Many of you may remember me writing about my son, the Officer, here on the blog. My super-sized 24-year-old son, with an even larger heart, is a police officer in the beautiful East Texas town of Jefferson. Last week, a series of events really brought home two facts for me—one that I forget far too often, and one that I didn’t even know.
Last Tuesday night, after a high-speed chase through dark, winding roads near my son’s new hometown, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Scott Burns was shot to death, viciously and in cold blood. My son was on patrol duty at the time, and as he was enroute to assist in the chase, he heard Trooper Burns’ last words on the radio—“The suspect is exiting his vehicle!” Officer Owen will never forget the next words he heard from the radio, this time by a local resident who had witnessed the crime: “OFFICER DOWN! OFFICER DECEASED!”
My son was one of the first to arrive on the scene of the murder. Of course, being a fellow law enforcement officer in rural East Texas, he knew Scott Burns—and had seen him as recently as the previous Saturday, at a gathering of local law enforcement officers. As the investigation turned into a manhunt during the darkest hours of the night, my son called a few family members—me included—to tell us what had happened, so that when we got our morning paper and saw “Officer Slain In Marion County” we wouldn’t drop to the ground with heart failure.
The next several days were a blur, with my son actively participating in the search. Officials were very certain that the suspect, who himself was a former policeman, was still in the Jefferson area. They also knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was armed and very dangerous. As any parent can understand, I was more nervous and worried for my son than at any time in his 24 years on this planet. The whole “my son is a cop” thing suddenly was very, very real, and very, very scary.
Wednesday afternoon, I called my son as he was on his way to the police station to start his shift. I knew that even though he had gotten a few hours off duty he had not slept at all and was exhausted. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Buddy, PLEASE be careful tonight. I know you haven’t slept, and you probably shouldn’t even be going in to work now.”
Son: “I’m fine, Dad. I have to go in.”
Me: “Well, just be careful. Don’t try to take that guy alone…just please, please be careful.”
Son: “Dad….let me ask you something. After 9/11, if you had been a pilot or a flight attendant….would you have been nervous when you went back to work?”
Me: (Pausing) “Well….sure I would have been.”
Son: “Would you have called in sick?”
Me: “Of course not.”
Son: “You would have gone in to work?”
Me: “Certainly I would have.”
Son: “So I’m going in to work my shift tonight.”
Game, set, match: Officer Owen.
On Thursday, my son called to tell me two things: one, he was okay. And two, the suspect had been found—he had committed suicide as the police were closing in. I breathed a VERY loud sigh of relief for mt son and slept very well that night for the first time in about 72 hours.
As I said, this chain of events brought two facts into crystal clarity for me. Number one–the fact that I too often forget—is that there are a great many people in this world whose job is to risk their lives every single day to keep my sorry, unworthy hide safe. People like Trooper Burns. People like the anonymous policemen and firemen I pass on the street every day, and the soldiers that I only see on the t.v. screen because they are half a world away, are risking their lives, day in and day out, so that I can sleep at night and live without fear. I forget about the magnitude of the sacrifice that they are offering, just to keep me secure. I may get angry when I get pulled over, or may not agree with a war our soldiers are fighting, but I need to constantly remind myself that they have all taken oaths, quite literally, to take a bullet for me if necessary. For that…I am humbled, awed, and deeply grateful.
The second fact—the one that I had never realized—is that somehow, some way, my son has become much wiser than me. When on earth did THAT happen? Of course I fully realize he’s now a bona-fide grown up, but somewhere along the way, he has become a wise grown up. I know many adults—some even my age—that never attain that level of maturity. Little Buddy (my pet name for him—which is now WOEFULLY inaccurate), know when you read this that I am proud of you. And be careful.
Rest in peace, Trooper Burns. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice…and my thoughts and prayers are with your wife, infant daughter, and your family and friends.