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SALT LAKE CITY — Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer, who was shot two months ago on duty in Montana and transported to University Hospital for treatment, returned home Wednesday.
"The future is brighter today than when we first landed here in Utah," said Lindsey Palmer, his wife, at a news conference Wednesday.
Wade Palmer, who's been with the highway patrol since 2012, was shot three times on March 15 while investigating a separate shooting, which killed one and injured two others, in Missoula where he's stationed.
"I can't believe we're able to make this journey home today," a choked up Lindsey Palmer said at the news conference. "It has been a marathon for the last nine weeks."
A motorcade escorted the Palmers and distinguished guests to the event and another escorted the Palmers to the airport. An additional procession was scheduled to escort the Palmers home once in Montana.
Wade Palmer was absent from the event and doctors explained that while he is recovering, he is unable to speak. He instead waited outside in a car and Lindsey Palmer joined him shortly after sharing her statement with news media.
Lindsey Palmer, through tears, thanked everyone who helped her and her husband during this "scary" time and said she was "blown away" from the nationwide support and finds it "very heartwarming."
"I think this type of event is everybody in law enforcement's fear," said Montana Highway Patrol Col. Tom Butler. "Wade hasn't left my thoughts; every morning it's one of the first things I think of and every night it's one of the last things I think of before I go to sleep."
Butler, who also became choked up when talking about Palmer, said the support from Utah Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies has been "unbelievable."
"Trooper Palmer has made remarkable progress," said Dr. John Speed with University of Utah Health Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
He noted he was "thrilled" to see him returning home and looks forward to his continued progress.
"We're amazed every day with Wade's improvement," said Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Sean Finley. "From day one to today, it's like night and day."
Palmer suffered a penetrative traumatic injury to the left side of his brain, and as Dr. Ramesh Grandhi with University of Utah Health Neurosurgery explained, he has lost his ability to speak for the time being.
Doctors can't say for certain if he will regain speech, but said with continued rehabilitative therapy they are hopeful he will.
However, it appears he still has cognitive abilities and he seems to recognize people and he communicates non-verbally through head nods, facial expressions and minor hand movements, Butler said.
"He wants to talk," Butler told KSL, sharing an experience when he watched Palmer with his speech therapist Easter weekend. "There's no doubt about that, that he wants to do it — I'm just hoping he gets there."
He also noted that Palmer has always been known as a "practical joker," and he responds non-verbally when people in the room tell jokes.
"His sense of humor's back, which is good," Butler said.
Grandhi explained that recovery times are hard to predict for brain injuries and each case is different. However, he noted the progress made so far is a good sign, emphasizing his journey's not over at the two-month mark.
He told KSL Palmer is scheduled to come back to Utah sometime in June for a cranioplasty procedure, which will restore the piece of his skull taken out to relieve pressure from his brain injury.
Speed added that it's "not uncommon" for patients to experience a boost in recovery following the procedure.
"I want to thank (the doctors) from the bottom of my heart for taking care of our hero," said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox at the news conference.
He said he was authorized to speak on behalf of the people of Montana and shared a message of gratitude with Utah.
"Thank you Utah, we love you and you're now all honorary citizens of the state of Montana," he said.
The man suspected of the shootings, 28-year-old Jonathan Bertsch, was charged with deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide and pleaded not guilty to all charges, according to the Associated Press.
Bertsch remains in the Missoula County Detention Center on a $2 million bail.
According to Montana authorities, another trooper found Palmer shot while still seat belted in his patrol car. He was transported to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, then later flown to University Hospital in Salt Lake City.
In the coming days, Palmer will begin outpatient therapy as his recovery continues. His family, while happy to share the news with the public, also requested privacy as they return and adjust to life at home, according to a news release.
"We are so excited to get back home to our beautiful kids, we've missed them dearly," Lindsey Palmer said.