Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Day We Can't Forget

Eleven years ago today, I was a young rookie police officer with barely eleven months on the job. I was heading in to start my 3:30pm shift just like any other day.

As I went through the intersection a block from work, I saw three police cars go flying by with lights and sirens blaring. I didn't really think much of it because this was a very active high crime district. Not an unusual sight.

I pulled onto the street next to the office but couldn't get through. There were police cars just left haphazardly parked everywhere. I left my car by the side of the road and ran towards the building. No idea what was going on.

I was stopped by a sergeant telling me to take up a position for crowd control. He thought I was already on duty because I always came to work in full uniform instead of dressing at the office. I told him I was just trying to get to work to start my shift. I asked him what the hell was going on. A pained look came across his face. Like he had something to say but didn't know how to say it.

He told me that two members of my squad had been ambushed in the district parking lot and shot. I just stood there. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up and the blood drain from my head. I can only imagine the look on my face since he immediately started asking me if I was okay. I felt like I was going to pass out. I was in shock. I didn't understand. How could this happen? We all knew that this was a risk of the job. But they weren't out patrolling the streets. They were walking in to work. Just like me....

The shooter had mental health issues. His family owned a local convenience store. This day was the day when he finally flipped out. No one knows why. He shot and killed a truck driver as he was delivering potato chips to their store. He stole the delivery truck and drove straight to our police station. He sat out in the parking lot and waited to murder a police officer.

Jake and Rob were walking together through the lot on the way to the door. They were even greener than I was... only graduated from the police academy 3 months before.

The gunman approached them just as they were about to enter the building and said "Hello Officers." They turned to return the greeting and he shot Jake. The bullet hit him in the hand but he was completely stunned, knocked off balance and fell to the ground.

The shooter immediately pointed the gun at Rob and shot him in the face. Rob went down. The shooter turned the gun back to Jake as he lay on the ground and executed him with a shot to the head. The whole thing took only about 2 seconds. Jake didn't even have a chance to react.

By now other officers coming to work ran across the lot. Others came out from the office. The shooter ran to the truck. A large gun battle ensued until finally he was killed. Fortunately, no other officers were injured.

It was a day that changed our department forever. Rob survived his injuries. But we lost Jake.

He was a third generation police officer. His grandfather retired from our department. His father was the sergeant over the homicide squad at the time. He responded to the "Officer Down" call that day as did everyone else on duty.

He had no idea it was his own son. But realized it once he arrived on scene and was physically held back by his fellow officers. No one wanted him to forever have that image of his dying son burned into his memory. He retired shortly after we buried Jake, his only son.

The funeral was one of the hardest things I've ever had to get through. There were 373 police cars in the processional. It stretched for miles. Every major city in Ohio was represented. Officers came from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana and beyond.

The weather was cold and dreary. There was a light misty rain all day. I guess that was fitting. I wept as we rode to the church in our police cars.

There were hundreds of people lining the route, standing out in that cold drizzle to pay their respects. Young and old. Black and white. Children and parents. Some crying. Some holding little American flags. Some with their hands over their hearts. Some standing at attention with a salute. Some held signs with words of support and condolences. It was one of the most touching things I've ever seen.

The church couldn't hold the more than one thousand officers, firefighters, emergency workers and civilians who attended the service. They set up loud speakers out in the parking lot for the overflow crowd. We, the squad that worked with him, took calls with him, and drank beers after our shift with him, had seats right up front. So did the members of his police academy class.

A fire department ambulance brought Rob to the service. He had not yet been released from the hospital but insisted on being there for his friend and classmate. He was in uniform, pushed in a wheelchair up to the front with his jaw wired shut, still recovering from the damage of the bullet.

I'm not sure how I held it together. I didn't think my legs would take me as I walked past his casket to say good-bye. All I could do was cry when I hugged his father.

After we left the church, we proceeded to the cemetery. There were two fire trucks at the entrance with their ladders up. In the center, where the two ladders crossed, hung an American flag just like in this photo.We, as his squadmates, wore special dress white uniform shirts. We lined the path as his casket was carried down between us. I felt like I was going to collapse as I stood there at attention holding my salute.

Directly across from me was Jake's training officer, trying to be stoic, but with tears streaming down his face. We just stared at each other. Both crying. But so focused. We stared.... until it was time to drop our arm from the brim of our hat. It was as if we were afraid that we might just fall over if we broke eye contact. I'll never forget that moment.A riderless horse was escorted past the gravesite as the bagpipers played. A lone trumpet played Taps. Then a 21 gun salute. Some words were spoken. The flag was folded and presented to his family. And then it was over.

I was numb for a few days after. But I returned to work. Because that was my job. We all continued to walk through that parking lot and deal with the memories of that day.

We entered our office through that door right next to where Jake's body had fallen. There were flowers there for a long while. Just placed on the ground right beside the door. We saw them but tried not to think about it. Some of the calls we'd take were awkward as the citizens would offer condolences after we took their accident report or quelled their family trouble.

