[I originally wrote this in December of 2007 after one of our deputies had been shot and killed at Christmas time. On the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I reprint the story now as it’s a stark reminder of how and why we should give thanks for our lives and count our true blessings. May you enjoy your Christmas and please remember: there are many who toil for us all, day and night, so that we may enjoy this day and be free — BZ]
I just came in from lowering our flag to half-staff. Outside it is dark, cold, a light mist. Mirroring the faces of my fellow officers.
A newlywed wife lost her husband Wednesday of this week, as he bled out on the street, having been shot in the neck.
My department has had four deputies killed in two years.
Deputies Joe Kievernagel and Kevin Blount died on July 13th of 2005 in a helicopter crash near Lake Natoma. Pilot Kievernagel, having lost power, managed to maneuver the helo away from the heavily populated recreational area just beneath him at the time, which took him into the side of a hill in full view of hundreds of summer swimmers and boaters.
On October 27th of 2006, Deputy Jeff Mitchell was disarmed and shot to death by a suspect following a traffic stop. The suspect is still at large and unknown. Following his killing, my department began furiously installing in-dash camcorders in vehicles. Deputy Mitchell’s car was not so equipped.
And this week, just yesterday, my department lost an undercover narcotics detective. At 37 years old, Vu Nguyen gave up his life for the job he loved. His wife weeps. His family grieves, my department and the community feel the loss.
Engine 56 and Medic 12 of the Sacramento Fire Department wanted to be anywhere but where they were that day.
Being the first to respond, and hearing that a deputy sheriff had been shot, they threw protocol away. They refused to stage and wait for a suspect to be declared “in custody.” They decided, on their own, they were going into the hot area, a completely unknown area, and they were going to apply state-of-the-art lifesaving techniques to that deputy. A man they didn’t know at all. They didn’t know his ethnicity, his assignment, his religion, his height, his weight. It didn’t matter. He was an American and a law enforcement officer and a fellow emergency responder. That is, literally, all they knew. And that they, like he, had valued and loved wives and children at home. And still they went because, frankly, they didn’t care. That was their job. That’s what they signed up for.
And what they found was a deputy on top of a chicken coop, shot directly through the front of the neck. The second they placed the leads on him he was in V-fib. And they knew immediately about that 37-year-old deputy, right there. The 37-year-old deputy, Vu Nguyen, who had just gotten married in April of this year. A brand new wife. Who expected her husband back, that day, at the end of his shift.
Three firefighters climbed into the back of the box rig and headed for the trauma center, performing heroic lifesaving measures. Giving their best. Knowing the truth. Awash in his blood. Vu Nguyen officially died at the hospital in surgery.
And Mrs. Nguyen had to be found, to be notified. Of the death of her husband. By violent gunfire.
The area became flooded with cops. SSD, SPD, CHP, other local agencies, 100 to 150 officers. Three helos, two SWAT teams, multiple K9 units. Schools were locked down. Anyone callous enough or violent enough or indifferent enough as this killer was certainly capable of finding a child and taking a hostage, or worse.
Finally, many, many hours later the perimeter was taken down. No suspect was in custody.
No one stopped. No one gave up. No one went home. Leads were developed. Evidence documented and collected. Photographs taken. The investigation started. There was a job to do and no one complained or stopped for food or drink. There was only one thought in mind: find the suspect. Take him into custody. Now.
But make no mistake. There were many phone calls made on cells. To loved ones. “That wasn’t me, honey,” was what the bulk of the calls said. Perhaps a little guiltily. But truthfully. Because their wives deserved to know. Now.
People didn’t stop. No one went home, no one slept. More leads were developed. And now, today, there is a suspect in custody.
It is a 16-year-old suspect. A known Asian gangbanger. 5’4″ tall, 130 pounds. Who made his bones and will be spoken of, with reverence, in his own cloistered and demented groups. He made his bones, acquired his respect. Respect that will follow him, in the gangs, in the jails, in the prisons, wherever he goes now. Until he dies. Forever.
In the meantime, we’ll continue with the investigation, collect more evidence, document, process and do what we are tasked with and what we have sworn to do: our jobs.
We’ll don our hats, wear our gloves, a black band over our badges, attend the funeral, watch the motors in the procession. One of our own has fallen.
And then we’ll go back to our jobs, every day. And love our wives, our husbands, hold our kids. Shed tears. Probably clutch and hug our dear ones even harder, closer.
Because life is so precious.
Not just at Christmas.
But all the time.