Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A tribute to my Uncle Kent

Around 4:30am today, this world lost my great Uncle Kent.  He had been in hospice care in Iowa and was not living the life he loved to live.  The tears I’ve shed in the last few days were truly for myself and for my family.  I am grateful that he is out of pain and in heaven with his amazing wife, Lois, my grandfather (his older brother) and many other amazing and wonderful friends and family.

Uncle Kent was the second of only two sons.  My grandfather was the older brother.  I’ve read articles about the traits of siblings based on birth order.  Uncle Kent was the classic younger sibling:

He was fun-loving.  Man!  Did he know how to have a good time.  He was a sparkle.  He was an excited clap.  He was a lean back and laugh.  He was a good story.  He was there to get the party started, and he was there to finish it up.  He made you feel good about being around him, and he made you feel good about yourself.

He was uncomplicated.  He was who he was.  You knew him right away, and you loved him from that very moment.  He didn’t expect much.  Just your happiness and honesty.

He was manipulative.  (HEY!  That’s not nice, Sarah) Let me explain.  This is a trait of the younger sibling (I’m looking at you, Chris), and it’s one that can be used for good or bad.  Charming Uncle Kent could get you to do anything.  Luckily for the world, he used this gift for good.  Like when he’d talk me into getting booze EVERY DAY for the mandatory family happy hour at the family reunions.  Or when I was younger, he’d have me whisper something to Aunt Lois that would make her either laugh or yell at him…then he’d just sit back and laugh.  He could get us to do about anything…but it was always in a way that made us enjoy life even more than we did moments before.

He was outgoing.  I don’t think I need to go into this more than I already have, but I do want to share a story to explain this personality trait.  Our family has held family reunions at beautiful Lake Okoboji, IA several times.  In August, 2003, we were at a reunion at Crescent Beach Resort in Okoboji.  The family had a pontoon boat rented for the week, and he decided to conduct happy hour out on the water.  I stayed behind and was watching as he navigated the boat back toward the second dock (luckily, I was standing on the first dock).  I was standing with my father as we watched Uncle Kent, wearing a captain’s hat, come in a bit too hot…

Sarah: Dad, he’s going to hit the dock. I bet you $10.

Dad: No he’s not. He knows what he’s doing.


(Ed hands Sarah a $10 bill and walks toward the beach. Sarah remains to watch half of the dock slowly sink into the lake)

Now…many people would freak out, panic and start to apologize.  Not Uncle Kent.  He marched up to the office, offered to buy the manager of the resort a meal, and charmed her into letting him pay for all damages without any further issue or complaint.  Now that I’ve typed through that story, it appears he used all his “younger sibling” characteristics in this one great moment.  Because of him, and because of this story, our family named our pontoon boat “Dockbuster”.

Until this last year, Uncle Kent was so much younger to me than his true years.  He was like the Labrador dog that never realizes he’s not a puppy until years after he actually became a “dog”.  He was so young at heart.  He was so fun. 

I remember when my grandfather was still alive and I would watch the two of them interact.  Grandad (my grandfather) and Pappy (what Uncle Kent’s kids and grandkids called him).  Grandad was also full of fun, but he was definitely the older sibling.  Structured.  In charge.  A bit bossy. (I got all my good qualities from Grandad).  Uncle Kent could drive him nuts even when they were the two old men at the party.  But Grandad couldn’t help but laugh at him too.  I know Grandad was so excited to see his baby brother again this morning…and the excitement probably lasted for a few moments before Grandad went “Sigh…here we go again.”

You would think that somebody as fun-loving and enjoyable as Uncle Kent wouldn’t be someone that would pass on deep thoughts or life lessons.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’ve had the opportunity these last few days to reflect on what I’ve learned from Uncle Kent in my life.  I could go on and on about how he’s changed my life, but I’ll just highlight a few:

Uncle Kent’s love for Aunt Lois made me seek out a good man.  My memories of Uncle Kent alone didn’t start until we lost Lois.  Before that, my memories always had them together.  I can see him smiling at her while we sat around their kitchen table.  I can see him pulling her chair out for her in a fancy restaurant in Des Moines as we all sat down for brunch.  My first “solo” memory of Uncle Kent was at our family reunion in Okoboji.  I went into his room to let him know that dinner was ready outside.  I caught him gazing lovingly at a picture of Lois.  He brought it with him from his home and had it by his bed at the resort.  I remember thinking, “If only I had a man who loved me like that.”  My grandfather loved Grandma Barbara (and later Grandma Karen) in the same way.  These two men taught us through their actions to not settle…to find somebody that is not embarrassed to love openly and forever.  I found a man like that, Uncle Kent.  Thank you for showing me the type to look for.

After my grandfather passed away, Uncle Kent made sure to remain connected with all of us.  I remember having a complete panic after Grandad left us…thinking that I wouldn’t see my cousins Jenn and Mel…and that the Pappy Wing (Uncle Kent’s branch) wouldn’t be around as much.  That panic lasted for a split second.  Uncle Kent took over as the “patriarch” without a second-thought.  He wrote letters to us.  He sent us those Christmas calendars.  He attended weddings and graduations.  He made sure he could make the family reunions.  He was present.  He led us.  He made sure that the glue didn’t wear off…but grew even stronger.  He reminded us that family is forever.