I wore Jake's crew number memorial pin on my uniform shirt every day after that for the next 8 years until I went into a plainclothes assignment. 334A.... that was him. I wore it to honor him and everything he lost that day.

I wonder how things might be now if he were still here. Would we have been great friends? Would he be married with kids by now? How different would things be today? So many questions. What if I had been just a few minutes earlier coming to work that day? What if it had been me? Even after all these years, I still ask myself .... what if?

Every May 23rd I allow the memories of that horrible day to resurface. I let myself be sad. And I cry. I try not to think of it the rest of the time. But I'll never forget Jake. I'll never forget that day. So many details of it and the funeral that followed are forever a part of me.

Even with so many conflicted feelings of "why?"..... I still thank God that He left us with Rob. And I'm grateful I was running a little late on my way to work May 23, 1996. Those few extra minutes may have saved my life.

34 comments:

thegreybullet said...

Thank you for the service you provide everyday for your community! I think sometimes we forget the risks that police officers and firefighters unselfishly grant us everyday. I am sorry for the loss of your friend, what a tribute you provided in remberance of Jake on the 11th Anniversary of his tragic death.
Ellen

C.J. said...

That's such a great memorial tribute to Jake.

Though the angle is quite different, the pain of loss in our jobs is so strong at times. It's good not to try burying that pain without remembering, really feeling the loss.

Thanks for all you do.

Headmeister said...

I have no words, Krista. I am so sorry for the loss that you all have felt, and I appreciate all the more the sacrifices that so many of you endure for the saftey of us all. My deepest condolences... and thanks.

Janet said...

That is so sad, I am so sorry for your loss, and for all those dear to Jake. All I can say is thank you for doing the job you do...there are only few in this world that can do that kind of a job. We had a similar incident in Mayerthorpe here in Canada when four RCMP officers were killed by a lone gunman. It's so...horrible. Thanks for letting us know yet again that police officers are more than just a uniform.

Sam said...

I'm so sorry, Krista. Thank God for people like you. Those words just don't seem to be enough...

Jenny said...

Krista- what a beautiful touching post. Random acts of violence SUCK! Just over 3 years ago my brother was killed when a man with mental health issues decided to use his truck as a battering ram, by driving the wrong way on the interstate highway. Reports came in that he was swerving towards cars as times. I understand how you never forget and how you can't dwell on the pain or it will suck the life out of you. The man who hit my brother died as well in the accident and it is sad to say that I found comfort in that. I could never do your job but I find comfort in the fact that people do the job you do. I hope for every mental patient, or bad guy or messed up person you take off the streets you find some comfort too. Perhaps you have prevented Jake's fate from happening to others...that is an awesome tribute to him. Every year, on the anniversary of my brother's death, I take the day and just feel sad and think about him. I hope that your time of reflection about Jake left you with more happy memories of him than sad ones. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful tribute to a wonderful friend.
Jenny V

Stacy said...

What a horrible, tragic loss. I am so sorry.

Your post is an excellent tribute to your friend.

Noemi said...

Such a sad story... It is nice that you remember him in this way and pay your tribute to him. My brother in law was a Police Officer in FL and was tragically killed. To this day 4 years after my sister has an amazing friendship with his fellow police officers from his department. And they have mourned his departure as much as we have. GOD bless you ALL!

a&mg said...

I'm so sorry for this painful day. Please know that so many of us appreciate that you do what you do.

Debbie said...

That is a beautiful tribute to Jake, Krista. You have such a way with words, I think it runs in the family! I remember that day, but I can't believe it's been 11 years already!! I remember hearing it on the news and just hearing officers down, I remember my heart stopping and thinking of you and turning up the volume so I wouldn't miss anything they were saying. I remember waiting and waiting to hear...a name, a gender.. anything. I remember my heart pounding until I heard male officers and then relief flooded my heart...immediately followed by sorrow for the families of the officers felled. I am so proud of you and the job you do every day. I thank you and your fellow officers for the wonderful job you all do. I still can't believe it's been 11 years!! Thank you for that beautiful tribute. Love ya, your cuz, Debbie

J said...

Very touching. I had tears. Thanks.

kris said...

What an incredible testament to Jake and to your whole profession- this was an amazing post that left me with tears streaming down my face. I'm glad you give yourself this day to remember and cry- and that you carry on with so much strength and dignity in the work you do. I hope we meet one day.

Melissa said...

