After years as a law enforcement officer responding to the most egregious criminal behavior imaginable—then are suddenly forced into retirement because of injuries sustained when a perp tried to kill you—you know that even your civilian wardrobe doesn’t pair well with rose-colored glasses. The idea, “It won’t happen to me” has no room in your vocabulary as you engage in your daily routine, your head on a swivel, your situational awareness ever present.
“It” is exactly what happened to retired Baltimore City police officer Donna Worthy, 13 years after daily life in law enforcement changed forever, involuntarily retired from a job for which she had a deep passion. “It” happened on March 13, 2020, just days before the Covid-19 pandemic would also begin to change lives forever.
Donna, who had worked in the full rotation of capacities during her 13 years with for the Baltimore City Police Department—patrol, undercover, S.W.A.T., firearm academy trainer—was living a relatively normal life in which she was no longer confronted with danger as a matter of course. Thanks to injuries sustained on the job, she was forced to leave behind the daily toll of policing in one of the grittiest, most crime-ridden cities in America. Now a successful businesswoman running Worth-a-Shot Firearms, her own gun store and firearm training business located near Annapolis, Md., she jumped into her Jeep and headed to northwest Washington, D.C., where she had an appointment to drop off documents with her tax accountant.
She got lucky with parking; an open, grassy lot was located about a block and a half away, and she even slipped the attendant an extra $20 to allow to her park at the front of the lot for a few minutes while she dropped off documents. With her quick mission accomplished, Donna headed back to her car. She took notice of a patrol officer parked alongside the road doing paperwork, acknowledging an unspoken camaraderie.
When she arrived back at the lot, the attendant was gone, but she did her usual check of her surroundings. “I looked behind me when I got in my car. I checked my back seat as I got in my car—all the things that I stress to my students,” said Donna. But today’s Jeeps sit higher up than older models, allowing enough crawl space for someone who is planning a surprise attack to hide. And that’s when it happened.
Donna was halfway into her Jeep when a man suddenly rolled from underneath, surprising her. "He has a knife in his hand and he puts it up to my neck, and I feel him actually cutting me,” recalls Donna. “I can feel the blood dripping down my neck, and I knew at that moment he didn’t want my car—because he could have my car, even though I love my Jeeps (she owns three), he could have my car. I knew he wanted me,” she says.
Donna, who has concealed-carry privileges in most places due to her prior law enforcement status, says that even though she was wearing her pistol, there was no opportunity at that moment to draw it. “I have to find a way to distract him,” she remembers thinking. “He’s got the upper hand. He’s already got a knife on me, he’s already cutting me, so if he sees me drawing my gun, he’s just going to finish cutting me.”
You have to think ahead, says Donna, which is something she regularly stresses to her students. “Carrying a gun doesn’t make you invincible; you have to think ahead all the time, and be an expert at drawing that gun from a holster because all of those things that go into it. Because no matter how much train, no matter how much you think you are doing everything right, somebody’s got everybody’s card.”
Donna says her decision at that moment was to try to distract him by pulling him in closer to her in the car. “I tried to shut the door on him,” she says. It only made him angry, which was her goal, she says. The attacker then pulled her hand out, slammed it in the car door, then re-opened the door, breaking Donna’s left hand. “That is why I always stress to students that they have to learn how to do everything strong-hand, weak-hand, one-hand, both. Because you never know what’s going to happen in a situation,” she says.
"... you never stop fighting, no matter what."
“The other thing I stress to my students is you never stop fighting, no matter what. He’s cutting my neck—so what? He’s cutting my throat—so what? I still have a beat in my chest, so you still fight, right?” Donna said at that moment, even though her hand was injured, it was enough to momentarily distract him. “In that brief second, I drew my gun,” she says. “That rotate—that same method the NRA teaches—that rotate, saved my life. When I drew my gun, I was still able to draw it in that method the way we teach, even with my steering wheel right in front of me. The training saved my life.” At that moment, says Donna, his eyes got big because he saw a gun vs. knife. “He didn’t like the odds, so he immediately ran.”
Donns says the next thing everyone asks is, “Did you shoot him?” Well, he’s running away, says Donna, “So we all know the threat’s gone, and I never want to become them. I never want to become the bad guy. So that should be the end of my story.” But once a cop, always a cop, and Donna’s instincts kicked in, and the diminutive redheaded ex-cop with a broken hand and bloody neck began a foot chase with him. “It’s northwest D.C. at 10:30 a.m., and you have people in business suits … all races of people, all walks of life … and I have blood dripping down my neck, running after this guy, and he has a knife in his hand. And I’m chasing him, just thinking, I hope he runs in the direction of that police car.” In fact, that is exactly the direction the perp ran. “And I pretty much tackled him in front of the police car,” says Donna. The very surprised officer who came to her aid soon asked, “Are you a cop?”
“Retired,” Donna replied.
“Baltimore?” He guessed correctly.
The assailant went to jail that day, says Donna, but when Covid really hit the fan a week or so later, many detained suspects were released from jail. "So that’s where that story ends," she says.
Donna says as much as she had gone through with the police department, it was the closest she felt to death. “Keeping your wits about you is hard … you have to figure out a plan … how do I get through this. You don’t have time to think ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ You don’t have time to think that, not if you want to stay alive,” she says. “The only thing you think is ‘I have to stay alive, I have to get to my gun.’ But how do I do that without him slicing me open.”
Donna says it took her a long time to even talk about the events of that day because of how it affected her. “I really thought I was going to die,” she says. “But it is such a learning tool. As you know, you’ve got all this training—that’s what you stress to people—but someone can always have your number. No matter how much you think you know, you can always learn more.”
Donna cautions that her attacker is still out there. “It definitely was not his first rodeo, and it definitely will not be his last,” she says, which is one of the reasons that constant training is at the heart of her philosophy as one of Maryland’s most popular trainers and gun retailers.
Read more about Donna here, and see why she is “worthy” of receiving the 2023 Golden Bullseye Award for “Woman of the Year.”