CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – It was late into the night when Chief Petty Officer Jaclyn Place, a 30 year-old hospital corpsman and mother, heard screams for help coming from her neighbor's home.
"I was actually doing some homework, my daughter was asleep, when I initially heard the screaming," recalled Place, a lead chief petty officer with the Headquarters Regimental Aid Station, 1st Marine Logistics Group. "The volume was escalating. That's when I decided to go outside and noticed [my neighbor] was calling for me. As soon as I opened the door I saw her -- then a flash-- it was him running. She was screaming 'J he stabbed me,' and as she turned I saw blood all the way down her back. I had a fight or flight second, and then went to work."
While assessing the victim, Place called to another neighbor, Staff Sgt. Thomas McDonald with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, instructing him to bring his first aid medical bag. McDonald brought an entire trash bag full of medical supplies, while a third neighbor, Staff Sgt. Vincent Bryan with the MLG G-6, came upon the scene and called 911.
"Upon my first assessment, my eyes were drawn automatically to her radial artery. It was most definitely severed," Place remembered. "The cut was very very deep. By the time I got her to lie down and put a compression bandage on, the grandmother came up and was screaming that he was stabbing her granddaughter."
With complete disregard for her own safety, Place ran after the assailant to save the victim's daughter.
"I was just thinking she was a baby and he was chasing her. It was awful," said Place. "I think your mom instincts kick in. Her [mother's] last words before she fell unconscious were ‘go get my baby'. I think anyone would have done the same thing. When I got there [her daughter] was almost unconscious. Her whole face was cut up."
Upon arriving at the scene, the assailant had been restrained by another neighbor, so Place jumped over him to immediately render aid to the 14 year-old girl. The young girl was lying in a pool of blood struggling to breathe. Place immediately recognized that she had a severe chest wound.
Place immediately took command of the scene, instructing the neighbors to reposition the girl to ease her breathing and maintain her airway. She then instructed them to apply pressure to the stab wounds on the young girls face and a more serious wound to the left side of her ribs which was bleeding profusely. Place applied a seal to the wound, preventing air from being trapped in the young girl's chest that could have led to a life-threatening tension pneumothorax.
"Luckily I had a great team," said Place. "It wouldn't have a happened without [the Marines]. That corpsman- Marine team was amazing. That dynamic is so sacred. We all knew what to do and worked off each other. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did. They were calm, cool, and collected. I love our corpsman and Marine relationship."
Due to Place's calm leadership, medical expertise, and decisive action, both the mother and her daughter survived this violent attack and were home from the hospital within weeks. The severity of their injuries would likely have resulted in severe morbidity or death, if not for the quick responses of Place and the Marines.
After all was said and done, Place is now considered part of the victim's family.
"I'm indebted to her. She's the reason why I have my daughter here still. She is family now," said Jennifer Barela, one of the survivors. "All I can say is thank you and I love you, and if it wasn't for you I wouldn't have my daughter here. You know, you love your kids, but then you really realize how deeply you love your children when they are almost taken from you."
This unfortunate incident not only changed the lives of the victims but brought to light another troubling issue.
"I think this a prime example of domestic violence," said Place. "I think we all have our own personal situations and pasts, and my first thought is I never suspected this. I passed them twice a day going home and leaving. I knew she was quiet, but I never thought to ask her [if she was ok]. I didn't want to get in her business, but sometimes you have to realize that it's ok to get into people's business; because maybe if I would have gotten into her business, if I would have opened that door two seconds sooner, would he have been scared and not chased her daughter? Never be afraid to ask."
Place was awarded an Impact Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for her selfless and decisive actions that saved the lives of her neighbors. McDonald and Bryan were both also awarded Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.
Despite taking charge during a devastating situation and saving the lives of two civilians, Place remains extremely humble about her activities that day and is fierce in asserting that she was just doing what corpsmen do.
"A million things were going through my head in that 15-second run to the back of the building. Honestly though, I was just thinking ‘corpsman', every training I ever had in the military. What I feel good about now is that when I walked away from it and I looked down [at myself] and saw the blood everywhere, I thought, well if she doesn't make it I know looking back I wouldn't have done anything different. I know what I did as a corpsman. I did everything I could have done."