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‘Matson Strong’ still on display, 3 years later

‘Matson Strong’ still on display, 3 years later
Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault), lower left, introduces Megan and Arik Matson before their keynote presentation to the Owatonna chapter of the Center of American Experiment last week. Weather and road conditions prevented them from appearing in person. Staff photo by Kay Fate
Kay Fate, Staff Writer
“We refuse to let what happened to Arik break us. We faced the tragedy and felt the pain, and it’s only made us stronger as a couple.”
-Megan Matson, Injured Officer’s Wife

To hear the story of Arik Matson, the Waseca police officer who was shot in the head nearly three years ago, it would seem nothing can stop the forward progress he and his family continue to make.

Except a winter storm.

Last week’s snow, wind and low temps prevented Matson and his wife, Megan, from appearing in person at an event sponsored by the Owatonna chapter of the Center of American Experiment (CAE).

Instead, the couple gave their keynote presentation via Zoom, part of the group’s “Thanksgiving Celebration of Daily Courage.”

They were introduced by Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, who said when he first heard about the Jan. 6, 2020, shooting, “my heart just dropped.”

He met Megan a few months later and has stayed connected to the family.

Jasinski eventually introduced a bill that later became law, strengthening state criminal penalties for individuals convicted of attempting to murder a law enforcement officer – specifically, increasing the sentence by five years, with no early parole.

“This is probably the bill I’m most proud of,” Jasinski said, adding that the Matsons made “multiple trips to the Capitol to testify” before the law passed.

The man who shot Matson while he was responding to a report of a suspicious person with a flashlight in a residential backyard, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted first-degree murder and was sentenced in November 2020 to 35 years in prison.

“His shooter actually was out on parole” when he shot Arik, Megan Matson said.

Tyler Robert Janovsky, now 40, had been in and out of prison for various drug and burglary charges most of his life.

“Now, here we are, 35 months post-Arik’s injuries,” Megan said, “with no wheelchair, more independence and still moving mountains. Sometimes you have to let go of what you thought your life would be like and find the joy in the story you’re living.”

The couple met 11 years ago, “on a traffic stop,” Megan Matson said, drawing laughter. “I was speeding to work.”

They started dating in the summer of 2011; they bought a house and had their first daughter on the same day a year later.

They got married Feb. 4, 2014 and had a second daughter in November of that year.

Then came Jan. 6, 2020, which Megan Matson calls “Arik’s alive day. The Lord chose to save Arik – he knew it was not Arik’s time and gave him a second chance at life and purpose.”

Matson wasn’t scheduled to work that day but picked up the shift for overtime. He called his wife about 7 p.m., telling her he’d bring her some chips and guacamole from their favorite Mexican restaurant.

Megan and the girls settled in for the night.

“I went downstairs to switch out the laundry,” Matson said, and was walking through the kitchen at 8:04 p.m.

“I didn’t know it then, but that was the time Arik was shot,” she said. “I stopped, and felt a spirit step out of my body – and everything just stopped. I witnessed two angels walk over to the girls in the living room, pick them up and take them to bed.”

Matson described it as a sort of out-of-body experience.

A knock at the door came at 8:40 p.m., and as Matson was on her way to answer it, “I realized Arik hadn’t called to say goodnight.”

She opened the door to a Minnesota State Patrol trooper, a DNR officer, an investigator – and one of her good friends.

Her husband had already been airlifted to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale. Matson was also taken there by helicopter, still not knowing many details.

At the hospital, the officer’s parents, brother, and wife learned he’d been shot in the head with a .40 caliber handgun. The bullet shattered his skull when it exited.

Matson was allowed to see her husband before he was taken to surgery, “and went back to say my goodbyes, just in case.”

It was the first time she’d cried since hearing the news but said “Arik looked way better than I anticipated; he just looked like he got punched in the eye in a bar fight – and I had an overwhelming feeling come over me that he was going to be OK.”

After a five-hour operation, the surgeon “took off his hat and mask and gave a big sigh,” Matson said, “then said (Arik) was stable.” She hugged the doctor.

“From that night until the day he left to go down to Omaha, three months later,” there was a constant first-responder presence outside Arik Matson’s door.

“Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, they all volunteered to do that,” Megan Matson said. “That was really awesome.”

Her husband spent 2½ weeks at North Memorial Hospital, where he received 12 blood transfusions and had facial reconstruction surgery. The next 28 days were at then-Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, where rehab therapy started, and his trach was removed.

“The first time he spoke was on our anniversary,” Matson said. “He said, ‘I love you.’”

The next stop was at United Hospital, also in St. Paul, where he spent 32 days.

The fourth – and final – stop was at QLI, a rehab center in Omaha that specializes in neurological injuries.

Arik Matson spent eight months there, recovering and working on his rehabilitation.

“Arik had to learn how to talk again, eat, learn how to brush his teeth, all those things,” Jasinski said. “You can’t get more courageous than him.”

Through it all, COVID raged, limiting visits and travel. Matson mostly saw his two little girls over FaceTime.

Finally, on Oct. 19, 2020, he was allowed to return to his home in Waseca, to a hero’s welcome. Family, friends, and community members lined the sidewalks and streets as Matson made his way into town.

“I didn’t know that 10-19 …” Megan Matson began, then turned to her husband. “What does that mean again?”

“Officer return to station,” Arik Matson answered.

“That was just really cool, how it all fell together,” Megan said. “He was returning.”

The progress continues.

“We refuse to let what happened to Arik break us,” she said. “We faced the tragedy and felt the pain, and it’s only made us stronger as a couple.”

But it’s not always easy. Both Megan and Arik are in therapy, Arik for a third time. Their two daughters are also receiving counseling to help them understand the changes.

“We learned a lot about pain and suffering,” Megan Matson said, “but we’ve also learned about joy and happiness. We have felt a lot – sometimes, all at once, sometimes not at all.”

Thanks to Jasinski, every year in Minnesota, Feb. 22 is Arik Matson Day – a nod to his badge number of 222.

The couple announced they will start a non-profit in January, designed to help defray college tuition for students in Minnesota who want to pursue law enforcement after high school.

“They need more incentive to become police officers, and what better candidate than Arik to say, ‘it’s OK; we still need you out there,’” Megan said.

Mike Jensen, president of the Owatonna chapter of the CAE, closed the event with a presentation to the couple.

“On behalf of the steering committee … we want to kick off your foundation with a gift of $500,” he said. “You are truly daily courage on example.”

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