June 23 wasn’t the first time Chester native Michael Dudley put himself in danger to help someone.
Dudley, an 18-year-old Thomas Dale High School graduate, once saw a woman’s purse get stolen. With little thought, he chased down and tackled the purse snatcher.
“It just happens,” he said of his reaction to take off after the man.
Nearly two months ago, Dudley stepped up again, this time to help a woman he saw being beaten by a man. Ultimately, according to police, the man, Richard E. Parker, 56, shot and killed the woman, his wife, Cindy M. Parker, 45, and then shot Dudley.
“People call me a hero. I’m not a hero,” Dudley said. “That’s the right thing to do, that’s what I should have done.”
On Wednesday, June 23, Dudley and his best friend, Joshua Tuggle, were walking out of Pietro’s Italian Restaurant after eating dinner, he said. Tuggle, 18, said Dudley was the first friend he made when he moved to the area in second grade.
Suddenly, “this lady came running up to us,” and asked for help because a man was hitting her, Dudley said. The woman, Cindy Parker, ran toward the restaurant while her husband walked over to the friends, Tuggle said.
Dudley said he asked Parker what was wrong with him, and Parker said nothing was wrong and the woman was his wife. Parker then ran after his wife, Tuggle said.
“He threw her so hard into the door” of the restaurant that part of the glass shattered, Tuggle said. Dudley said he remembers thinking it was good that the couple was close to the restaurant, because someone would come out to help.
But, 10 to 15 seconds passed and no one came out.
“I guess, as a natural reaction, I just took off full speed after him,” he said. Tuggle followed his friend. Dudley grabbed Parker and threw him off his wife, he said. Dudley said he saw Parker doing something in his pocket, but Tuggle saw Parker pulling the gun out.
“I was like, ‘Michael, we’ve got to go,’” Tuggle said.
“He points the gun at me, freezes for a second, then turns to his left and fires at her,” Dudley said. “At this point, I’m thinking about running. … Then he shoots me.”
Tuggle said he ran when Parker’s back was turned, and he thought Dudley would follow him. He turned back in time to see Parker shoot his friend. He got into his car and yelled, “Michael, I’m not leaving you,” out the window before he circled the shopping center in case Parker was following him, he said.
Dudley was initially bewildered, because he didn’t feel any pain, but he lifted up his shirt and found a hole in his stomach. “I remember lying on the ground and thinking, ‘Holy crap, I just got shot,’” he said.
“I never thought I was going to die, but I was scared.”
Kelly Dudley, Dudley’s mother, said she was on a business retreat out of town when her son was shot.
“I think the good Lord had me in the right place,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe it at first. … The story I got was that he was at Pietro’s with a married woman.”
“No one knew the real story,” Dudley said. “Nobody asked me what happened.”
The drive to VCU Medical Center felt like it took five hours, Kelly Dudley said.
“Honestly, from that point on, as a parent, you just put yourself on autopilot,” she said. She had two other children – Brooke, 10, and Todd, 13 – to worry about, as well, she said.
While in the hospital, Dudley saw a report on the news about a car wash for his benefit. Friends and family members collected nearly $8,000 in washing fees and donations for the Dudley family.
“I really wish I’d been there, because it looked like they were having a good time,” he said.
The hospital was a miserable experience, but Dudley said his first day home was “the best time out of the whole situation.” He had some pain, but “with any pain you learn how to get around it,” he said.
Dudley is doing better now. He’s been cleared to lift more than 10 pounds and he’s allowed to start physical therapy to begin getting his abs back, he said. Though his doctor said he could play football by the end of October, he’ll be a redshirt this year, and should be able next year to take to the field at Virginia State University, where he will soon start college, he said.
Dudley has always wanted to be a police officer, and he plans to major in criminal justice at VSU, he said. Tuggle, who also graduated from Thomas Dale, said his plans to join the Navy have been delayed until Parker’s trial is over.
Parker’s daughters, Cherry, Hanna, Vanessa and Molly, “sent me a letter a while back saying they wanted to meet me,” Dudley said. He isn’t mad at their father, he said.
“Obviously, the man did what he did,” he said. “I don’t hate him for what he did. He’s going to get his punishment either way. … I do want to find out what made him go to those extreme actions.”
Dudley still carries the bullet in his abdomen, he said, since removing it would have caused more damage.
“To be honest with you, I never think about it,” he said of the bullet. But, Dudley has told his story hundreds of times, he said, and he doesn’t mind talking about it.
“None of it bothers me mentally, I think because it happened so fast,” he said. In situations like this, “you either accept it or don’t, and if you don’t, it won’t be pretty. The easiest way to get over it is not to think about it.”
Being a teenager, especially one who just graduated from high school and is about to start college, is stressful enough without “the shot thing,” he said. His mind is already on college, his career and ways to get rid of or cover the roughly six-inch scar he has from the surgery in the wake of the shooting. Now, he’s considering a zipper tattoo.
“I mean, I got shot,” he said. “I’m not dead.”