 Uncle Kent taught me to have fun, but not be cruel.  He loved to pull little pranks, or tease you…but you never left the conversation feeling angry, sad or frustrated.  You left it with a pep in your step and a smile on your face.  Now…I am a smartass.  I come from a line of smartasses.  It’s clearly genetic.  If you don’t believe me, venture over to Okoboji the next time the Klein family is there…because we will be there again.  Uncle Kent was the king of the smartasses.  But he wasn’t mean.  He wasn’t cruel.  He was all heart.  He was all smiles.  I strive to be like him without losing that amazing genetic trait that was given to me…and all of the other cousins (except…well you know who you are).

It’s bittersweet when you lose somebody so loved by your family, but at a point in their life when it’s time for them to move on.

A lot will change immediately because of our loss.  My mother is now the head of the family (and I mean that in the most Godfather way possible…but more German/Scandinavian than Italian).  We have a matriarch again!  But we’ve lost the last member of an AMAZING generation of family members.

But I’m not panicked.  I’m not afraid.  This family is strong.  This family is loving.  This family is connected.  This family is Klein.

God Bless You, Uncle Kent.  Keep that party going up there like only you know how.  Until I see you again…

Thursday, October 15, 2015

victory (noun)

There are misconceptions about how the mind of a prosecutor works.  No, we are not robots.

There are misconceptions about prosecutors in general.  No, we are not all the same. 

That was a bit repetitive.  

But I believe the biggest misconception is how we define “victory” and “win”.  It’s not just a guilty plea or a guilty verdict.  Really, the only time I fist pump after one of those is when it involves a bad, bad person who needs to go far, far away.  The murderers.  The violent rapists.  The ones who hurt children and show no remorse.

I don’t fist pump on cases with addicts when there’s a guilty plea or a guilty verdict.  It’s more of a feeling of sadness.  Maybe a prayer afterwards that this time it will sink in.  It’s the kind of verdict where I don’t look at the defendant’s family members, because they always look tired.  And sad.  And confused as to how their loved one went into a downward spiral. 

And many times, a few months later we see the same defendant again.  On the same charges.  It’s frustrating as heck.  And that’s not a victory for anybody.

But there are times when a victory is so great in these cases, that it puts a pep in your step and a smile on your face. Yesterday, a few of my wonderful friends took me out to a birthday lunch at an undisclosed restaurant in Rapid City.  I was a few minutes late, and they had already ordered.  When I sat down, one of my friends identified our waitress by name to me.  “Oh dear,” I thought, “this won’t end well.” 

Shame on me.

She looked FANTASTIC.  I didn’t even recognize her.  Gone were the visual indicators of methamphetamine use.  Gone was the surly scowl on her face.  Gone was the tired.  Gone was the anger.  Gone was that addict I remember from a few years back.  The one who tried to kill me with a look whenever I walked into a courtroom.

I didn’t even prosecute this woman in adult court.  Another prosecutor (also at the lunch table) had her cases about five years prior.  I dealt with the woman in Abuse and Neglect court at the same time, when her addiction put her children and her nieces and nephews at risk.  She was not friendly.  She was not happy.  She was not pretty.

Yet, on October 14th, 2015… she was friendly.  She was happy.  She was gorgeous.  She was an amazing waitress.

It took a lot for her to get there, including prison and treatment.  But she was there.    

Smiling at me.  
Happy to be working.  
Happy to be healthy.

And she gave us free dessert.

And that, my friends…is an epic victory for all involved.

Eating: I just finished a Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino. #basicwhitegirl

Listening to: My fingers typing on the keys

Annoyed at: the brief I'm about to edit

Shopping for: Nothing.  Wait...what?  

Sidenote of the Day: Saturday is National Pasta Day.  Prepare yourselves for a proper celebration.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Birthday Gift to Myself

On Saturday, I turn 37.  Holy Cow.  When did I get old? 

I like this age.  But today I will commit to making this the best year ever (which will be hard…because the last 36 have pretty much rocked).  How will I achieve this goal?  By choosing to make myself better. One choice at a time. 

I don’t mean to imply that I’m not happy, or healthy, or content.  I am all of those things.  But why settle when there is always better?

That will be my gift to myself this year.  Choices that lead to a better me.

My Choices

  • I choose to blog again – I haven’t posted on here regularly in a long time.  I miss it.  Although some of my posts have focused more on the serious…I want this to be a reflection of who I am. So be ready for a sprinkle of sass.
  • I choose to let go of the reins…a little bit – I’ve always been a Type A.  I like to be in charge.  Bossy?  Maybe a smidge.  I know that won’t change.  But it’s a bit refreshing to take a step back sometimes.  Let others make the decisions.  This choice will probably be the most challenging when it comes to my kids.  But nobody will know how good their parenting skills are until they aren’t involved in the decision-making process.  I’ve got great kids.  I’m proud to be a part of their lives.  So in the next year, I will sit in another seat. They can drive.  Sometimes.  And I will be in the front seat.  Watching.  Or maybe I will try the back seat. 
  • I choose exercise – I’ve started getting back into the gym on a regular basis.  It feels good.  An hour there makes my other hours better.  I need to remember that.
  • I choose happiness – after a decision is made, there are two ways to remember it…positively or negatively.  I choose the positive. I choose to make my next step happy.
  • I choose my battles – As much fun as it is to always be right… is it worth it? What is achieved when you fight every battle that you encounter?  There’s no better teacher of this life choice than a stubborn 5 year-old boy.  I know he will be my life coach in the coming year when it comes to choosing my battles. 
  • I choose dreams – You are NEVER too old to dream.  Adults forget that.  PARENTS forget that they can dream for themselves as well as their kids.  I’m 37 (almost), but that doesn’t mean I’m done thinking about what I want to do, what I can do and what I need to do.  Hopes, dreams and goals make me smile.  They give me focus.  They help with my drive.  And I need to think about them often.
  • I choose myself – I need to remember that I am me, and me is good.  No matter what size.  No matter what I’m doing.  I am worthy of where I am.

