by Josh Poltilove and Ray Reyes
TAMPA – A week ago, Deputy Malachi McCoy was reading the Bible and came upon Psalm 28:7. He was immediately drawn to one line in the verse: “The Lord is my shield.”
Using a silver paint pen, the son of a preacher inscribed those words on the black steel plate of his bulletproof vest.
On Saturday morning, during a gunman’s rampage in northwest Tampa that left three people shot dead and two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies wounded, the Biblical verse offered additional protection, McCoy said.
“The bullets were coming past me,” he said. “For me personally, I was shielded.”
The shooter, Jorge Orlando Bello Garcia, had shot Deputy Arturo “Art” Lence in the lower torso and Deputy Raymond Wilson in the arm. The gunman, also known as George Bello, was scuffling with Wilson and trying to wrestle the deputy’s firearm away from him.
McCoy ran up and fired the final bullet that ended the shooting spree, the sheriff’s office said. Bello was fatally shot in the head.
“I’m sorry it had to happen,” McCoy, 28, said Monday. “But I’m glad I was there.”
The deputy, who has been with the sheriff’s office for almost eight years, said he could not go into details about Saturday’s shooting because it is under investigation. McCoy, who is on paid administrative leave, did say that what he had done has sunk in and that “I’m fine with it.”
“He already killed some people,” he said. “He tried to kill us.”
The deputy’s father, the Rev. Paul McCoy of Fellowship Bible Church in Zephyrhills, said although the Ten Commandments state “Thou shalt not kill,” his son simply did what he was trained to do.
McCoy, 71, said his son reacted instinctively because of his law enforcement training.
“I do believe that what Malachi was doing was a service to the citizens of the county,” said Paul McCoy, who spoke to the Tribune today during a trip to Nashville, Tenn. “That’s been his goal in his life – to be in law enforcement and to enforce the laws of the people.”
Malachi McCoy’s dream of being a cop started when he was 15 and a student at Leto High School in Tampa. That’s when he joined the sheriff’s office’s Explorer’s Post No. 238, a program that gives local youth an inside look at law enforcement.
McCoy went on a ride-along program with a patrol deputy and saw his career path clearly laid out in front of him.
“I got the bug,” he said. “That was it for me. Everything fell into place.”
After graduating from high school, McCoy became a community service officer for the county’s jails. He soon enrolled in the sheriff’s office academy and was a reserve officer. He became a full-fledged deputy in 2000.
“I was lucky enough to do the job I wanted to do,” said McCoy, who was at St. Joseph’s Hospital Monday visiting Lence, one of the wounded deputies. Lence is listed in fair and stable condition, sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Callaway said.
Paul McCoy said when he talked to his son about Saturday’s shootings, Malachi McCoy’s “concern was for the other two deputies. He didn’t want to see them injured any further.”
Malachi McCoy, who was named after an old testament prophet who told God’s people to repent of their ways, said he has received more than 50 phone calls of “unbelievable support” from friends and family.
He said his faith — and perhaps the Bible verse he wrote on his vest — has helped him through the ordeal.
“I just thought it would be kind of neat to write that on the steel plate,” he said.
The full reading of Psalm 28:7, the King James version, says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”