Lt. Col. Karl Trenker survived numerous tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq without a bullet ever grazing him.
It turns out the most dangerous mission the U.S. Marine has ever undertaken was trying to sell a gold necklace on Craigslist in his hometown of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
On Dec. 21, a transaction between Trenker and two men went awry when the men made off with the necklace and then started shooting at Trenker in broad daylight when he gave chase, resulting in Trenker taking one bullet to the chest and another to the stomach.
But rather than leave him in shock, all that did was make Trenker mad.
“I was actually a little pissed off about it, quite frankly,’’ Trenker told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie Friday in an interview alongside his fiancee.
“I was angry: I can’t believe this guy is shooting at me. I really wanted to make him stop, and obviously I couldn’t. Once I received the second hit, I realized I needed to back away and reevaluate what I was doing.’’
Fingers in his wounds
The 48-year-old father of seven calmly took two fingers and plugged them into his bullet wounds to slow the bleeding while 911 was called. He then walked about 50 yards to his SUV to check on four of his children who had accompanied him to tell them that he had been shot but that an ambulance was on the way.
The military training and calm under pressure of the 29-year veteran likely saved his life, according to local police. Trenker is currently recuperating at the North Broward Medical Center, and said doctors told him he is expected to make a full recovery.
“There’s no doubt, if not direct training itself, just the experiences that I’ve had, enabled me to maintain my wherewithal and apply direct pressure to my wounds to go back to my children,’’ Trenker told Guthrie.
Trenker’s fiancé, Tanya Saiz, had advertised a men’s gold necklace on Craigslist and originally was going to go by herself to meet the two men who wanted to buy the jewelry. Trenker didn’t want her to go alone, and then ended up going without her when Saiz, a real estate agent, had to go show a house to a client.
Trenker took his four boys with him because they all planned on going to the beach afterward. “I told the man that called 911, ‘I know the ambulance is coming, but I have to go take care of my children first,’ ’’ Trenker said.
The Marine met the men in front of an apartment complex at 3 p.m. on a sunny day with families around and women pushing baby strollers in the vicinity. After a few minutes of discussion, one of the men snatched the necklace and ran off with it.
Trenker hopped in his SUV and drove after the men, catching up with them a few streets away. He jumped out of the truck and took off on foot after them before one suspect allegedly turned and fired five or six shots at him, according to the police report.
Suddenly the Marine who served in Iraq in 2003 and did multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006-2009 without ever being wounded had taken a slug to the left pectoral and one to the stomach. Guthrie asked if he had thought about that.
“I have thought about it quite a bit,’’ Trenker replied. “There’s no words for it. It’s just unfathomable that we had this kind of situation here, where you went to a combat zone and come back out of that unscathed.
“There’s a lot more dangers here,” he added. “For me, one of the dangers is Craigslist, and I think that’s something people need to be aware of.’’
“You just really never expect anything like that to happen to you and when it does, it blows you away,’’ Saiz told Guthrie. “There’s no words to express.’’
‘I was in shock’
Before he was taken away by the ambulance, Trenker called Saiz to let her know what happened. After receiving the call, she told Guthrie, she was so affected that she couldn’t even lock the house and put the keys in the lockbox; her client had to help her.
“Initially, honestly, I was waiting for the punch line, like ha ha, and then he told me again, ‘I’ve been shot three times,’ and I just fell to the floor,’’ Saiz recalled. “I was in shock. I started shaking.’’
The suspect who allegedly fired the shots at Trenker, Jeff Steele, 20, has been charged with one count of attempted murder and two counts of robbery with a firearm. James Flounory, 20, received the same charges as Steele, and a third suspect, Andre Gayle, 20, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and possession of marijuana. Flounory and Steele are being held in jail without bond pending trial, and Gayle is out of custody.
If the legal system doesn’t resolve the incident, Trenker had one other idea in mind.
“Let me heal up and we can square it away in a room without these weapons, mano a mano,’’ he told NBC News.