“Again, the date is July 8, 2013. This concludes my interview with Lieutenant Tim McMillan of the Garden City Police Department. At this time, I am turning off the audio recording.”
I shift in the front seat of an unmarked SUV. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent seated in the driver’s seat next to me fumbles with a small audio recorder. I assume he is trying to ensure that the interview he had just conducted with me is saved for future reference and the sake of evidence. Leaning back in the seat, I look out the windshield and silently watch the scene in front of me.
The typical serenity of a warm summer night in this upper-middle-class neighbored has been shattered. Yellow crime scene tape cordons off the entire section of the roadway. The bright yellow warning to “keep out,” trails off into the front yard of a one-story home nearby.
Suddenly night turns to day as the large portable spotlights turn on. Investigators walk past a man crouching down to take a photo of a pool of dried blood in the middle of the road. There is defined purpose in these investigator’s steps.
In the distance on the other side of the crime scene tape, a small group of neighbors huddles together, talking amongst themselves, as they look at the characters inside the ad hoc taped enclosure, methodically performing their roles.
Off to the side, a news reporter talks to a woman in pajama pants and a t-shirt. It appears the reporter is trying to convince the woman to go on camera to talk about what has happened here tonight. The woman looks down at her pajama pants, slightly pulling them to the side, before looking up and nervously shaking her head no.
Two investigators point at a .308 Winchester rifle lying in the road. I finally say to the GBI Agent sitting next to me, “I think it might be time to consider getting out of this line of work.”
The GBI Agent puts the audio recorder in the SUV’s center console, before replying “Yeah, these kinds of events can be pretty scary.”
Never taking my eyes off the scene in front of me I reply, “That’s the problem… I feel nothing.”
Several hours earlier, I found myself taking cover behind the engine block of a 2010 Ford Crown Victoria police car.
My vision was narrowed by the Kevlar helmet on my head. However, as I peered from the front of the police car, I could clearly see the heavy-set gentleman in the middle of the road hurling obscenities at me and the half-dozen other police officers that were fanned out around him. In his hand was Winchester .308 scoped rifle.
“Come on mother*****s! Let’s do this!” the man yelled.
Only moments before my arrival, officers from a jurisdiction next to mine, had gone to this man’s home to check on him after a family member had expressed concern over his mental condition. He had responded to the officers knock at the door with a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. Luckily, he had aimed high and no officers had been hit.
Officers backed out and formed a perimeter while calling for additional assistance. Another officer from my agency and I had responded to the officers cry for help. While we were en route the man began to call 911 and demand that the Chief of Police come to his house within 10 minutes or he was coming out to start killing cops.
I hadn’t been on the scene for five minutes before the man walked out, closed the front door to his home and walked into the middle of the road with a high-powered rifle in his hand.
Evidently, our 10 minutes was up.
It is normal for people to leave themselves a path of escape. It is human nature. Even if you are going to go with "fight" and not "flight," you still always consider a path of flight if for some reason fight doesn’t pan out. However, when the guy closed the door when he walked out the house, he left himself no path of escape. I knew then we were going to have to shoot him.
Officers pleaded with the man to put down the gun and to think about what he was doing. Sweat began to pool underneath the Level III ballistic vest I put on shortly after pulling up to what is normally a very quiet suburban neighborhood. Around the corner and less than a block away, EMS was staged right beside a home that I had lived in several years prior. In my hand was a Remington 870 shotgun.
A bead of sweat dropped dripped down the side of my face, as the July Southern summer heat began to take its toll on 60 extra pounds of ballistic resistant materials I was currently wearing. I looked on as the man erratically paced in the middle of the road stalking officers that might present an easy target.
At this moment and time, this man posed a grave threat to safety and life of all those around him.
I looked back at my partner and told him that I didn’t like our angle of engagement. From our current position, the backstop behind the guy was a neighbor’s home. If we had to end up getting into a shooting, I didn’t want to risk an errant shotgun slug or 5.56 bullet from his rifle going into a neighbor’s home and possibly causing an innocent person to be hurt.
I decided it was worth the risk to myself to break cover and try to take up a position at the corner of another house across the street from the guy. At least this way, it was only his home that would be behind him.
I told my partner he was going to have to cover me with his M4, while I broke cover to run to this secondary position. At this time, I believed the only officers on scene with the type of weaponry that could compete with this guy, in terms of making long-range shots, was me and my other officer. I assumed everyone else only had pistols.
Just as I stood up to move, the guy turns and begins to bring down the rifle into a firing position, as he yells, “You ain’t about to do shit!”
I lift my shotgun up and aim center-mass while moving my finger into the trigger guard and onto the trigger…. Suddenly the defining explosion of a 12-gauge shotgun echoes into the summer night.