So thanks, year 36…I’m done with you.  This year, I choose to live life to the fullest.  I choose a spectacular 37th year.

Eating: Since I’m taking tomorrow off, I brought McDonald’s breakfast to the office for my birthday treat.  The vultures ate it up.

Listening to: Numb/Encore by Jay-Z and Linkin Park

Annoyed at: Nothing

Shopping for: Brown Boots!!  I need them.  Don’t tell my husband.

Sidenote of the Day: What was invented first?  The whip or the nae-nae?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Love Letter to my Husband, and a Thank You to my Friends

You’re an officer’s wife?  That must be fun.

You’re a deputy’s wife?  Oh…I bet you never see your husband.

You’re a trooper’s wife?  Uggg…I bet that’s hard on your family.

All these statements are completely right.  And completely wrong. 

I am coming up on five years of being married to a law enforcement officer.  I’ve been in a relationship with him for seven years.  A man who, when we started dating, was a patrol deputy who either worked 6am to 3pm or 9pm to 6am.  His “weekend” was never my weekend, and he was exhausted a lot.

But we fell in love, because we always found time for each other.  I remember in the early days of our relationship, I would meet him for a cheeseburger at McDonald’s at 10:30pm on a Friday.  A few times, right when we would sit down to eat, Dustin’s radio would start barking and suddenly I was alone.  In McDonald’s. At 10:45pm. On a Friday.

But other times, I would wake up to breakfast brought over to my house bright and early.  I would sit down and enjoy my breakfast before Dustin went to bed and I went to start my day. 

And other times, when I took my daughter to softball while Dustin was on shift…I would see a glimpse of khaki and black out of the corner of my eye.  He was there.  And he always timed it perfectly for when Trin was up to bat.  He would smile like a proud dad, clap for her…and then the radio would crackle…and he was off.

These scenarios…still vivid…make me happy.  Because he was always there.  He always made time for his family as well as his community.  A lot of parents won’t do that, even if they could make the time.

Fast forward seven years to the present.  I am married to a sergeant (same guy...if you're counting :)) who oversees people crimes for the County of Pennington.  His hours have changed.  He’s supposed to work 8 to 5, Monday through Friday.  I wish criminals knew that.  Because they tend to commit the “big crimes” on the weekend, or in the middle of the night.  So we get a phone call.  And then I get a kiss.  And an apology…and then he’s off.

You would think this makes me angry.  Or frustrated.  Or disappointed.  Maybe on a holiday.  But that’s what my husband does.  I am so proud of him.  It would be selfish for me to say “stop doing what you’re sworn to do.  I’d rather watch TV together.”  Or, “Seriously?  We had plans to paint this room!  That victim can wait!”  There are wives out there that are like that, and it makes me sad.  And it makes me sad when he apologizes, because he shouldn’t.  He’s doing his job.  A job I knew about when I married him, and a job he is so good at.  He needs to be there.

Oh my gosh!  He must be gone a lot!  Based on that description, you would think so.  However, if I look at the whole picture, and not just a few snippets, it is completely different.  Since school started, only two nights have been spent as a “single mom” because of work.  The rest of those nights?  Dustin is coaching Pee Wee football for Tyson’s team.  Or grilling dinner.  Or yelling at the Steelers on the TV.  Or being the amazing multi-tasking dad and husband that I fell in love with almost instantly.

And I treasure the nights when he is home with us.

And I treasure the nights when he is protecting the community.

Law Enforcement needs the support of their families and friends.  Why?  Because they are the ones that run towards the towers.  My husband would stand between me and a bullet.  Many might say, “well my husband would do that for me too!”  But would your husband do it for me?  Because my husband would do it for you.

Because that’s his job.  It’s a job I can’t wrap my head around.  A job where men and women willingly go to work with the goals of “going home safely to my family” and “keeping this community safe”.  So when I hear people making disparaging remarks about law enforcement because of one encounter they didn’t like, or when I see people accusing officers of brutality because they had the audacity to defend themselves, or to make sure they got home safe to kiss their babies…then that makes me burn.  People just don’t get it.

I am thinking of my friends and family today who walk the thin blue line. 
May you forever know my gratitude for being the lions who will run toward the towers. 
Thank you for your service.
Sarah Morrison
Proud Law Enforcement Wife
Chairwoman, Fraternal Order of Police Wives Club

Sunday, July 14, 2013

State v. George Zimmerman

I have been asked about the Zimmerman trial a lot.  Not because I know more than anybody else regarding the facts, but because I am a prosecutor.  But I’m also a mom.  And I’m also a human. 

And the case breaks my heart.

