Harnett County sheriff's deputy shot on the job in April 2018 returns to duty

LILLINGTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Harnett County deputy who was shot in the line of duty returned to full duty Monday.

It has been a nearly year-long journey of recovery for Cpl. James Eric Cook.

Cook was shot in the face and chest while investigating a missing person's case back in April 2018.

"It was a waiting game of letting it heal on its own, letting the bones heal. Let the eye heal," Cook said Monday at a news conference.

Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats presented Cook with a Purple Heart on Monday afternoon.

The person who was missing was Mario Alexander Garza III, 16. Garza had previously been arrested for bringing a knife to school.

Investigators said when Cook approached Garza, a scuffle broke out, and Garza eventually opened fire on Cook.

"Gosh, so many things go through your mind," Cook said. "It is unfortunate and I don't know what was going through his mind. I don't know why he done what he done. But it's unfortunate, and I hate he made those decisions he made so early in life."

With help from friends, family and fellow officers, Cook's recovery is completed and he is scheduled to be back on full duty Monday.

"I never thought this day would ever come," said Linda Cook, the deputy's mother. "I'm a nurse. He said it's bad. He was shot in the head. My thoughts were him being paralyzed. and brain dead.

"I told Eric, 'you have to forgive him,'" Linda Cook added. "And he said, 'Mama, I already have.'"
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