he starts talking to her and he asks her to take away his red hooded sweatshirt because it's covered in blood. ...The X-ray technician told the police officer what she observed. She told him that she just felt something was not right.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt: We got information that there was a potential suspect that was being admitted to Barnes with an injury to his hand. And that he fit the description of one of the people involved in this crime.
Beth Orwick: When they walk out the front doors of the ER...police officers...see the man in the red hooded sweatshirt's...car parked out front. And standing right next to the car is another man... The police officer follows this man in to Forest Park and he sees him throw an object to the ground. ...And he feels that this man is involved and he does a search of this man and he finds jewelry belonging to Ida Rask in his pocket.
He's put under arrest. Another officer is brought in to help look for the object that was thrown down to the ground. And as they search that area in Forest Park where that man walked they find the black gun.
After the man in the park is arrested he tells the police his name and it is determined that he was the man in the black hooded sweatshirt and his name is Mario Coleman. The man inside the hospital was the man wearing the red hooded sweatshirt, and his name is Ledale Nathan.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt: Getting people convicted in court, somebody has to stand up and say, "That's the one who did it. I saw him do it."
It was-- it was very, very important that Nick or Isabella identified them, because Rose and Ida Rask could not identify 'em.
Isabella Lovadina: When Sergeant Engelhardt came to the hospital and showed me the photo lineup, And I -- I felt like I was carryin' around the weight of the world.
Isabella Lovadina: I remember one of the doctors telling me that I had been shot three times -- point blank to the front side of my body. And after falling down to the ground I was shot two more times.
I felt like I fell into a black hole...mentally. I didn't think that I would ever feel any better.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt | St. Louis Police Department: Isabella's laying -- in bed. She has IVs attached to her. She has heart monitors attached to her. There's beeping and buzzing of the machines.
I was just very, very nervous talking to her cause I admire so much what she did.
I told Isabella -- that we're really confident that -- that we had the people responsible. But I told her, "Hey, you know what you gotta do. You gotta point to the guy."
Isabella Lovadina: I was very fearful that I wasn't going to be able to do it.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt: I could see her eyes start to well up with tears
Isabella Lovadina: I still had so many different emotions
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt: I show Isabella -- two sheets. Mario Coleman's on one, Ledale Nathan's on another one.
Isabella Lovadina: I do remember that there was different faces. They all had similar features.
I instantly pointed to each one of them. And said, "These are the guys."
Mario Coleman is the guy that was wearing the black hoodie and that had the silver gun. He was the shooter. And Ledale Nathan Jr. is the guy that was wearing the red hoodie.
Beth Orwick | Prosecutor: These two men went into this house and they literally terrorized four generations of this family.
Mario Coleman and Ledale Nathan were charged acting together in this crime. They were both charged with murder in the first degree.
John Bird | Prosecutor: As a prosecutor every case becomes personal to you.
Rose had called me-- and asked if I would talk to Sam who was 9 at the time.
Rose Whitrock | Nick's aunt: We were sitting in the waiting room. John came out to get Sam. And I said, "Would you like for me to come in?" He said, "No, Gram, I think I will just go and talk to him by myself."
John Bird: He came down in a school uniform. And he sat down, and he pulled out his note card-- he had this little 3 x 5 note card. And he had a series of five or six questions written on the note card.
He wanted to know, you know, the strengths and weaknesses of our case.
He wanted to know what the punishments potentially could be.
You don't want to over-promise something to a child because they're looking at you as, you know, the adult. They wanna trust you, and you don't wanna violate that trust. He's been through so much.
18 MONTHS AFTER GINA'S MURDER
Beth Orwick: Ledale Nathan was tried first.
John Bird: Ledale Nathan was 16 at the time but a juvenile court judge decided to certify him to stand trial as an adult.
Beth Orwick: Because he was only 16 years old, there is only limited information that we have about him.
At trial his defense attorney tried to talk about his rough upbringing and how he had a hard life. However, that evidence was really kept out of the trial by the trial judge.
Isabella Lovadina: After hearing the defense opening, I became very angry. They pretty much said that because of me the gun went off seven different times.
It's a horrible feeling always questioning myself -- if I did a good enough job that night -- if I did the right thing. And then to have the blame be put on me, it was very emotional.
Nick Koenig: We'd been in court all week ...Finally the jury came back with a verdict. It only took them three hours. ...It was a guilty verdict.
Isabella Lovadina: I knew in my head that it was a temporary feeling of relief, but I still allowed myself to feel it.
Beth Orwick: After Ledale Nathan was found guilty we knew it wasn't over. We still had to go to trial for Mario Coleman.
Mario Coleman was no stranger to the criminal justice system. At the time of the murder he was on probation for two different felony cases.
Rose Whitrock: It makes me-- really angry that a person that has done this type of crime twice gets a third chance, because my daughter Gina had never committed a crime. And she didn't get any chance.
Isabella Lovadina: When I first see Mario Coleman, it was shocking. He looked completely different than he looked that night. It's like my mind couldn't even really grasp that this person tried to kill me. This person killed Gina.
Beth Orwick: Mario Coleman's defense is that he was inside the house at 902 Hickory. However he pointed the finger at Ledale Nathan and said Ledale Nathan was the man holding the silver gun and ultimately shot Gina Stallis.
Nick Koenig: There was a lot of times in that courtroom, when I wanted to like just jump up and say, "This is all a lie. None of this that he's sayin' is true."
John Bird: The challenge with respect to the Mario Coleman case was our eyewitnesses were all identifying him as being the shooter however the DNA on the murder weapon was to the juvenile Ledale Nathan.