As a prosecutor, I knew this would be the verdict.  Not because I think our system is corrupt.  I love our system.  The justice system is imperfect, as is our society, but in a democracy we must have trial by jury.  Otherwise, one person will be judge, jury and executioner.  And that is dangerous.  And would result in many opinions much worse than what happened in Florida.

So why did I know this would happen?  Because “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a ridiculously high burden to meet.  We need to have that high burden to ensure that innocent people do not lose their liberties.  However, I also think that in cases like this…the high burden results in the wrong decision. 

To explain myself, I have personally been involved in very difficult “no charging” meetings. In many instances, prosecutors must tell victims “we can’t file charges in your case”.  Otherwise stated, we must tell them we know what happened, but we can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  We get the reasoning.  Our investigators get the reasoning.  But the victim who knows it happened?  How can they ever understand it?  They can’t.  And that’s what makes the meeting so difficult.

Am I saying that the Zimmerman case should have never been charged?  Absolutely not.  I don’t know all the facts in the case, and I haven’t read the reports and talked to witnesses.  There’s nothing that annoys me more than people not involved in a case telling those involved what should happen.  You know the types.  The anonymous commentators on the Rapid City Journal, or the individuals loudly talking in the hallway about how so-and-so doesn’t know what they’re doing.  Or the Facebook posters saying things like “I know what happened, and the jury must decide………or they are morons.”  Well, actually…you don’t know.  Thanks.

So when I say this is my opinion, I am not Monday Morning Quarterbacking, and I am not smack talking any parties.  Because I am well aware that I am a citizen that lives in Rapid City, South Dakota.  I was not involved in the trial, and I don’t know the intricacies of what went on…both on the day Martin died, and throughout the days of the investigation, preparation and trial of Zimmerman.

And when I say my opinion, I am well aware that it is based on what certain media outlets chose to report.  And certain outlets (I am talking to you, Fox News and MSNBC) presented their “unbiased journalism” either for or against Zimmerman. That’s another blog post entirely, and I’m not going down that road.

So here is what I have to say:

What George Zimmerman did was wrong.  He profiled a child based on his physical appearance.  He was a wanna-be cop who had a history of calling the non-emergency number to dispatch to report suspicious people.  Or as he called Martin one of several “fucking punks”.

What if Trayvon Martin was walking back to a house with skittles and a juice drink?  What if that’s all that he did?

What if he started to run because he was being followed?  Stalked? Profiled?

What if he was scared?

Or, what if he turned around and told Zimmerman to fuck off?  Although rude, it’s not illegal.

And what if Zimmerman, the wanna-be cop, decided he needed to teach a mouthy kid a lesson?

And what if he attacked first? (after ignoring instructions from a dispatcher to wait for a law enforcement officer)

And what if Martin defended himself?

And what if he got the upper hand?

So Zimmerman can now argue self-defense because the person using self-defense got the upper hand on him?

And what if the only thing Martin did was scream “help”?

But what if that was Zimmerman who yelled “help” after Martin defended himself?

That’s a lot of what ifs.  And what ifs poke giant holes “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  Therein lies the problem in this case.  That’s why I believed the verdict would go this way.  There were too many what ifs, and the prosecution couldn’t answer them.

The only person who knows what actually happened is Zimmerman.  A man who called non-emergency dispatch regularly, who grouped young people into “fucking punks”, who gained 100 pounds on his muscular physique before trial and who connived with his wife to speak in code about hidden money for bail and legal defense while incarcerated and waiting for trial.

But was he a victim?  I don’t see him in that manner at all.  I think he created the situation.

So did the jury get it right?  Based on how the evidence was presented to them, I think they came to the only verdict that they could.  There was too much doubt and unanswered questions.  And that makes me sad.  And I get why people are angry about it.

Do I understand this anger?  No, I personally don’t.  And I never will.  Because when my two young sons go outside to walk down the street to get ice cream, visit their friends or go play to the park, they will always just be wearing hoodies.  And they will get to their destination.

And the fact that I have friends who worry that their sons might not, because of how they look, really makes me sick.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Snapshots of Last August

I just realized, when I logged on to this, that I haven’t posted on this blog since last year. 

I have unfortunately been rehashing a lot of what happened last year.  Part of me wants to completely forget, but that shouldn’t happen.  What helps me is sharing my thoughts and feelings.  So today, this blog will turn into a journal.  Some of the moments I write about are a bit vivid, but it’s part of the process for me.  This is how I felt a year ago.  To give you perspective, I considered myself a friend to both Ryan and Nick, but I wasn’t a close friend.  I was in the same social circles, and enjoyed spending time with them, but I wouldn’t be a friend they called on a weekly basis.  But we were connected. Why? Because of who we are, and what we do.  If you consider them onions, I'm probably a mid-level layer.  That being said, I miss them both terribly.
It was hard to write this out, because I went through a lot of painful memories, but it was also cleansing in a way.  It is how I felt in 2011.  In many ways, it's how I still feel when I think back to what happened.

Last year many people asked me (and many others) "How are you doing?"  My answer was usually quick and negative - "Not well.  My friends were murdered."  I almost immediately apologized, because the person was asking the question out of care and concern.  But I couldn't answer in detail about how I was doing.  I have never been so sick of crying.

So here's my long answer to the question.  Here are my snapshots.


