St. Louis Police Officer Don Re wrote this blog post about the March 11, 2015 shooting death of a 6-year-old boy.
We arrived at the Children’s Hospital Emergency Room at the same time.
He and his partner parked and I pulled up to their left and did the same.
I got out of my car and watched as the officer hurried from his seat and opened the back, driver’s side door.
When the officer grabbed the boy from the back seat of his police Tahoe, I knew almost instantly.
There was a split second though, before instantly I guess, where I didn’t know. For that split second, the officer looked like any dad grabbing his sleeping boy from the car and putting the boy’s head on his shoulder to carry him inside to sleep comfortably in his own bed.
For that split second, it was a sweet moment.
The officer, an around fifty year old white guy, clutched the little boy over his left shoulder gently, but with a clear purpose. The boy was small, a black child with his hair in corn rows and dressed as a typical five or six-year-old dresses.
He reminded me of my own six-year-old son.
The sudden, pained look on the officer’s face and the fact that the boy wasn’t crying or yelling or doing anything other than appearing to be asleep made the split second fantasy fade away fast.
We hurried into the emergency room where we were met by the trauma team and hospital staff. I’m always in awe at how these emergency room doctors and nurses and staff are so able to get to working on a patient so fast.
There was some sliver of hope that the boy would make it, at least that’s what we all wanted to believe.
The truth, and I think we all knew it, was that this boy would never fall asleep in his own bed again. When the officer laid the boy down on the gurney and stood back upright, any wind that may have been in my sails quickly faded to nothing.
His shirt said it all.
Where the boy’s little heart had laid so close to the officer’s own heart, was a mess that told us things would not end well.
The three of us officers, with nearly fifty years of city police experience under our collective belts, waited not so stoically outside of trauma room two as the doctors and nurses busted their tails to save this little guy.
We paced and exchanged awkward smiles with each other and the nurses and staff who were passing by. There were several times when one or all of us was close to tears, but we held it together.
It was hard for the officer, because he did the best he could and it wasn’t going to be enough. It was hard for me, because I have a son about that age at home and couldn’t imagine anything like this happening to him.
It was awkward because we were all hoping, but we also knew that it was going to take a miracle for that boy to live.
He was not granted that miracle.
Just like that, at a couple of minutes after 8pm, a five-year old boy was gone forever.
The sheet of paper, which I’ve seen way to many times, verified it. It’s the one with a line printed on it. When it’s completely straight, you’ve died. You’ve straight-lined, as they say.
I was done with being in the hospital. I wanted to leave.
To go back to my car, I had to walk past the same group of people who were in the waiting room when we walked past them earlier with the dying boy. Three little boys grabbed at me and asked me if that boy we carried in earlier was dead.
“Did he die, officer? Was that boy dead?” They asked me.
I got no help from their mom, as she was tending to a clearly sick kid of her own.
6-year-old Marcus Johnson Family photo
“Boys, he’s fine. He’s a strong boy, just like you guys.”
I felt bad lying, but it seemed easier than having to explain death to three strange kids all under ten years old.
I went to my car and grabbed a bunch of Dum-Dums from the bag I carry around. Mom was cool with me giving them suckers, and they left me alone about the dead boy they still thought was alive.
I couldn’t tell them that the boy who was about their same age had straight-lined.
Five-year olds shouldn’t straight line.
Why did this one?
Because of gun violence in the city.
The weather was nice so the people were out.
Some people were out with their guns.
Why did this boy have to die?
Was it disrespect?
All stupid reasons to fire a gun anywhere near another human being, let alone children, but here we are again, with another child lost to violence.
We tried to save this boy.
The officer showed up and there was a hostile crowd of people, most of whom had nothing to do with the shooting, and most not even sure what they should be angry at. The were just angry because anger is easy. Patience is hard. Kindness in the face of adversity is hard. Understanding is hard.
Some chose to be angry at the police while others were taking video on their phone. Meanwhile, nobody was helping a child as he lay dying on the sidewalk from a bullet that had torn through his little body.
The officer fought through the angry crowd and put a dying boy he didn’t know in his car.
Did he have to do that?
EMS was coming, but they were too far away. It was too risky to wait for them, so we raced that little guy to the hospital in record time. We had all sorts of cars shutting down the route to the hospital, just like we would were a fellow cop shot and in need of medical care. That’s about the highest honor we can give a person, and this boy deserved it.
Still, it didn’t matter on this night.
I truly believe that when it’s your time, it’s your time.
Five years shouldn’t be anyone’s time, but that’s not my call.
It’s queer, but I left hospital and went back in service to handle more calls. I had to handle some subsequent calls with a little dead boy freshly on my mind.
That’s the thing with policing. It never ends. You have to carry on, so I pretended to care about a car accident and a stolen bike when I just wanted to shout in their faces, “AT LEAST YOU DIDN’T DIE AT FIVE YEARS OLD FROM A BULLET THROUGH YOUR CHEST!!! I HAVE NO INTEREST IN YOUR BULLSHIT PROBLEMS RIGHT NOW!”
But that’s not professional.
I’m wrapping this up having finished a six pack of Bud Light Lime and I just kissed all three of my own sleeping kids as well as my wife. I also laid on the ground and wrestled my dogs at 2 am, even though one of them is dying and has no interest in playing, and I have to work in the morning.
I’m still thinking about a boy I never met alive, and hoping he’s in a better place.
I’m looking at my own six year old’s homework folder and wondering if this dead boy has a homework folder in a backpack never to be turned in again. Will his mom see it when she gets home and cry? Did he have a lunch packed for the next day that will still be in the fridge this weekend to remind his family of a lunch that was never taken to school?
Did he go to kindergarten?
Will somebody have to explain to his classmates that they’ll never see this little guy alive again and why?
This is all too sad and it needs to stop.
Someone please figure out how.
Printed with permission of the author:
don of all trades