It was late in the afternoon on a hot summer day and I was working evening shift. It was about five or six PM and I had to stop 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 were coming 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 that he would always leave before they arrived. The gentleman’s wife said she was afraid because it appeared that her son had gotten much worse and was becoming very violent. They seemed like a lot of people I encountered – 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 if he was home now and if so, did they feel as though they were in immediate danger. They said he was gone and didn’t know where he was or when he would return. I told them to go inside the main lobby and speak with the desk officer; he would be glad to take their information and help them in any way possible. And I reminded them to call 911 immediately if they felt threatened or unsafe at any time. They were soft-spoken, humble, and genuinely appreciative of my time.
I promptly jumped in my patrol car to go chase some bad guys. I distinctly remember feeling sad for them and their situation as I watched them walk, arm in arm, into the lobby. I remember thinking to myself, “It’s a shame good people have to put up with that kind of shit”, as I pulled out of the parking lot and headed to the next shit show that needed a band-aid.
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 crime scene photos from a recent double homicide. I said that I had heard about it. I knew it was a domestic stabbing but didn’t know much more. He had processed the crime scene on that case and was working on the case file. He handed me the photos and warned me that they were pretty bad.
I instantly recognized the victims. They were the same people who had stopped me in the parking lot a few weeks ago. Their son, high as fuck, had butchered them with a carving knife when his mother refused to give him money for drugs.
I was standing there, holding the photos, and telling the CSI about how the victims waved me down in the parking lot a few weeks earlier. He said they did file an information report with the desk officer that day. I was taken aback as I looked at the pictures. Blood was all over the kitchen. They were eating dinner when their son attacked and stabbed them both multiple times.
A report. A fucking piece of paper does nothing to protect you from actual violence. I remember feeling sadness and anger over the murders but like cops do, I simply filed it away in my mind and moved on. It sounds callous and uncaring. It’s not. It’s a coping mechanism, a very poor one.
It would be years later before I thought about 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. It really fucked with my head and I wasn’t even aware that it was still with me.
I thought about that couple again, tonight, when I saw the image attached to this post.
I also thought about the eight-year-old girl and her younger sister whose dad made them suck his dick while he took video of them doing it. The oldest said that “daddy makes us do it because mommy is too ugly and fat”. I really wanted to fucking shoot that piece of shit “dad” between the eyes as he stood there, shirtless, on the front porch of his dingy apartment. “Uh oh”, he said with a shit-eating grin as I walked up. “What did the girls do now, officer?” I wiped that fucking 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 those tapes.
I thought about the beautiful young fourteen-year-old, hanging from her ceiling fan, in her parent’s million-plus dollar estate, who was never perfect enough to please mommy and daddy.
I thought about the dad who sobbed as he held his dying sixteen-year-old son in his arms while his son bled to death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
And I thought about a fellow detective who took her own life one evening at home.
There’s a lot of shit I won’t forget. The photo brought some of it back and it still impacts me today. I’m just thankful I had the opportunity later in life to do the work required to process it. 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 am grateful to have been a 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 in life.
If you can relate to any of this, reach out to someone, reach out to me. I’ll fight those demons with 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 that summer evening, I’m sorry. I wish I could have saved you.