Today is the one year anniversary of the death of my friend, Ryan McCandless.  Another friend, Nick Armstrong, succumbed to his injuries on August 6th.  Obviously, I have been thinking of their murders a lot lately, as today’s date approaches.  This last weekend, as I was going through my thoughts (which I do when I’m stressed), I realized that I recall much of last August in snapshots.  Looking back on each of these “snapshots,” I further realized that I can learn a lot about these photographs in my mind. 

Snapshot #1 – I was leaving work and turned on 106.3 on my radio.  While at the intersection of Kansas City Street and 5th Street, the radio announcer asked citizens of Rapid City not to go to the area of Maple and Anamosa due to a shooting.  They quickly updated it and said an officer (as in one) has been shot.  My world froze.  My husband was working a patrol shift and many times ends up at the same calls as RCPD officers.  I quickly dialed Dustin’s number and he answered after one ring.  Not letting me speak, he simply stated, “It wasn’t me. I am okay, but I have to go.  I love you. Please call my mom and let her know I’m okay.”  On my way to EJ’s daycare, I thanked God that my husband was okay.

Snapshot #2 – As I was driving past Rapid City Regional Hospital minutes later, I realized that even though I was saying a prayer of thanks, I likely had a friend who did not get the same response to a  frantic phone call.  That I likely had a friend that was in the first few steps of her own worst nightmare.  At that point, the news over the radio was that one officer was shot.  I stopped thanking God that my husband was okay, and started crying selfish tears.  I felt some horrible guilt that I was rejoicing in my husband’s safety while somebody else did not have that luxury.  I called my mother-in-law after my tears stopped and let her know that the news will be reporting an officer shooting, but that Dustin was not in danger and was safe.

Snapshot #3 – After having picked up EJ, I was driving home and my cell phone rang.  I was in the condo neighborhood minutes from my house.  Tracey Decker was on the other line, and she told me to pull my vehicle over.  She told me that she knew who the victims were.  Victims?  But I thought there was only one!  She quickly told me that Ryan McCandless was dead, and that Tim Doyle and Nick Armstrong had been seriously injured.  Oh my God…Kristi’s nightmare.  I just started sobbing.  I managed to drive home and I remember looking back at my son, who at 11 months old looked so concerned over his mother being so sad. 

Snapshot #4 – I managed to get EJ in the house and remember putting him in his high chair and giving him some cheerios.  I called my mother and squeaked out, “Will you please come over here?  I don’t think I can be a good mother right now.”  I felt so stupid for even saying that and my tears started flowing again.  My mother was over at my house in minutes.  She told me to take as much time as I needed.

Snapshot #5 – I got into my car and called Tessa LaHaie.  I offered to pick her up and take her to the hospital, since I knew she wouldn’t be able to drive herself.  She agreed and I headed out to the Valley.

Snapshot #6 – I was just getting on to Elk Vale Road and I realized Dustin Calhoun, a good friend of Nick Armstrong, was in Virginia and likely had no idea what was going on.  I immediately called him.  He answered his phone and in a high pitched voice asked me if I knew who had been shot.  I started crying and told him Ryan had died.  I also told him that Nick had been seriously injured, and that it didn’t look good.  I told him to get home.  There are many things we shouldn’t have to go through in life, and listening to Dustin’s tears is one thing I never want to hear again.  It is one of the most vivid memories I have in all these snapshots.  I don’t say that to draw attention to his reaction, or to make him feel bad.  That’s my reality.  I had to break some horrible news to him and I had to hear him break down.  It tore my heart up.  On one hand, I am glad that he heard the news from a friend, and not from the media.  On the other hand, and this is selfish of me, I wish I didn’t have to hear his response.  I can’t imagine hearing that your best friend may die, and being hours away from them. 

Snapshot #7 – After picking Tessa up at her house, we showed up at Rapid City Regional Hospital.  I remember hearing the chaplains draw together a game plan on how to handle everything.  I remember Corey (the head chaplain) asking another chaplain to go to Dispatch and offer support.  I remember hugging Jason LaHaie.  I remember finding out that Kristi was in Michigan for her sister’s wedding.  I remember seeing too many grown men crying like children.  I remember feeling useless.  I remember sitting there watching officers, deputies and troopers trickle in the ER waiting room.

Blank Spot – I don’t remember what happened between waiting at the ER and ending up in the ICU waiting area on the second floor of the hospital.  I have been racking my brain and I don’t remember anything.  Did I go straight up there?  Did I get food?  At what point did I go down to the Public Safety Building?  I remember that…kind of.

Snapshot #8 – I remember waiting in the hallway with at least 40 other law enforcement officers and their families and friends waiting for Nick to get out of surgery.  I remember nurses rolling Nick out and into the ICU.  He didn’t look like himself.  I told him to keep fighting and then Janet Hedrick hugged me.  At that point, I needed to be near my husband. I needed to hug him.

Snapshot #9 -  I remember getting home and my mother leaving around 9:00pm.  My son had been asleep for a few hours.  My mother asked if I wanted her to stay with me, and I said no.  I was so exhausted.  She left and about an hour and a half later, my husband walked into the house.  I just remember us both crying and crying together.  Neither of us slept well that night.

