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police-tape

TW: domestic violence, gun violence

On New Year’s Eve, my tiny little central PA town made national news when a state trooper was shot and killed. He was attempting to bring in a man who had violated his Protection from Abuse order, and the man killed him.

For a multitude of reasons, this news shook me to my core. First and foremost, the police officer was very young, had just joined the force, and was newly married. His loss is devastating for his family, fellow officers, and our entire community and state. Second, though I did not personally know the officer, the man who shot him, or the woman who reported the PFA violation, I also did know them. When you live in a town of just over 7,000 people, everyone sort of knows everyone. I knew them in that I recognized their names and faces, and that I immediately became the woman.

I don’t want to have that response, but it’s not always within my control.

And just because I feel like I became her for a little while, as I absorbed the news, does not mean that I know everything she’s going through. I don’t, by a long shot. I’m just glad she’s safe, and very sad that the trooper lost his life.

Another fact about a town of just over 7,000 people is that we like to talk, and sometimes we don’t always know what we’re talking about. People want answers. The twin investigations of the man’s shooting of the cop and the cops’ take-down of the shooter (yes, the shooter is dead, after a 15-hour manhunt and confrontation) are still underway. I have heard much more about this case than has been published in the local newspaper, but will not speculate or repeat rumors here.

What we all know, according to police, is that the .32 caliber Beretta the man used to kill the trooper had been stolen and traded to him for drugs.

What we all know is that the shooter had a long history violence against this woman, and was vocal on social media about his hatred of police.

What we all know is that the shooter texted the woman who reported his PFA violation about ten minutes after the shooting. Told her he killed the cop. Told her he shot him twice in the head. Told her he loved her and always would. Called her sweetheart. Said goodbye.

That’s what we know. Then there are the things I wish we all knew.

The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is right after she escapes: 60% of all partner violence happens after the victim has fled the relationship, and 1 in 5 homicide victims who have restraining orders or PFAs are killed within a few days of leaving. This woman filed for her PFA in April 2016. It wasn’t the first time she attempted to do so. I hope our town supports her in all this messy aftermath, rather than blames her. I hope we believe her allegations of abuse, and not just because the man she accused ended up killing a cop. I believe her. I hope the massive drug problem in my community is addressed. I hope the handling of the woman’s PFA case is investigated so that all of those in positions of power can consider how they might do better in the future, to keep everyone safe.

And I hope my state looks hard at its procedure for having troopers respond to these types of calls, because they are dangerous (here is an example of such a procedure). A quick Google search returned more stories about this than I have time to read, but one of them stated that “Police consider domestic violence calls among the most dangerous. Officers walk into a heated situation with very little information, including whether weapons are involved.” Another quoted an FBI statistic: “Responding to domestic violence calls…is one of the most volatile and dangerous situations for police officers. They lead to about 14 percent of officer deaths every year.” Still another stated, “Domestic violence is about one person’s desire to control another. The police officer who arrives at the scene is taking away some of that control.” If you click on no other link in this post, click on the one preceding this last quote. It’s necessary reading for understanding dangers to cops, but also to understanding a bit about abuse dynamics–and that understanding not only has the potential to save the lives of abuse victims, but of the cops who are trying to help them. All of this could have been prevented by that understanding.

There are too many victims in this story. My heart hurts for all of them; but again, I can’t help but identify with the woman. To get personal for a moment, I was ok until I read the part of the news story about the man’s texts. I wasn’t ok in the sense of not being upset by the fact that people had been killed, but I was ok in the sense of not being triggered by the domestic violence component of the story. When I heard the news last week, I remember thinking about my childhood home, about three miles from where the shooting occurred. But two nights ago, I read about those texts and stood stock still in the kitchen for at least 10 minutes, holding the newspaper with one hand and my hand over my mouth with the other. Then I had to sit down.

I’ve gotten those texts before. Not the ones admitting to murdering a cop, but the professions of love and adoration immediately after an act of extreme violence. That was the part that triggered me. I sat quietly for a bit while Jax watched a show about puppies. I counted breaths and tried not to think about the times I couldn’t breathe, the times my breath was nearly stopped by someone who was supposed to have loved me.

Then I picked myself up, shared a Christmas cookie with my son, and read him his favorite bedtime story. Sometimes you need to take a happy ending wherever you can find one, just to keep going.

I wish that trooper’s family had one. May he rest in peace.

Domestic violence really does affect us all.

***

A few notes:

  • I can’t link to my hometown newspaper because their online content is behind a paywall. When discussing the shooter’s texts, I linked to a Fox43 story. When mentioning the shooter’s history of violence, I linked to a PennLive story.
  • Despite the fact that I am coming at this story from the perspective of a domestic violence survivor and so am identifying with another survivor, and that I feel deep empathy for the trooper and his family and colleagues, I am disgusted by comments expressing happiness that the shooter was killed. He has a family, too. He clearly had issues. Of course, the troopers did what they had to do because once they found the shooter, he was threatening them with a gun and refusing to surrender. But that doesn’t mean we should be happy it played out like that. Let’s focus on grieving, supporting all the families involved, and adjusting our attitudes, behaviors, and practices so that we might save people’s lives in the future, rather than rejoicing in any kind of violence whatsoever.
  • I did not address gun control or gun safety in this post, but I feel strongly about both. Responsible gun ownership is vital, and responsible gun ownership means at the very least registering your weapons, knowing how to use them, knowing where they are at all times and reporting them stolen immediately if they go missing, and keeping them unloaded and locked up.
  • If you or someone you know is being abused, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). If you live in or near Huntingdon, call Huntingdon House at 814-643-2801.
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