“For those of you here today who have a police officer as mother or father, know this;
At some time in their career they have come home from the street and wept for you.”
Father Thomas Nangle, Police Chaplain
Family Day Mass, 2006
1978, Homicide, Second Watch…
It was a beautiful warm summer day but the air was crisp, unencumbered by the awful humidity that sometimes grips Chicago in mid-August. Our sportcoats hung in the back swaying gently as Mike steered the unmarked sedan around the city’s west side. Kids were everywhere. On bikes, playing baseball, and splashing in the occasional open hydrant.
Cops develop a background ear, constantly tuned to the drone of the radio. We were talking about nothing in particular, but immediately picked up our call when the dispatcher paged.
I reached for the mic, “Seventy-four-eleven,” I replied.
“Seventy-four-eleven, take the death investigation now at St. Mary’s.”
St. Mary’s Hospital was a brand new hospital in a very old neighborhood. Brand new building, that is. The hospital had been there for generations but they had recently rebuilt. It was a modern state-of-the-art building. All private rooms, first class emergency room. Mike slid the car into a parking place reserved for police vehicles. We left our jackets in the car. No need to cover the revolver, handcuffs, ammo pouch. The hospital personnel knew us too well.
Inside we greeted the ER staff and they responded in subdued voices. It was a drowning. Male white, about eight years old. He was removed from the bottom of the park pool by a life guard who administered CPR until the arrival of the Fire Ambulance. The paramedics continued CPR in route to the hospital. It’s tough to give up on a kid. The ER doctor pronounced the boy dead on arrival. There must have been 200 kids in that pool, how long he was on the bottom was anyone’s guess. Our job would be to eliminate foul play as a possible factor in the drowning. We gathered what little identifying information the hospital had and then headed to the examining room where he lay.
It could have been a scene from a movie. The heavy wood door with a large shaded glass swung open and on a gurney, under a sheet, was the silhouette of a small human being. The nurse closed the door behind us and Mike and I pulled the sheet back. He looked to be about the reported age of eight. Light brown curly hair, still wet. His turquoise swim trunks clung to his pale white skin. My chest gave an involuntary breath—no—a single convulsive sob. My eyes welled and I turned away to compose myself. The nurse was looking at me intently. Mike never blinked. He continued with the examination of the boy. Male white, approximately 8 years of age, brown hair, blue eyes, no bruises, no external signs of violence. In less than a minute I returned to the gurney, once again a stoic homicide detective. I reached across, grasped his arm and pulled the cold, wet little boy toward me. Mike scanned his backside for any marks or indications of violence. No rigor, no lividity, no bruises. We completed our notes and returned to the nurses’ station. They had received some additional information, possibly the location of his mother working as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. We would need another unit to get mother and bring her to the hospital for identification. Mike and I would go to the pool and interview the life guard and any witnesses.
Out in the lot we rolled down our car windows and paused for a moment to let the blast of now super heated air out of the squad. Mike slid in behind the wheel. I waited for radio traffic to clear.
For the first time since the ER, Mike looked me in the eye. “You saw Craig, didn’t you?”
“I did. I knew it wasn’t him, but somehow I saw him lying on that gurney.”
Cops try to keep their family separate from their street life. Most times they succeed. It’s a necessity for mental survival. When you fail and identify family with a real life street scenario the results can be traumatic. My curly headed, brown eyed, eight year old was miles from here doing his summer thing, I felt sure of that.
The radio fell silent for a moment and I keyed the mike, “Seventy-four-eleven, we’re going to need an assist car to locate the mother…”
That night as Craig raced into the house for supper, I grabbed him in a bear hug.
“Dad!” he shouted as he squirmed loose, “Cut it out!”
“Wash up!” I shouted after him with just a hint of a crack in my voice.