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Tony Hazel, of Mt. Spokane High, didn’t let shooting derail his ambitions

Senior Tony Hazel poses for a photo on  March 11 at Mt. Spokane High School. Hazel will graduate as valedictorian, a longtime goal. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Senior Tony Hazel poses for a photo on March 11 at Mt. Spokane High School. Hazel will graduate as valedictorian, a longtime goal. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The intruder was wearing a hockey mask and wielding a gun when Tony Hazel first saw him in the upstairs hallway of his Spokane home on an October night in 2012.

Hazel, then a high school freshman, froze.

“It was very scary,” said Hazel, now a senior at Mt. Spokane High School. “I just couldn’t move.”

Moments earlier, he had heard a crash downstairs and alerted his father, who was in the shower. Hazel waited in the upstairs hallway while his father went to a bedroom to get a gun.

That was when Hazel came face to face with the intruder. The man had come upstairs, and when Hazel’s father returned, the two exchanged fire.

“I couldn’t even process what was happening,” Hazel said. “I was literally standing right next to him when it was happening.”

The man shot Hazel’s dad multiple times before fleeing.

“After he shot my dad he ran down the stairs and ran out, and I realized I had to do something,” Hazel said.

Hazel sprang into action. He ran to get help from the neighbors and provided first aid to his father while waiting for emergency responders to arrive.

Police tried to track the burglar, later identified as Christopher D. Sheldon, using police dogs. They didn’t find him that night, but they did recover a stocking hat in a nearby backyard next to a discarded hockey mask. DNA testing linked that hat to Sheldon, who was later sentenced to 63 months in prison.

Hazel’s father has since recovered, and Hazel will soon graduate from Mt. Spokane High School as valedictorian – a longtime goal for the teen. As a full-time Running Start student, he will have two years of college completed and an associate degree.

The shooting wasn’t the only obstacle he’s overcome to get where he is. He grew up impoverished in a single-parent home and hasn’t seen his mother since he was 5 years old, when his parents divorced.

“There’s been a lot that I’ve had to go through, but I try to make the best out of everything that I’ve had to encounter,” he said.

Josh Cowart, a Mt. Spokane student counselor, said Hazel “embodies some really cool traits, including resiliency.”

“I think he’s one of the most resilient kids I’ve ever been able to work with,” he said.

Cowart said the traumatic moment could have derailed Hazel, but instead, it forged him into the man he is today.

“He’s smiling and laughing all of the time, regardless of what circumstances are going on in his life,” Cowart said.

Now, Hazel plans to study accounting at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

Of his academic success, he said, “That’s pretty much my only focus in life.”

Hazel, who grew up in Spokane, said he looks forward to what the next chapter of his life holds.

“I’m excited to leave home, but I’m nervous for being so far away,” he said. “I actually have no idea what to expect.

“I kind of like that though – the element of surprise.”

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