An emergency room doctor who volunteers as an armed physician on a SWAT team was among the first responders to the shooting rampage in San Bernardino on Wednesday, helping at first to search for hostages, then rushing to the scene of a gunbattle in the street between authorities and the suspects.
Dr. Michael Neeki, who is the chief medical officer of San Bernardino County's probation department and also volunteers as a member of the Inland Valley SWAT team, recalled at a Monday morning press conference leaving his post at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center after receiving a call about an active shooter.
Neeki said it took him about 25 minutes to drive about six miles, through traffic and a blockade, to get to what he referred to as "the hot zone." With his bag of medical supplies in tow, Neeki and his team entered the Inland Regional Center and went room to room in search of people stranded inside.
When his team received word that the shooters were locked in a shootout with police nearby, he was sent to the scene riding a secondary armored vehicle for his protection.
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"Being a physician, they don't want me to get hurt," Neeki said. "They are willing to take a bullet for me and I'm willing to take a bullet for them. This is the commitment that I have to this community."
And he has the background for it. Neeki said he fought in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s for two years before eventually immigrating to the U.S. from Iran.
"I’m here because I came for democracy," he said. "It’s sad to see that you come miles from across the world and see something like that happen here in a country that respects everybody and gives equal opportunity."
His battle experience makes him "mentally and tactically a little bit more ready than the other physicians," he said. "I tried to take all those as a positive experience in my life and move forward."
Neeki arrived to Southern California from Ohio in 2006. Three years later, he began as a volunteer with the Rialto Police Department, then joined the Inland Valley SWAT team in 2012.
Neeki said it took him nearly a year and half to meet California's regulations to join the SWAT team as its only physician. Due to budget constraints, he pays for his own training and some of his equipment. Some of his gear was donated by the cities of Rialto, Fontana and Colton, which created the 45-member Inland Valley SWAT Team in 2012.