I’m going to preface this by saying I know this is long and that Travis only wanted it to be about 2 pages, but I don’t know what to say, its my story. Just settle in with a bag of popcorn or something.
I started my PD career in January of 2002, entering the police academy at the age of 22 years old. I had no idea what I was in for. I graduated the academy and began the field training program and four months later I was a solo officer. Right off FTO I was assigned to work day shift working Friday through Monday. I was eager to learn and become the best patrol officer possible. I enjoyed finding people with warrants and chasing dope. I was taught in the academy, the FTO program, and by fellow officers that I was going to see things that weren’t normal to see, but that’s what cops do. I was taught to suck it up and move onto the next call, I was told on a regular basis that this is “what I signed up for”. There was an unwritten and un-talked about philosophy that when you saw bad things you just didn’t talk about it and you definitely did not seek any help. I did not want to be looked at as weak or that I couldn’t handle the job, so it didn’t matter what I saw I sucked it up, pushed it deep down and went to the next call or pulled the next traffic stop. I worked for a fairly large agency, and we were always busy.
I remember being out on my own off FTO for maybe a couple months when I got dispatched to assist another agency with a call in a county island in our city. The reporting party was a mother and she stated that her 22 yr old son had just shot her 24 yr old daughter in the back of the head as she sat on the couch. She stated her son had left on foot with the sawed off shotgun and said he was going to kill himself or have the cops shoot him. I arrived on scene and 2 other squad mates that were already dealing with the scene at the home told me to go look for the suspect. Within 5 minutes I located him walking down the middle of street with shotgun in hand a street north of his mothers house. As I got closer he started to make his way into a driveway and as I contacted him at gunpoint telling him to drop the gun he just had the million mile stair and moments later he put the shot gun barrel under his chin and pulled the trigger. Myself and another officer from the other agency went up and got the shotgun away from him and called for EMS. A couple minutes later my LT arrived on scene when things had calmed down and a lot of the other agency was there. The LT said it looked like the other agency had plenty of man power and we could go available. He was concerned because we had so many of our own units tied up on the call and our district was now falling apart and it was any unit to break. The LT didn’t ask if I was present when the suspect blew off his face or anything.
I went available and was immediately dispatched to an elementary school where a 8-10 year old child was acting up. I began driving there and trying to process what I had just witnessed. By the time I got to the next call, I was in no position to handle a 8-10 year old who was throwing a fit like a 2 year old. At the end of the day before I went home the LT called me into his office and said he heard I had witnessed the suspect kill himself, I told him I had. He asked if I was OK, I responded to everything I had been taught and told him I was good. He told me that was what he liked to hear and said he would see me tomorrow.
First chance I got I bid to graveyards, I loved graves and spent the next 7 years working graveyards and getting into as much action as I could. All this wasn’t enough so I tested for our SWAT team, which at the time had one full time squad and the rest of the team was part time. I got on the team on my first attempt and started my year probation. I continued to work graves in one of the worst parts of the city and got into as much as I could. Our SWAT team was busy and as a probationary member I went to as many call outs as I could to get as much exposure as possible. About a month before I got off SWAT probation, I was involved in a long pursuit of two suspects who had shot and killed a neighboring city cop. At the end of the pursuit there was a gun battle that took place and I was involved in my first officer involved shooting. Part of my 3 days off for the OIS I had to be cleared by a psychologist before returning back to work. I was a few weeks away from getting off SWAT probation and I was eager to get back to work so the appt with the psychologist was easy. Gave all the right answers and I was back to work.
I continued to work the street and was a member of our SWAT team now, six months later our entire SWAT team went full time. We were a very busy team, constantly serving high risk search warrants, covering UC’s, doing buy bust operations, dignitary protection details, apprehending high threat suspects, criminal barricades, and hostage barricades. I’ve always been competitive and driven to be the best at whatever it is I was doing. Being on the team was no different, I wanted to be the best entry guy, the best sniper, the best with my pistol and my carbine. I worked hard to be as efficient and effective as possible.
In 2016 after just pulling into my driveway from work, I was informed a little girl had just been hit by a car just down the street. I ran to where the little girl was. There was already someone do chest compressions, I checked for a pulse and there was not one. I told the guy to keep doing chest compressions, the girl was a bloody mess to the point that I couldn’t recognize her. Her parents who my wife and I knew well, were standing right there and begging me to save their daughter. I tried all I could till fire and EMS got there and took over. I tried my hardest to console our friends as they were hoping their 4 year old daughter would be ok. My wife and I went to the hospital with our friends and that is when they were told their daughter did not make it.
I started noticing after this call that I didn’t sleep well at night, I had regular nightmares, I began to experience anxiety and depression two things I had never felt before. My boss could tell I wasn’t doing good and put me on leave for 7 days and part of that I had to go to the psychologist and be cleared to come back to work. When I saw the psychologist, I gave him all the right answers, I didn’t want to be taken off line and I didn’t want others on the team to think I was weak or couldn’t handle the job. My anxiety and depression got worse; I began to have suicidal ideations. I would try hard to bury all those feelings deep, and I figured if I would work more then I wouldn’t have time to feel like that.