Snapshot #10 – This really was more of a string of photographs.  I was told three separate times that Nick Armstrong had passed away.  Each time, I cried like it was the first time.  After the second time, I had this overwhelming urge to see him.  I wanted to let him know that I thought he was an amazing person.  The first time I tried to visit him, I wasn’t able to.  The second time, I waited in the hallway.  I remember speaking with his aunt about when I first met him, and how his smile was infectious.  I remember telling her about being in Calhoun’s wedding with him, and how he was nervous about speaking at the reception.  Nick’s aunt is a great person.  I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her face.  Such kindness.  I remember holding Nick’s hand and quietly telling him about how I wanted him to prove the doctors wrong and get better.  I remember telling him that he is an amazing officer, and the community needed him back on the streets.  I remember, after being done talking to Nick, showing his mom Kim a picture in the room of Calhoun’s wedding, and pointing out my husband in the background.  I remember wanting to hug Kim but not doing it because everything was so overwhelming.

Snapshot #11 – I remember being in the 3rd floor conference room at the Public Safety Building with a large group of law enforcement wives who wanted to do something.  Anything.  With military precision, we split into groups that would fundraise, that would cook, that would clean and that would do what needed to be done.  I am honored to still be involved with this amazing group of women.  A group whose members made sure the officers , troopers and deputies were doing okay.  A group who had members that started the Heroes Wear Blue shirts.  A group that made sure there were blue ribbons on everything not moving between the funeral home and the Civic Center when the funeral processions took place.  One of the strongest groups of women in the world.  Period.

Snapshot #12 – Knowing I was going to the funeral home to visit Ryan, I thought it would be nice to get some bagels for the officers standing watch.  So I went into Black Hills Bagels.  I must have looked emotional, and the lady behind the register asked me if I was okay.  I told her what I was getting, and before I knew it, I had three dozen bagels and a bunch of cream cheese shoved into my hands.  “Come back as much as you need to and don’t pay us a dime.”  I insisted on paying for my own bagel and cream cheese.  They accepted my money and then put it into the tip jar instead.  That was the first of many moments I recall of how amazing this community was to law enforcement in the weeks after the shooting.

Snapshot #13 – Speaking of strong women, there isn’t anything stronger that I have EVER witnessed than watching Kristi Johnson step out of a vehicle and climb up onto the wagon carrying Ryan from Kansas City Street/5th Street to the Civic Center.  She looked beautiful and she simply brushed the tears from her eyes before trying to smile.  If you know Kristi, then you know she has such an amazing smile.  I couldn’t believe that she did that.  I couldn’t do that.  Such strength and class.

Snapshot #14 – Almost immediately after witnessing that, I remember turning and seeing Arnie Laubach from the Public Defender’s Office standing near me.  I said hello and with anger in his voice, Arnie simply stated, “This is such bullshit.  The officers in our community treat my clients better than I treat them. Rapid City has great officers.”  I never thanked him for saying that, because I didn’t want to start crying.  Our local law enforcement is often treated horribly, and what happened last August should not have occurred.  I have a lot of respect for Arnie for not only showing up to support, but speaking the truth. 

Snapshot #15 – Ryan’s memorial for friends and family brought the first smile to my face in about a week.  It was an amazing time of story time and sharing.  Ryan was funny.  Ryan loved Kristi a ton.  Ryan loved being a law enforcement officer.  Ryan was an amazing officer.  Ryan also loved teasing his friends and cracking jokes.  He had such a brilliant sense of humor.  He could go toe to toe with the best of us smart alecks.  Whenever I had to subpoena him for a motion to suppress or another evidentiary hearing, I would wait for him to come into my office and ask which defense attorney doesn’t know the law.  Half the time, Ryan would tell me the case before I even did research.  I miss seeing him in my office.

Snapshot #16 – I remember being at Nick’s memorial for friends and family and thinking that he was so much younger than Ryan, even though there were only a few years difference between the two.  While sitting at Nick’s private service, I thought about when I met him for the first time.  He was a patrol officer with the Spearfish Police Department.  He was coming down to Rapid City and meeting up with Calhouns and I to watch some bands at the Heritage Festival.  I remember Dustin Calhoun telling me there was a guy he wanted me to meet.  Moments later, I see this cadet-looking little kid bounding towards us.  Calhoun tried to match me up with a teenager.  I remember laughing out loud at the memorial when I thought about this, and then having to awkwardly apologize to those around me.  That same bounding, happy face came at me a few years later, but this time in the uniform of the Rapid City Police Department.  Nick was so excited to be back in his hometown.  He truly loved our community, and loved keeping us all safe.  His smile and his infectious personality reminded me of a Labrador puppy.  He bounded instead of walked when he was excited.  He wouldn’t say a bad word about anybody INCLUDING people he saw day to day as a Street Crimes Officer. 

Snapshot #17 – I remember leaving Nick’s public memorial quickly so we could get to the cemetery.  I am glad we did that.  It was overwhelming to see the number of law enforcement vehicles and officers in the line of cars.  I heard that the beginning of the line was at the cemetery on Sheridan Lake Road before the last vehicle left the civic center.  I remember seeing members of the community standing at attention as Nick went by.  I remember seeing SCU officers wiping away tears as they slowly rode their bikes behind the truck carrying Nick.  I remember looking at the vehicles to see which ones drove the longest.  Vehicles from agencies located in different parts of the country.  Vehicles that made the drive because they needed to be here for their fallen brothers.

