It was a long day; most are when one is the mother of two small children ages two years and six weeks. Bottles cleaned and filled, baths given, and finally, bedtime for the youngsters. Now it’s time for some well-deserved rest and relaxation for the harried, over-worked mom. She looks forward to time for herself. She’s alone. Her husband, a police officer, is working a power shift, 6pm – 2 am, on the city’s south side.
At about one in the morning, having slept for but a couple of hours, she hears a knock at the front door. She wavers. Should I answer it? Opening it just a crack, she is greeted by two detectives who show their IDs and tell her they’re from Homicide. Groggy from lack of sleep, she’s puzzled but nevertheless opens the door and allows them inside.
“Are you Mrs. Wills?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“Your husband has been in a little scuffle, we need to take you to the hospital to sign some papers.”
She’s been through this drill before. Her husband is an aggressive cop, making countless street stops and raising the ire of thugs who prefer not to be hassled.
“Any kids in the house?”
“Yes, two babies.”
“You got anyone can watch ‘em?”
“Uh, my mother-in-law lives a few miles away, she can . . .”
“No, get someone closer,” the detective quickly throws out, before she can finish her sentence. “Get a neighbor.”
An uneasy knot begins to build in her stomach, tightening with each word the detectives speak. Something’s not right. “Okay. A woman across the alley is a good friend, let me call her.” Despite the late hour, the neighbor appears at the back door in minutes. She’s quickly briefed about baby bottles and schedules before the woman leaves. With the neighbor now in charge, the officer’s wife hops in the back seat of the unmarked squad.
Heading toward the hospital the car is travelling fast - too fast it seems for what they’ve described as just a scuffle. En route, the two seasoned investigators make small talk with the young woman: “How long have you two been married? How long has John been on the job?” She answers their questions but soon recognizes their ploy - keep her mind occupied with mundane matters - don’t let her think about what’s happening.
The unmarked unit quickly arrives at the hospital. Tons of cop cars; this can’t be good. She picks a face out of the crowd of cops and reporters just outside the ER entrance - her husband’s partner - in tears. He rushes to her. “He’ll be alright, Chris; he’ll be fine.” Before she can respond they lead her to a small room down a hall where another cop is waiting. “Sit down, please.” She does as she’s told; she’s a cop’s wife, knows the importance of listening when things are going south.
Several moments pass before he begins. She’s anxious, wants to know what’s going on. Finally, without emotion, he tells her. “Your husband was shot, but he’s alive. He was involved in an exchange of gunfire during an attempted robbery.” That’s all he’ll offer her. The cop grabs a phone sitting in the middle of the table and slides it toward her. “Call your family and let them know what’s happening. I can’t put out a press release until family has been notified.”
She reaches for her purse to get her address book and then realizes she forgot to bring the purse in all the commotion. Her mind spinning out of control, she tries to remember a family phone number. Tony, yes, my brother, I’ll call him. She manages to recall the digits and dials the number on the first try.
Thankfully, he answers immediately. “I told you not to call here anymore.” Click, the line goes dead.
“Tony . . . Tony!” The woman screams into the phone. She would find out later that her brother was having problems with prank callers late at night and thought her call was another of those pranks. She dials again and the phone rings unanswered, mocking her and her dilemma.
“Try another number,” says the cop in a gray, monotone voice.
Closing her eyes and holding her head in her hands she tries to recall another number as her world crumbles around her. Lord, we’re just beginning. We have two small babies, please don’t take him - we need him. She manages to call her other brother who picks up on the second ring.
“I’m at the hospital, John’s been shot.”
“Chris, is that you?”
“Yes. I need help.”
“Okay, I’ll make some calls first and be there soon. Hang on.”
Hearing a family member’s voice infuses a bit of strength back into her shattered soul. She remembers the phone number for her father-in-law. “Mr. Wills, please hurry,” she blurts out. “John has been shot.”
A nurse barges into the room. “Mrs. Wills?”
“I need you to sign these papers allowing us to operate on your husband and administer blood as needed.” Signing without seeing she hands the papers back to the nurse. “Come with me, I’ll take you to see your husband.”
The ER is pregnant with uniforms - cops, doctors, nurses - all talking at once and moving in ten different directions. The nurse leads her to a curtain that she quickly pulls aside. “You have a couple of minutes.”
Tubes, monitors, discarded bloody swabs, his torn, bloodied uniform shirt lying on the floor - among it all, her husband. He sees her.
“Sorry, Honey, I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he says, sheepishly.
“But what happened . . . how?”
The doctor walks up and interrupts. “Are you ‘the wife’?”
He’s going to go to sleep now.” In just a few seconds, the wounded man closes his eyes after the doctor administers the drug. “We’re going to get him stabilized first and then operate in a few hours. Go home and come back later.”
The nurse leads the young wife and mother out to where the detectives are waiting. They take her home. She showers and arranges sitters for the babies while she stays by her partner’s side at the hospital. Her home is filled with people now - family, neighbors, cops - no time to visit. She’s driven, knows the task that lies ahead.
Hours later she waits outside the OR and recalls a verse from Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She sees the doctor approaching. Lord, please give us time to carry out those plans.
Holding her breath, she waits for the doctor to speak. “Your husband will be fine. The bullet is lodged near the aorta; I’m not taking it out for fear of damaging the artery. The wound in the leg won’t be a problem, it passed right through. He’ll be a little sore - it nicked the shin bone - but he’ll be alright.” She breathes.
Several hours later, they move her husband to a semi-private room to recover. She heads back home to tend to the babies while he recovers from the anesthesia. Before she can return to the hospital, a uniformed cop knocks on her front door.
“Mrs. Wills, your husband received a threatening phone call at the hospital. It seems the man he killed was a gang member, now they’ve threatened to kill him and his family. Keep your blinds closed and don’t let your kids out to play. We’ve set up a 24 hour protection detail at the hospital and here at your house.” That bodyguard detail would follow the family’s every move for more than a month.
Back at the hospital, her husband is moved to a private room with a Chicago police officer stationed outside the door. The first visitor at the protected bunker is his father. “Son, thank God you’re okay. We’ve been so worried.”
“I know, Dad, thanks. I’ll be back on my feet in no time.”
“I’m sure you will, you’ve always been a tough kid. But I worry about all of this . . . and now a police guard?”
“It’s just a precaution, Dad.”
Ten months later, his father would be dead. His Dad had aged twenty years from the time the shooting occurred until his death.
Chris’ husband would eventually be discharged, but the nightmare would not end just yet. Now began the torturous sleepless nights and paranoia about gang members breaking into their home, leading him to install multiple locks, even on inside doors. He would order his wife to take one of his guns and shoot anyone who came through the door.
- - - - - - -
This story is true, and others like it are happening with more frequency than ever before. Tragedies like line of duty shootings can devastate a family and tear it apart.
When a cop is shot, it’s as if the same bullets have struck the family as well. Long after the initial surge of compassion and prayer has passed, the family is left to deal with the demons Satan has assigned them. Most families will eventually recover; others will have lasting effects that haunt them forever.
What the public rarely witnesses are the struggles the spouses and children face when their family member suffers a line of duty shooting. Families are the glue that holds everything together, enabling their heroic officer husbands, fathers, wives, brothers, or sisters to recover and resume active duty. Next time you hear that a cop has been shot, pray not only for him, but for his family as well.