Out for a typical evening watching trains with his son, Doug Berry noticed something strange.
From his location at the Dearborn Amtrak Station, Berry observed a man in his 50s circling the parking lot of a nearby police station. The man left the lot twice, returning both times without incident.
Berry tried to ignore the situation, but became suspicious and kept his eye on the man.
“I was trying to look like I didn’t care,” Berry said. “I thought they should know that someone was sort of creeping around the station.”
When the man began peering through the fence, Berry called 911 and witnessed no immediate response.
Then the man crawled under the fence and ducked beneath a police car, producing a large bag that contained a hunting rifle. Berry called again, and waited.
Sixty seconds later, all hell broke loose.
“He was there to kill cops,” Berry said of the assailant. “They subdued him before he even got a shot off. There’d be dead cops right now.”
In the middle of a shift change, on Sept. 7, a dozen Dearborn police officers stormed the gunman as they left the station.
Attempting suicide by cop, the man was found despondent and depressed, officers said. His gun was loaded with armor-piercing bullets, and he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Returning home on the night of the incident, Berry was met by his tearful wife, Cindy. A close friend of Cindy’s was married to a Dearborn police officer uninvolved in the case.
“It was very emotional,” Cindy said. “The thought of what had been prevented was very scary. It has just been amazing. A lot of people have reached out.”
But as far as train watching is concerned, Cindy intends to leave it to her hero husband.
Awarded the Civilian Commendation the following Thursday, Berry was presented the award by Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad. His son Patrick, who was diagnosed with autism at two years old, was in attendance as well.
“The Dearborn Police Department commends your actions on Sept. 7, 2013,” Haddad wrote. “Your alertness and willingness to get involved prevented a tragedy and a potential loss of law enforcement personnel. Your courage and willingness to put safety of others before your own is truly admirable.”
A media blitz ensued in the next few days. Berry was interviewed by the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, ABC, NBC, The Huffington Post and USA Today. When the father and son next returned to the station, they were met by two film crews.
The story then was distributed by the Associated Press and was visible across the globe.
“I came home that day so geeked,” Berry said. “It’s been a bizarre series of events. It was so interesting to be in the center of media attention. It all happened in just 48-72 hours.”
With multiple stories in high-profile media outlets, Berry and his son returned to the station days later to a different response than usual. Patrick even received pieces of train memorabilia as a gift from an engineer at the station.
“Usually people kind of scowl at Patrick,” Berry said. “But on this day, people were smiling at us. He’s still completely unaware of what happened, but just to have people react positively to him was a miracle in itself.”
Berry visits the train station with Patrick almost every night. He estimated they’ve watched trains come in up to 200 nights per year, for the past 18 years.
Non-verbal, Patrick finds solace in the sights and sounds of the trains in motion.
“Patrick is the real hero,” Berry said. “Here is a kid who has been defined, his whole life, by what he can’t do. One thing he can do is get his old man to the train station every night. I would have never been able to make that call without him. It was just being in the right place at the right time.”
From humble beginnings
Resigning from his job as an advertising instructor at Central Michigan University in 2008, Berry decided it was time to spend more time with Patrick.
Now 20 years old, Patrick’s needs began to exceed the care of his mother, so Berry stepped in to give her a breather.
“He likes to do the same things every day,” Berry said of his son. “He expects to see the train. It helps him relax. It keeps him happy, and it’s a break for his mother.”
A popular teacher at CMU, Berry still misses the classroom and making connections with eager young minds. His experiences as a mentor and educator have proven invaluable throughout his life.
“I loved my students,” Berry said. “When I walked away to spend more time with Patrick, I knew it would be the thing I’d miss the most.”
His coworkers expected nothing less from Berry. Journalism instructor Tim Boudreau said Berry worked closely with students to ensure their success at CMU.
“Doug is very sensitive to other students’ needs,” Boudreau said. “He seemed generally interested in his students. If he noticed a students’ grades begin to drop, he’d try to help.”
Boudreau said he heard about Berry’s case online through several newspapers. He said the heroic act was nothing more than he came to expect from the humble friend and colleague.
“I kind of chuckled, because Doug would probably be embarrassed by all the attention,” Boudreau said. “He doesn’t seek the spotlight, but I do intend to razz him a little.”