Our belief is that they were switching guns constantly throughout this particular case and the Ledale Nathan was the last to have touched that gun.
Isabella Lovadina: I really, really wanted Mario Coleman to never ever come outside of prison, cause there was no doubt in my mind that if he was ever released he would kill again.
Nick Koenig: When we were waiting for the verdict for Mario Coleman it seemed like minutes were hours.
Rose Whitrock: What time is it? What time is it? What time is it?
John Bird: There's always that risk that they could walk him out of the courtroom.
Judge in court: Has the jury reached a verdict?
Isabella Lovadina: I was trying to look at the jurors and just try to read something.
Rose Whitrock: Oh my God, what are they gonna say?
We the jury find the defendant Mario Coleman guilty of murder in the first degree
Nick Koenig: There was a sense of relief.
Isabella Lovadina: I was sitting next to Sam. He was so nervous. He bites his nails when he's nervous. I could see his whole body just kind of sink back and relax and just a big smile come across his face.
I felt like justice was served.
I had no intention of giving a victim impact statement at Mario Coleman's sentencing.
At the at the very last minute I decided that I am going to get up there and say something to him.
John Bird | Prosecutor: During the sentencing...of Mario Coleman... traditionally, what happens is -- is the -- the victim's family has a right to address the court, or to -- to address the defendant.
When Rose stepped up, she was not forgiving:
Rose Whitrock in court: You came to terrorize us...so really you're nothing but a coward. ...I'm not gonna talk about my daughter to you, it would be disrespectful to her. ...And I hope you rot in hell... because I'm living in my own hell...
Judge: Ma'am, ma'am.
Rose Whitrock: Well, I'm sorry your honor...
Judge: I have to ask you to be moderate.
Rose Whitrock:Well, he doesn't deserve moderate.
John Bird: I was right there with Rose. I could understand where she was coming from. And I completely agree with what she said.
Rose Whitrock: I felt great. I needed to say that to him. ...Somebody kills your child, I -- I -- it's -- this -- it's an indescribable pain.
Isabella Lovadina in court: I just wanted to tell you that I feel bad for you... It doesn't, it doesn't bring any joy to me to know that you're going to a really horrible place for the rest of your life, like that doesn't make me feel any better... I also wanted to tell you that what you did do for me that night, after taking Gina's life, after completely turning everybody else's life upside down, you gave me a whole new family that I didn't have before. I've gained so much. And now you've lost everything. ... And you also took a really good police officer off the streets. That's all I have to say.
Isabella Lovadina: It's not about finding the perfect words...It's just about standing up there and having the opportunity to tell him what it -- what his actions did to your life.
One of the hardest things for me to deal with -- is the loss of my job. Being a police officer was the proudest thing (nervous laugh). It was -- I was more proud walking across that stage getting my badge than I had ever been before in my life [gets emotional].
I really tried to get healthy enough to return. Unfortunately I just ... I wasn't the same, it...I never got that fire back.
TWO YEARS AND FOUR MONTHS AFTER GINA'S MURDER
Isabella Lovadina: When a police officer retires they -- they have what they call final roll call.
My final roll call meant a lot to me. ... It was my last day of, of doing what I love to do.
It was the last time that, that I would be standing with my police family.
At my final roll call I was given an award from the mayor's office.
Now, therefore, I Francis G. Slay, Mayor of the City of St. Louis, do hereby proclaim February 6, 2012, as Police Officer Isabella Lovadina day in the city of St. Louis.
Sgt. Roger Engelhardt | St. Louis Police Department: I think Isabella Lovadina is one of the bravest people I've ever known. ...It's like somebody jumping on a hand grenade. I mean, she was willing to sacrifice her life for all those other people.
Nick Koenig: At this point Isabella and I aren't dating. ...And, I mean, although I might not see her -- or, we might not see each other. As long as she's happy...if she is it makes me happy, I just want the best for her.
She's a part of the family now.
Rose Whitrock: I'm a mom again [laughs]. So -- my life has changed, really, for the good. I mean, I'm really happy to have Sam and Ben. ...it's hard to get back into the, you know, soccer and baseball and school and homework. But I wouldn't change one thing about that.
TWO YEARS AND SIX MONTHS AFTER GINA'S MURDER
Nick Koenig: So I was in a car accident. And I had hit my head against the windshield. And then a couple days later I was sittin' at the edge of my bed...and I feel a lump in the back of my throat. And over a few minutes this lump gets bigger and bigger. And I sorta bend over and I cough. And when I do, this object flies outta my mouth. And when I bend over to grab it I realize it's the bullet...the same bullet that was lodged in my cervical spine.
It had finally worked -- worked its way out through, I guess, the base of my throat.
I looked at how small this bullet was [voice breaks] and just couldn't believe how one little bullet had mur -- killed my cousin, Gina. ...But at the same time, it's [sighs] -- it's made me think...a lot about how Isabella and I are a miracle.
Isabella Lovadina: I look at my life differently now. I -- I see how -- how fragile it really is and how it can be taken away so fast and -- without -- without any notice. Um, on my birthday I-- I-- I thank God that -- that I'm here and -- it just makes -- it makes my birthday that much more special.
I don't have a -- a new career picked out. I do know I will continue to go to school until I find whatever it is. And-- and I still know that I want to help people. It's just gonna be in a different way now.
Mario Coleman and Ledale Nathan Jr. were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Isabella Lovadina recently found a new calling. She now works as victim's court advocate in St Louis.
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