WARNING! Graphic Content…
It was late in the afternoon on a hot summer day. I was working evening shift. About 1700 hrs or so, I stopped by the station for something. Irritated over the fact that I had to leave my beat, I concluded my business and was walking back to my patrol car when I noticed an older couple headed toward the main entrance of the police department. They were giving me that “hey – over here – we need to talk to you” look that all young cops hate to see. Why me? I didn’t want to be at the police station to begin with. I was supposed to be flying around the city crushing crime and suppressing evil. But it was too late and of course, they began waving at me and I sighed to myself as they approached.
They had come to the police department because they were afraid of their thirty-something son. He lived with them, and he was an addict – the type who would become violent and aggressive when he was high. The gentleman said that officers had been out to their house before because of their son’s drug use, but he would always leave before they arrived. The gentleman’s wife said she was afraid because her son had gotten much worse and had become more violent. They seemed like a lot of people I encountered regularly – good people – with no where else to turn.
I was as patient as a young cop could be and told them how sorry I was to hear all of this. I asked (almost hopefully) if their son was home now and if so, did they feel as though they would be in immediate danger if they went back to their house. They said he was gone and didn’t know where he was or when he would return. I listened a bit more and instructed them to go inside the main lobby. There they could speak with the desk officer, and he would fill out a report. I reminded them to call 911 immediately if they felt threatened or unsafe at any time when their son was home. They were soft-spoken, humble, and genuinely appreciative of my time.
I jumped in my patrol car eager to get back on the streets. I recall feeling sad for those folks as I sat there a moment and watched them walk arm in arm into the lobby. They were so nice. I also felt a little guilty for being so self-absorbed. I remember thinking that it was a shame such good people had to live in a situation like that with their own son. I checked back in service and pulled out of the parking lot ready for whatever shitshow was next on the list.
A couple of weeks later, I was about to go off duty one evening as the night shift officers were making their way into the squad room for briefing. I walked into our crime scene investigation office to BS with one of our crime scene investigators before checking out of service for the night. He asked if I had seen the photos from a recent double homicide. I had heard about it and knew it was a domestic stabbing but didn’t know much more. He processed the scene on that case and was working on the case file. He handed me the photos and warned me they were pretty bad.
I instantly recognized the victims. They were the same people who had stopped me in the parking lot of the police station a couple of weeks back. Their son had gotten really high and butchered them with a carving knife after his mother refused to give him money for more drugs.
I was standing there staring at the photos in disbelief and telling the CSI about how the victims had waved me down two weeks earlier. He had a copy of the information report they filed with the desk officer that day. It was a grisly scene even by cop standards. Blood was everywhere. The gentleman was seated and slumped over on the kitchen table; his wife’s body was on the floor. His throat had been slit and he had been stabbed a few times in the back, but she had taken the worst of it by far.
The investigation revealed that the couple was eating dinner when their son showed up, demanded money, and stabbed them both to death when they told him no. I remember feeling sadness and anger over the murders but like most cops do, I simply filed it away and moved on. It sounds callous and uncaring but it’s not; it’s a coping mechanism and a very poor one.
It would be years before I thought of that couple again. Suffice to say, it came up in therapy, seemingly out of nowhere – the guilt, the rage, the images of the crime scene, memories of my conversation with the victims prior to their senseless, violent murder. I had no idea that those memories were still in my head and affecting me, holding me back in some way, but they were. I am very grateful that I was eventually able to process them and find a space for them in the larger context of my life. I thought about that couple again, tonight, when I saw the image attached to the preview of this post.
I also thought about the eight-year-old girl and her younger sister whose dad made them perform oral sex on him while he took video of them doing it. The oldest one said, “daddy makes us do it because mommy is too ugly and fat”. As I walked up, I really wanted to shoot that “dad” between the eyes as he stood there shirtless on the front porch of his dingy apartment. “Uh oh”, he said with a toothless grin when he saw me. “What did the girls do now, officer?” I wiped that grin off his face, trust me. He had stacks of video tapes in his filthy bedroom next to his video camera and tripod. You can imagine what was on them.
I thought about the beautiful young fourteen-year-old hanging from the ceiling fan in her parent’s multi-million dollar estate, who was never perfect enough to please mommy and daddy. She had been practicing the piano only moments before she took her life.
I thought about the dad who sobbed as he held his dying sixteen-year-old son in his arms. His son shot himself in the head following an argument with his dad over his report card. I was only two blocks away when the call came out. I found Dad was sitting on the floor in his son’s bedroom, rocking back and forth as he cradled the boy in his lap. I knelt beside Dad and placed my hand gently on his shoulder. He raised his head slowly, looked at me, and with the voice of a sobbing child repeated one word over and over: “why.”
I also thought about a fellow detective who took her own life one evening at home. We talked every morning at work. I’d stop by her desk, and she would often keep me from making very bad decisions about which tie to wear on a given day. Rest in peace, Deb.
There’s a lot I won’t forget, and I’m actually grateful for that because all of my experiences helped shape me in some way. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. I’m just thankful I had the opportunity later in life to do the work needed to process them; work that continues today. A lot of cops don’t get that chance, and far too many of my brothers and sisters take their own lives every year. While I wouldn’t presume to know what leads each one of them to do so, I do know from personal experience that the effects of the job can be debilitating, to say the least.
I was blessed to have been part of that world and to have served alongside some of the finest men and women I have ever known. I am thankful for the experiences, good and bad, that made me who I am today. But most of all, I am thankful I had the opportunity to talk with someone about it who could help me put all of it in context so I could move forward.
If you’ve been there and can relate to any of this, reach out to someone, reach out to me. I’ll fight those demons alongside you. You’re not alone. You’re not weak. And there is life on the other side of what you’re walking through.
And as far as the two dear people who waved me down in the parking lot of the police station late one summer afternoon, I’m sorry. I wish I could have saved you.