AUSTIN (KXAN) — Ambushed in her own driveway in the middle of the night, Judge Julie Kocurek remembers sitting in her vehicle with her family. They had just gotten home around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2015. What they didn’t know was someone was waiting for them outside. Someone hiding in the dark with a gun. Someone who Austin police say targeted and unleashed a vicious assault because Kocurek is a judge.
It happened quickly. Kocurek hears the rapid gunfire, the sound of shattered glass bursting the windshield. She quickly covered her head with her left arm and took cover.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kocurek says she sees her son, he’s not hit but she is, not directly by the gunfire but by shrapnel and glass flying through the air, piercing her upper body and cutting deep. In that moment, Kocurek says she wonders if life as a mom, wife, sister, judge, is it over?
“It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I didn’t know when the gunfire was going to stop. I thought I was going to die,” she recalled. But, her will to live was much stronger than the attack.
“I didn’t know when the gunfire was going to stop. I thought I was going to die.”-Judge Julie Kocurek
While recovering from her injuries in the hospital, an infection–which Kocurek does not blame on the hospital–cost her her index finger.
Kocurek says she wasn’t going to quit, not on her will to use her left hand again and she wasn’t going to quit her job at the hands of a gunman.
“I knew if I withered away I would regret it. I have a plan for my life and I don’t want anyone to take it away. I will end my career when I’m ready and on my own terms.”
Judge Kocurek signed re-election papers for another term as the 390th District Judge while she was in the hospital, determined to overcome an assault Kocurek says is much bigger than she, “I felt like this was an assault on our Justice System. I want people to know that I’m back and if you don’t like a judge’s decision we will not be intimidated or we wont leave out of fear. You can’t eliminate us,” says Kocurek.
Four months after the shooting, Judge Kocurek put on her black judicial robe and walked into a courtroom greeted by a round of applause from a room full of attorneys, judges, police officers and others who wanted to wish her well.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel safe,” she said of her return.
The shooting not only changed Kocurek’s outlook on life but courthouse security for judges.
“We have what we call incident reports or reports on people who make threats. We get the court they are assigned to, we know who they are, we get a picture of them immediately,” Kocurek explained.
It’s a policy implemented after the shooting because of mistakes Kocurek said were made prior to the attack.
“It was very poorly investigated,” says Kocurek of the threat. Travis County officials told KXAN News they knew about the threat but did not inform Kocurek. Judge Kocurek says the threat did not mention her by name but the name of the suspect was someone who had been in her courtroom several times before and says had she known about it she would have taken measures to protect herself and her family.
“There were circumstances in my neighborhood that I really can’t talk about the day of and week before that if I had known there was a threat number one, I would have left my house…I’ve moved out of my house before. I’ve put people on GPS if they’ve said something. I take every threat seriously,” said Kocurek who was still visibly upset as she recalls the situation.
When asked if she’s angry, she says no, “it’s regret and it’s sadness is what it is, because I feel all of this could have possibly been avoided had I known.”
Austin police say they have a person of interest in the shooting attack but no one has officially been charged.
Judge Kocurek says she has her life, “I don’t know what the reason is but so thankful I have a second chance. I don’t know what the reason is but I do believe God was waiting for me in that driveway. He prevailed. Evil did not.”
Staring at her office wall covered in get well cards, letters and drawings, some from inmates, Kocurek smiles at the thought of a new beginning. She picks up her phone and presses play to a video and song that has become another form of motivation.
“It’s a song by Mandisa. One of my friends gave it to me and it’s called ‘Overcomer.’ I’ve watched it every day. The song is about adversity and how you’re in God’s hands,” says Kocurek.
The video of the song features footage of ‘overcomers’ such as former U.S Representative Gabby Giffords recovering in the hospital after being shot in the head. Judge Kocurek says it gives her strength to know she’s not alone, she’s not afraid and she’s not giving up. She’s an overcomer.
“Yes. I’m becoming an overcomer. I never knew I was.”