Snapshot #18 – the entire week after the shootings, I remember being terrified for my husband to go to work.  I knew that saying that to him wouldn’t make his job easier, so I kept my mouth shut.  I remember not being able to sleep one night and calling him.  Once he got on the phone, I didn’t know what to say other than “I love you.” I remember him telling me that he was okay, and that he would see me in a few hours.  I never once mentioned that I didn’t want him working, but he knew why I called.  And it wasn’t that I wanted him to stop what he did.  I just wanted to know he would be home safe.  The reality is that officers have a safer job than farmers and roofers…but their wives don’t beg them to stay home.  It was something I had to remind myself a lot of during those first few weeks.

Snapshot #19 – I didn’t find out until almost a week later than my husband was at the scene very early on.  That is how much it affected him, and others that got there around the same time.  They did not want to talk about it.  But we did eventually talk about it. We talked about his struggle that day of having to stay alert during his job, while realizing that his friend was dying.  We talked about how to go through the grieving process while having to keep the community safe. 

Snapshot #20 – About two weeks later, I was covering a hearing in juvenile court.  During the hearing, I remember finding out the juvenile ran in the same circle as the shooter.  I remember breaking down and feeling so unprofessional.  I couldn’t stop crying.  The judge was great about it.  The Court Services Officer as well. 

There are many other things that happened last August.  Some of them I kind of remember, and some I have forgotten.  These snapshots I’ve shared are the ones that stick out the most in my memory. 

So how have I changed?  Looking back at what I just typed, you would think that I spiraled down.  Last August is a month that many of us wish could be erased.  Last August sucked.  Period.  But as an eternal optimist, I must always find the silver lining.  So here you go:

·         Rapid City is an amazing community.  Citizens are (overall) kind, and they show respect and support for law enforcement.  I continue to be honored to work for this community, and I am glad I live here. 

·         Nick Armstrong’s passion for organ donation has motivated many of us to make sure we’re organ donors.  He saved lives well past the time his life on earth ended.

·         That officers, deputies and troopers continued to perform their duties with class, regardless of who they encountered…including people that said things in support of the shooter.  How is this a silver lining?  Look at how law enforcement responded in the situation.  The agencies that protect this County are filled with amazing people.  That is a silver-lining.

·         That a scholarship in Ryan’s name will continue to help people find the passion and education for law enforcement that Ryan had as an officer. 

·         I am an active member in the FOP Wives Club.  I love being in an organization of women who are the foundation of the law enforcement community.  Together, I believe we can do anything, and because of this group, many things were taken care of in the weeks after the shooting. 

·         I am proud to be the wife of a law enforcement officer, and I am proud to work with law enforcement officers. 

·         Seeing the Heroes Wear Blue shirts, no matter what day, makes my heart happy.  Because each shirt, no matter who is wearing it, is a sign of support for what my husband does, and what many of my friends do.  I am honored to be surrounded by these amazing sheep dogs. (If you don’t get that reference, I swear it’s a good thing J )

The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion – Proverbs 28:1

Stay safe out there.  God Bless everybody today.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What was your 9/11?