I stood there and watched as the man spun a complete 360, his legs giving way as he collapsed onto the ground.
I stood there briefly staring down the barrel at the front ball site of the shotgun realizing I almost had to take a man’s life…almost… because ultimately it wasn’t me that had fired a shot…
Another officer, who was about 20 yards from the guy, behind the cover of another police car, was the one who ultimately fired before the man could level off his gun. Until he fired I didn’t even know that officer was there.
After being shot, I ran up with other officers to see if we could render medical aid and radioed dispatch telling them to immediately roll the staged EMS. Another officer began CPR, and the ambulance came roaring up to us, however, I could tell that lifesaving was ultimately going to be futile…
Hours later, when the GBI arrived on scene to investigate, I relayed to the agent that interviewed me, I recognized hours earlier, I was prepared to kill a man. A man I ultimately watched die in front of me. Yet, I wasn’t scared during the entire event, nor was I scared now. I didn’t feel anxiety, sadness, anger, fear, confusion. I felt nothing and I told the GBI agent, “I don’t think that is normal.”
I have shed tears for people, I don’t know when they have shared with me their harrowing stories of hardship and suffering. There are times when I find myself desiring to withdraw from all human interaction, simply because major traumatic events like Charlottesville, or Las Vegas feel like they take a toll on me. I’ve felt pain, sadness, fear, and grief from strangers, so significantly, that sometimes it feels like I’m going through their stress with them.
However, in my professional life, I seem to be completely shut off from the trauma or frightening events I encounter.
I’ve been in this job for 15 years now. Law enforcement has been my entire professional career since I was barely 21-years-old.
In the mornings when I get off after working the night shift, I look at all the morning traffic as people head into work, and I wonder, “What do those people talk about in their ‘normal’ jobs?”
Last night, I discussed with my officers how I had to tell a mother that her son committed suicide by drinking anti-freeze. What do people in office jobs talk about? Football? Politics? America’s Got Talent?
Honestly, I have no clue…
I’ve held dead infants; seen mutilated bodies; been to police officer’s funerals and been in high-speed car chases. I’ve had a man, who shot his friend in the head because of an argument over a $20 crack debt, tell me that he was about to shoot me, just as he reached for a .38 caliber revolver. Only the fact, that I was quicker than him and his eyes widened as he looked at the barrel of my .40 caliber Glock pointed at him, probably saved my life. I’ve held the hand of a young man, I’d known since he was 10-years-old, as he lay on the pavement crying in agony and begging me for help. His body riddled with bullets. Shards of bone jutting through his skin.
I don’t hate the law enforcement profession…
I don’t hate the public…
I don’t hate anyone…
However, a part of me truly hates that my profession exists.
Whatever, “it” is that makes the necessity that society must have people who are required to carry loaded handguns and body armor as the required tools of the trade… whatever "that" is... I hate “that.”
I also hate that there are a lot of others just like me out there.
Not just the ones who enjoy the benefit of this being a profession. The ones who don’t get the benefit of people saying, “Thank you for what you do,” “I Back the Blue!” or “Blue Lives Matter.”
Rather, the ones who have seen and endured the things I’ve been through, however for them… "it" is their entire environment… "it" is their life...
I hate "it" because I know that the things I’ve seen in my career over time have stolen a piece of who I am.
I realized this a few years ago when I was walking out an electronics store after buying a brand new big screen smart TV. I should have been thinking about the upcoming college football season and how it would all look in 1080p Hi-Def. Instead, I’m scanning the parking lot for threats, because I’m certain someone is watching me, ready to pounce at any moment and rob me for my new TV.
Other people pull up to a gas station and run inside to buy a drink. I pull up to a gas station and notice the drug deal going on off to the side of the parking lot.
Other people live inside the Matrix, where the horrible things that people can do to each other are primarily reduced to the headlines they read. However, I live outside the Matrix, where I know all the disturbing details that are too gruesome to print.
Now, assuredly everyone has their own example of trauma in their lives. I don’t want to negate that and make anyone feel like I’m diminishing one’s specific painful emotional experiences. However, during my career, I’ve seen thousands of other people’s emotional trauma and with that comes a front row seat and view of a hidden underworld.
This numbness through experience, is ultimately what motivates me to tell others to love and appreciate life. Peering into darkness is what makes me want to express to people virtue of light that comes with living in peace amongst our differences. There is indeed beauty in choosing to feel love for others, and rejecting the willingness to have a violent distaste for your fellow man.
You cannot appreciate a sunny day unless you endure some stormy ones. Indeed, I know when life and happiness feel at their fullest because I know what it is like when innocence is lost…