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They Literally Had My Back’: At San Bernardino Shootout, Cops Became Family

The terrified text messages landed in Sgt. Andy Capps' cell phone while he and his fellow Redlands, California police officers were trading shots with the San Bernardino shooters.

"I got a text from my daughter, which said she had just seen this (description) of the suspect from the chase and the shootout on the street," Capps told NBC News. "She had been following along at her computer, I think, at school, and so that text message had come when I was in the middle of the fight."

As soon as the shooting was over and the suspects were slain, the first thing Capps did was reassure his daughter — and then his son — that he was alright.

"My son quickly learned that I had been there, so I texted him to let him know that I was okay and I told him I would call him as soon as I had a chance," he said. "I couldn't call him right then, but I called him as soon as I had a chance to."

"You know, they worry, and I worry about them, and I don't want them to worry about me."

Nothing in the 23 years Capps had been on the job could have prepared him for Dec. 2, when a married couple burst into a San Bernardino building and opened fire, killing 14 people and wounding 21 more.

Capps was the sergeant in command of the midday shift when the calls started coming in fast and furious over the radio.

"There had been this horrific shooting in San Bernardino," he recalled. "We were notified by officers from the San Bernardino Police Department that they needed assistance trying to stop the suspect vehicle, a black SUV."

Minutes later, Capps was among the first wave of officers to confront the killer couple, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik.

"I could see what was happening," Capps said. "I knew what was happening. I could prepare for that — because there was no doubt in my mind how it was going to unfold."

Related: How the San Bernardino Rampage Unfolded

But as it did, Capps said he heard the blood-curdling words not cop ever wants to hear: "Officer down."

"That's a horrible thing to hear. I never want to hear that again," he said. "'Officer down' is a horrible thing to hear, but [the response of] the men and women there — it was textbook."

That officer turned out to be alright. But the officers got another scare when they learned "there had been a bomb thrown out of their vehicle, and it was behind us, where all of our police cars were," Capps said.

There was only one place they could hide — behind Capps' police cruiser.

"It seemed there were, like, 30 or 40 officers up against my car" as the bullets flew, said Capps, who recalled how some of his fellow officers returned fire directly over his shoulder.

Capps said he took comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by his brothers in blue.

"I never felt alone or unsafe," Capps said. "They literally had my back."

The Price of Terror? About $4,500 1:58

Capps said he'd never been through anything like the shootout "and I hope to never experience again."

"I've been a police officer for 23 years, and it would have been fine if I had made it all the way through without it ever happening," he said. "It's a law enforcement cliche. You know, we go to work and we do our jobs. But we keep ourselves and each other safe so that we can make it home to our families at the end of the shift. "

Capps said the massacre that horrified the country left him and his fellow officers "heartbroken as a department."

"I mean, that's horrific to have happened anywhere, but to have it happen so close to home, it just makes you feel even worse," he said.

So this Christmas Capps said he will be holding his kids closer and giving thanks that he and all of his comrades survived the violent shootout with the terrorist couple.

"It's going to be a great Christmas break," he said.