It is sad that "9/11" has become more than just a date. It has become a description of a gut-wrenching attack on a community. An attack meant to stop the cogs, the wheels, the motors, the heart of a community.
In writing what I'm about to write, I do not mean to demean what happened in NYC on 9/11/01. I hope and pray to God that an attack on innocent citizens never happens at that level again anywhere in the world. There are innocent people in every country on this globe, and they should never EVER be murdered simply because of where they choose or not choose to live.
I've had the unfortunate experience to be in three communities during their "9/11s". I wish the events had never happened, but I learned from each.
1. Every American was affected by what happened on 9/11/01. For me, I was waking up in bed during my first full month of law school at the University of Minnesota. I turned my TV on about 15 seconds before the second plan hit the second tower. I remember being very confused about what I was watching. I truly thought I was watching some action/horror/suspense movie on TBS. Then I remember seeing Katie Couric on the Today Show almost coming unglued on the screen. My country was under attack. I remember showering quickly and walking over to the law school across the street. Students were gathered in the commons where they had put a large screen TV. We were all assured that the third-year students that had traveled to NYC for interviews IN the towers were safe. The interviews had been scheduled for later that morning.
Classes were cancelled. I returned home because I had nowhere else to go. Then I frantically started calling all my friends that lived in the NYC area. I knew...or felt...that they were okay, but I needed to hear their voices. I remember the cell phone service was still off in NYC. I remember my friend Jeremy Howard, a fellow 1L at Minnesota, calling me to make sure I was okay. None of us knew each other very well at that point. Him calling me, such a small gesture of kindness, sealed the deal on him being a class act.
I remember that I couldn't stop watching the TV and crying. All these victim pictures popping up on the screen. I couldn't stop thinking that they each had families...families that were frantically trying to call them.
I remember the anger that settled in later in the day when I realized that there were people in this world celebrating this attack. How can one ever celebrate the murder of innocent people? Some people might say, "but did you celebrate the execution of bin Laden?" Yes...yes I was happy when that happened. For he was not innocent. He was the mastermind in killing so many innocent people. His leadership and message has continued to kill many other people. He has singlehandedly ruined the image and perception of a major international religion. He did not deserve to live.
I remember finding out two people I graduated with from Vanderbilt lost their lives.
I remember my grandmother calling me that afternoon and demanding that I not go to the Mall of America. She was worried that other landmarks around the country were going to be attacked and that was the one she thought of in Minnesota. It made me laugh, but then it terrified me.
But then...through all the darkness came the light. In the months and years to follow 9/11, I watched in amazement as flags appeared on every home, U.S.A. appeared on every shirt, jacket, vehicle. Parades popped up in towns big and small. Thank you was extended to law enforcement, military and community leaders. A gritty resolve settled in...We Will Overcome This. And overcome it we did.
This country is forever changed because of 9/11. The world is forever changed...but I believe we are stronger.
2. In my third year of law school, I spent the first semester living in Uppsala, Sweden, where I attended Uppsala University studying Comparative Law. I adored living there. I was fascinated learning about the laws and Constitutions of other countries. I sat in a class with a woman whose own country had been under three forms of leadership...ranging from dictatorship to democracy. Fascinating.
Then, on September 10, 2003, Sweden's Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, was stabbed as she was shopping in Downtown Stockholm. Sadly, she passed away on September 11, 2003. It sent that country into a tailspin. Her assassination occurred soon before a vote on whether Sweden would join the European Union. There were strong feelings on both sides of that vote. At first, I was confused as to how one murder could affect a community on such a large scale. Then I realized...this was their 9/11. In Sweden, the leaders of the nation could shop without bodyguards. Prior to that, the last assassination in that country was Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was murdered in 1986.
I remember sitting in class in the week that followed, discussing what had happened there and why one death could affect a society in such a painful manner. It was a butterfly effect. The same questions came up that were asked in my country two years prior: Has life forever changed? Is it not as safe as I thought? Do I have to worry about what happened? and WHY?
Our conversation took a turn back to the events of 9/11 in NYC. For the first time, I saw how far the attack had stretched. There weren't just Americans in those buildings and there were law students who had also lost friends and family that day. There were also people in the room hurt by the aftermath and how America had to react. One student, a woman from Germany, talked through tears about how her father was turned away from one of the American bases in Germany after having worked there as a civil servant for years. The Americans were on high alert and she said "I guess that means if you're not American, you are not important." We ended up having a great conversation about high alert and how only essential workers needed to be working. Nobody had taken the time to explain that to the community around the base.
And dialogue opened up...we all talked about our feelings about Lindh's assassination and 9/11. There were handshakes and hugs. A bunch of law students...suddenly turning into representatives of their own countries, explaining to other countries how they felt, how they wished things were different, and how they propose we make things better. It turned into one of the most deep and moving events I have ever had the honor to attend.
And finally...
3. On August 2, 2011, the community of Rapid City, South Dakota was attacked by a lone gunman in North Rapid City. Heroes stopped him. In a short period of time, the gunman attacked Officers Nick Armstrong, Tim Doyle and J. Ryan McCandless. In cold blood, he murdered Nick and Ryan. He managed to shoot Tim, who survived.
My heart continues to break open when I think about my friends who have died. I still expect to see Ryan briskly walk into my office to make fun of me, or ask which "attorney doesn't know the law and filed a motion to suppress". You may laugh at that, but I never lost a suppression hearing with Ryan on the stand. He knew his stuff. I still expect to see Nick bouncing down the hallway like a Labrador excited to go to work in the community where he grew up.
But I know they won't be here, and that breaks my heart.
8/2/11 is my home community's 9/11. It has forever changed our community. To get through the grief, my husband and I started looking at the good things that came of that day...not to say that we're glad the day happened...far from it...but:
1. I live in an amazing town. A town where defense attorneys cried alongside with us...where those same attorneys told me that our law enforcement treated their clients better than they even would at times. A town that helps its own through times of grief.
2. That Nick Armstrong told the world before his passing that organ donation was important to him. Because of his convictions, he saved lives after his passed. Hero
3. That two significant others of officers, Janet and Holly, started with an idea for t-shirts that has blossomed into an entire community wearing t-shirts that say "Heroes Wear Blue". They also wear sassy dresses and boots and come up with t-shirt ideas :) Heroes
4. That this community respects its law enforcement officers and its military members. Heroes
5. That Tim Doyle, still with his jaw wired shut, confidently walked out of the Rapid City Regional Hospital a week after the attack and soon returned back to work as a Liason Officer at a local high school. He has not shown fear or hesitation. Hero
5. That our friends died and were wounded fighting for the safety of this community. I cried tears of grief and pride when I found out Ryan went at the suspect after being shot. Ryan stopped this man from hurting anybody else in the community. He did not run. He did not hide behind his vehicle. He ended the attack. He died for my community. For a true officer never runs from the shots, but runs towards them so they don't hit anybody else. Hero
Rapid City's pain of our 9/11 is still fresh, but we now embrace the good that is pulsating through the veins of this community. I wish it hadn't taken cold-blooded murder for the community to show its support, but we cannot change the past. We can mold the future, however.
I have never been more proud to be from Rapid City than I have in the last few weeks.
So on this 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I mourn the loss of these communities, but I focus on the strength around me. I have learned from each event. To this day, I wish none of them have ever happened, but I must learn from them and I must find the silver lining.
Thank you to all first responders, military members and community leaders that continue to put on their badges of honor, their uniforms and their suits. I am honored to live in a community that you protect locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.
And that's all I have to say about that.