CASTLE ROCK, Colo. -- One of the Douglas County sheriff's deputies who was shot and badly wounded in the deadly New Year's Eve ambush shooting is talking about his recovery, thanking the community for its support and reflecting on the toughest four months of his life.
Deputy Jeff Pelle returned to work Monday and will be on light duty helping the investigations division until he's cleared to return to the patrol division.
He was shot in the chest outside an apartment in Highlands Ranch early on New Year's Eve morning during the shootout that killed his friend and fellow deputy, Zackari Parrish.
Pelle was shot in the chest and the bullet collapsed a lung, then punctured his liver and diaphragm.
The main reason Pelle is talking about the shooting and his recovery is because he wants to thank the community for the support he and has family have received in the past four months.
"(The) community has been amazing," Pelle said. "The letters I’ve received, the gifts I’ve received -- it’s been unreal how awesome and supportive everybody’s been."
Pelle has received hundreds, if not thousands, of cards, letters and gifts. He said he still keeps all of them at home.
He even received a group of cards from Plum Creek Church while he was talking with FOX31. Pelle knows about the church, but does not know anyone there.
"It’s from strangers ... people I’ve never even met before," he said.
While he was in the hospital, Pelle received a visit from Broncos long snapper Casey Kreiter. And after he was able to go home, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson sent him an inspirational get-well video.
All of that support helped Pelle pull through during a difficult time.
He had numerous infections and had to go back to the hospital numerous times.
"Everyday was bad news," Pelle said. "One step forward, two steps back. It was hard to stay positive for a while.
"When I first got home, I had a beard and was super skinny, I lost all my muscle mass. Looking in the mirror, I almost didn’t recognize myself. And I was a little self-conscious with how skinny I got."
Pelle lost about 40 pounds during his recovery. He has gained 15 pounds back and he is working with a trainer again.
On Tuesday, Pelle had the opportunity to see the Douglas Regional 911 dispatchers who were on the radio with him during the shooting.
"It’s a happy ending, I’m glad. I’m very glad. I’m trying to not cry," said lead dispatcher Shannon Burke after giving Pelle a couple of big hugs.
Now Pelle can't wait until he's back to his original size, has his original strength and is back out on patrol again.
The physical recovery for Pelle has been tough. But it's not the hardest part of recovering from the shooting.
"What’s hard was for a long time is I dealt with all the physical stuff and I felt like mentally I was fine. Then once I was better physically, all that mental kind of hit me," Pelle said.
It hit Pelle again this week as he returned to work because he had to do it without Parrish.
"I think about him, obviously, every day," Pelle said. "We’re missing Zack, but I know if he was here, he’d say 'Quit milking it and get back to work. Let’s go.'"
Those thoughts lead Pelle to think about the shooting, as well.
"I still have scars. I have marks everywhere. I think about it every morning when I get ready ... when I go to bed. I think about that night a lot," Pelle said.
Pelle's wife and family have been paramount in helping him cope in a difficult time. His father is Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, who the younger Pelle describes as "my hero."
Deputy Pelle also has a tight-knit family at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, one he's glad to be back with once again.