We were a busy team so it was easy to stay busy and I also ran a small cabinet company on the side, so if I wasn’t doing cop things I was doing cabinet things and just buried myself in work. I continued to not sleep at night, I would constantly wake up in the middle of the night sweating profusely and my heart would be beating out of my chest. One of these occasions I woke up around 2 am not being able to feel my right leg from my knee down. I was freaking out and I drove myself to the ER, where they ran blood tests and did an ultrasound on my leg. They said I was extremely healthy and they couldn’t find anything and told me to go home. Of course since I was working as much as possible I continued to see the worse of the worse. There were times when my depression and anxiety would lessen, and I would tell myself I was good.
The team was always busy, and on one of these occasions we were having a busy week, I got home late in the evening and was home for maybe just an hour or more when we got called out again. We got a call of a hostage barricade situation. We were informed that a 12 year old girl was able to escape, but her dad, mom, and 18 yr old sister were still in the house. Dad was the suspect and was armed with a semi-auto handgun. I got on scene and got geared up and within 5 minutes or so we had a plan to make entry and affect a rescue. I was number one on entry and stepped over dad who was dead in between the kitchen and living room, I passed by mom who was dead in the living room. Cleared a back bedroom on the first floor and then moved to second floor where I met up with a teammate who was holding at the top of the stairs waiting for bodies. I told him we had bodies and I was going right. I came to a closed and locked door, kicked the door and made entry, where I discovered the 18 yr old dead with a gun shot wound to the head. I came out of that room to see if we still need to clear more areas and team guys were calling it all cleared. I called for double checks and headed back down the stairs. The 12 year old’s bloody hand prints were smeared down the wall coming down the stairs and her bloody foot prints were on every step and going out the front door.
I couldn’t help to think of my own 18-year-old and 13-year-old daughters, and I lost it. I was a mess, our team LT told us to pack up and head to an elementary school down the street where we could debrief. Driving over there I was pounding my steering wheel and sobbing. Before getting out of my work vehicle I wiped away the tears and composed myself. Not much was said, and the mood was extremely heavy. I didn’t sleep, the next day a good friend and team mate could tell I wasn’t doing good and we had a good talk and he asked me to set up an appt with the therapist he had just met with. I set up an appt, but it was not easy, and it wasn’t easy when it was time to go to the appt. Through some coaching and encouragement from this same friend and team mate I made it to the first appt and began going to therapy once a week after that. Therapy was hard, and I was still working crazy long hours and still seeing the horrors we all see being a first responder.
My therapist is amazing and she was very patient with me. She wanted me to take some time off, like 30 days, and I wasn’t having any part of that because then people would find out what I was going through and people would think I was weak. She was patient with me and wanted me to make the decision to take the time off. After going to another horrific hostage rescue where the mom had
stabbed her 6 yr old in the chest with scissors and many other bad calls, I decided to take 30 days off. It was tough at first, but it was what I needed and I was able to see the therapist twice a week and make some real progress. I was seeing some success with EMDR, but my sleep was still non existent and I was still struggling with anxiety and depression.
Less than 30 days from coming back to work from my 30 days off, I was involved in another officer involved shooting. Just 2 weeks before this shooting I met with a psychiatrist and was placed on some medication for the anxiety and depression and some meds to help with the nightmares. I felt like I was making a little bit of progress and then I was involved in this OIS and I was right back to being a mess. I was off for 2 weeks for the OIS and I tried going back to work and every operation I was really struggling.
My anxiety was through the roof and I was trying so hard to hide it and mask it from the rest of the team. Finally about two months after the OIS I told the team what I had been dealing with and that I was gonna take another 30 days off to try and get my head right. The team to my surprise did not judge me and were amazing with their love and support.
Coming to the end of that second 30 days off period I was really trying to contemplate what was best for my mental health and my family and I was really struggling with whether or not I could go back to work. At the end of the 30 days I wasn’t ready and I had the therapist extend my time off. During that extension my therapist told me about a study a clinic was doing with first responders and ketamine infusions. She told me she felt very strongly that I should take part in the study. I initially was a little stubborn and fought her on it, but in the end trusted her that it would be good for me. I took part in the 2-week study, where I had a total of 6 ketamine infusions. It was amazing and helped me push through on some of the areas I was really struggling with. It helped me to sleep, it helped me to process some of the hard calls that I was still struggling with. It also gave me clarity. I had spent 20 years being a cop and 13 of those years on the SWAT team, and I knew I was done, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.
I have been diagnosed with Chronic PTSD, and I am ok with that. I have good days and I have bad days. When the bad days come, I have learned tools to help me cope. I have learned that it is OK to not be OK. I have learned that although there is a negative stigma, it is not weakness to seek help. I have learned that it takes a lot more courage and strength to get help than to not get help. I have learned there are lots of other first responders who have felt what I have felt and we can support each other and help lift each other. I have learned that my life is worth living for.