In the early morning hours of January 7, 2017, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sergeant Tyler Wheeler (Gamma Nu–Louisiana-Monroe ’11) observed a car weaving erratically on the highway. He pulled the automobile over in the rural darkness.
He approached the car. The female driver then shot him four times.
Wheeler almost miraculously cheated death, spending about a month in the hospital in Shreveport, then nearly two weeks in a rehab center in Jackson, Mississippi, before returning home to Monroe. He returned to work in his law enforcement post about eight months later.
“It was four total times,” he said, recalling the wounds to his head and neck area, and left shoulder and forearm. “I had more entrance and exit wounds than that but it was four separate rounds. They replaced the full left side of my jaw, which knocked out most of the nerves, so I don’t have very good feeling there. But other than that, that’s about all I got out of it. At the time that it happened, I had put a lot of work into getting in the best shape I had ever been in, so it’s possible that that had an effect [on my recovery]. But that situation could have gone a thousand different ways.”
Now 30, Wheeler said he never thought the woman who shot him, who seemed to show no remorse, would plead guilty. But she did, and is now spending 60 years in prison, basically a life sentence. He also said he has forgiven the shooter, if for no other reason than it’s his Christian duty.
“I forgive her,” he said matter-of-factly. “As Christians, it’s not our job to hold that guilt or that hatred over somebody. Because we’ll all be judged when that day comes. She made a mistake, and you own up to your mistakes and you deal with the consequences.”
After graduating from ULM with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Wheeler attended the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Academy in Baton Rouge. “It’s a para-military style academy where they teach you that when your body says it’s had enough, you can still work through it. It teaches you what your body’s actually capable of doing. My original plan was to go to state police, but Wildlife and Fisheries, they hired first so that’s where I went.”
As in the Tracy Lawrence song “You Find Out Who Your Friends Are,” his shooting was indeed a test in the loyalty of fraternity brothers to one another. Josh Rachow (Gamma Nu–Louisiana-Monroe ’09) is a close friend of Wheeler’s, and was Gamma Nu’s alumni advisor for a short time.
“Me and my wife found out he’d been shot around five o’clock that morning,” Rachow said, “and we got packed up right away and drove to Shreveport. When I went back to his room, he looked unrecognizable at that point. It was just scary, I didn’t really know what to think.”
“We’ve known each other somewhere around 10 years now, maybe more,” he continued. “Even though he was a couple years younger than me, we hit it off very fast and that’s a reason our friendship has stuck so strong. We only live about a mile-and-a-half away from each other. He and his wife and me and my wife actually once had apartments right next door to each other. We go to the same church too.”
“The friendships you make through KA are lifelong.”
Wheeler’s longtime friend Clint Branton (Gamma Nu–Louisiana-Monroe ’11), who is also a game warden, recalled the events of early that morning, and how stunned he was. “My phone rang, it was about two o’clock in the morning. It was one of the other game wardens and he said, ‘Wheeler got shot.’ And it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was something you don’t ever want to hear, somebody close to you, and it hit me hard.”
“When I got the call that he’d been shot several times and once in the head,” he continued, “you pray for the best and expect the worst. But about a week into it there was a good chance he was going to recover, and while you don’t want to celebrate too early, it’s like there’s a big weight lifted off. I was at the hospital to visit him, to visit with the family, day or night just because we’re so close.”
“The friendships you make through KA are lifelong,” Wheeler said. “I could call up any person that I was in KA with, right now, and I can guarantee that they would see to it that whatever I needed would happen. They are people that I can reach out to for anything. And all these guys I went to school with are now doctors, cops, game wardens, pharmacists, you name it. The fraternity itself puts a regulation on you to make sure that you succeed. It’s not just that you want to push yourself to be successful, now you have this organization helping make sure that you do what you’re supposed to.”
Wheeler was Gamma Nu’s Number III his senior year, and his loyalty to the fraternity is evident today, with the letters “KA” even being part of his e-mail address. “Being in KA actually has qualities of law enforcement, of law and order, and of being patient and being good to people,” he said. “I met a lot of good people through KA that I would have never met, and people who weren’t affiliated with KA, like in sororities, which I really enjoyed. It helped in developing connections, but it also helped me to come out of my comfort zone and talk to people. KA helped me as far as learning to treat people the way they ought to be treated. I’ve been on the force eight years now, and I’ve never had a complaint called in. Though that’s not to say that I haven’t gotten sideways with any people,” he chuckled.
Rachow said that there were times he had his doubts about Wheeler’s recovery, but it was almost as if he needn’t have worried. “God had His hand on him,” he said. “The circumstances played in his favor and he just pushed through. It was pretty amazing, a miracle. It wasn’t his time to go. We’re just all glad he’s still here.”