What an incredibly touching story, I had goose bumps and tears.
People will NEVER know the way the police community comes together, unless they are personally touched.
My Brother-in-law was a new York City cop. Our families have always been very close, his parents are my God Parents. My sister is 6 years older then me, and she had been with bobby since she was 15, married him when she was 18 so I was always super close to him. he was my big brother. I NEVER called him my BIL, it was always, "this is my brother Bobby" and he called me his little sister to EVERYONE. He is the one who taught me to play softball, and took me to all my games.
After he was on the force for about a year, he was diagnosed with leukaemia. My sister was pregnant with my nephew at the time. When my sister gave birth to my nephew (named after his father, Bobby) she was on the 2nd floor of the hospital giving birth, and I was on the 3rd floor sitting with Bobby in his room as he was receiving chemo. The local newspaper came out and did a story on them because they all three got released from the hospital on the same day.
My sister and Bobby and my nephew moved in with us, becasue he needed constant care, and she needed the help with having a brand new baby.
A few months later Bobby went back into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant. I lost my 'brother' two weeks later. My nephew was only 8 months old. He never really knew his father, and what an incredible man he was.
The police department NEVER left our side. There was someone there EVERY SINGLE day at the hospital with us. They brought us our meals. They grocery shopped for us. They took care of everything.
During the funeral, I had NEVER seen so many police cars in my life.
As with your friend, there were too many police cars to count in the procession. Too many officers to fit in the church.
I will never forget how the department took care of our family. You belong to very special community, Krista.
I am so very sorry about the senselass loss of your friend.

Lisa and Doug said...

That was an amazing tribute to Jake. What a sad, sad story.

"M" said...

My heart is heavy for you as I read this post. I'm sorry for your losses and what you experienced. I admire you for the work you do. Take care of yourself.

wzgirl said...

Wow, Krista. My heart goes out to you and all police officers - to be able to continue showing up for in the face of such a tragedy is truly heroic. The risk is incredibly high - as my appreciation for yours and others profound committment. XO

Doris & Dan said...

What a tremendously sad event to go thru. The key is to never forget. Thanks to you and your colleagues for all you do.

Keep smilin!

Daniella said...

I have been following your blog for awhile and wanted to comment today on this very touching post. What a loss and I'm so sorry for your pain. My brother was a NYC policemen and is now in Westchester County as a detective. When he was on the force in NY he was shot (he lived thank God) but I'll never forgot the night the police came to our door to get us. They stood by my family for days while he was in the hospital and never left our sides. Thank you for all you do to protet and for the risk you take every day!!!
I love your blog by the way -
Daniella

Stephe said...

I am grateful to all those on the police force and the firefighters for their courage and protection. I grew up in a resort town that basically was forced to shut down when one of it's uniformed passed away. It's horrible, tragic, and heartbreaking. Your post was a wonderful Tribute Jake. Thank you for sharing. Sending you a ((big hug)).

lisa b. said...

Your words paint a very vivid picture and I felt as if I were with you every step of the way. I could feel your anxiety and pain and cried while reading about the whole episode. My thoughts were exactly the same....what if you had arrived at work just a few minutes earlier...good thing you are such a procrastinator!!! I thank you and your fellow officers every day for the jobs you do. I am proud to say my cousin is a police officer (detective, no less!) and brag every chance I get!!

Sandra said...

That was a wonderful tribute, Krista.When I was reading your post, it was as if I was experiencing what you were writing myself. Very moving. Thanks for sharing and for the job you, Rob and Jake and others do....

Weathering The Storm said...

You’re a very descriptive and excellent writer I was able to envision everything you typed. I have a deep respect for police officers. I want to thank you and the falling police officer for putting your life’s on the line to serve and protect general public

cougchick said...

What an amazing tribute. Thanks for sharing and thanks for risking your life on a daily basis for us plain folk.

G & G Hadden said...

Krista
I'm so sorry to hear that story from you about your crew. They say it makes us stronger, I just don't know. Keep him in your heart as he is watching over you.

Joannah said...

What a memory, Krista...

How senseless. How sad.

Jill and Jaap said...

Oh Krista, how awful!

eggrolls and chopsticks said...

Krista.
May you never feel that pain again.
Such a lovely tribute to your fellow officer.

Elise said...

That was a beautiful post Krista, and thanks for doing the job you do!

Susie said...

Krista,

What a emotional story that was! I can't imagine the sorrow that you and all of his partners went through. I'm sure you were all like family. Thank you so much for your hard, dedicated work. I am so thankful for my local police and sheriff, as well as all our troops. Nothing makes me more emotional than thinking how truly lucky we are to have such honorable people risk their lives for us.

Jennifer "Jenny" said...

Krist what an AWESOME tribute but so terribly sad! My prayers go out to you and their families. Thank you for all that you and others in Law Enforcement do for us. Our world is a better place because of it! Your bravery and the risks that you guys take and are faced with each and every day for all of us is so very appreciated :)

Debbie said...

WOW!!! I had no idea what you did for a living. That is a story that is sad and we all need to hear every now and then. Thanks for sharing Krista and may you always be safe in your daily journy's through life.

Deb

Princess Diaries said...

What a horrible incident. I'm stunned it happened in real life, it sounds like a novel. I'm amazed what you have seen in your life.

Carla said...

I remember that day. And still have the newspaper with the front page pic of Krista, in uniform, crying. I am so sorry for the loss felt by the families, friends, police dept, and community.

But, I am forever grateful that my sis is perpetually late to work.

Anonymous said...

My husband and father are retired police officers and I have attended fallen police officers funerals and reading your story just gave me goose bumps.

Please be safe : )

Barbara
www.ourdaughtermia.blogspot.com