It had been a long day; most of them are when one is the mother of two small children ages two and six weeks. Bottles, diapers, baths, and finally bedtime, signal the beginning of rest and relaxation for harried, over-worked moms. Such was the case on this day for the young housewife. Her husband, a Chicago police officer, was working a power shift, 6pm - 2 am, on the city’s south side.
At about one in the morning, asleep for only a couple of hours, she hears a knock at the front door. Looking out first before opening it, she is greeted by two detectives who show their IDs and tell her they’re from Homicide. She is somewhat surprised but not too concerned . . . yet.
“Are you Mrs. Wills?” the lead detective queries.
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“Your husband has been is 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 bad guys who prefer not to be hassled. As a result, people aren’t always cooperative, to put it mildly.
“Any kids in the house?”
“Yes, two babies.”
“You got anyone can watch ‘em?” The homicide dick starts getting impatient.
“Uh, my mother-in-law who lives a few miles away. She can . . .”
“No, get someone closer,” he quickly throws out, before she can finish her sentence. “Get a neighbor.”
An uneasy feeling begins to build in her stomach, 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 just minutes. She is quickly briefed about baby bottles and schedules before the woman leaves the neighbor in charge and hops into the backseat 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, they 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 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; he’ll be fine.” Before she can respond they lead her past him 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. “Your husband was shot, but he’s alive. He was involved in an exchange of gunfire.” 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 your relatives have been notified.”
She reaches for her purse to get her address book out, 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 dial the number on the first try.
It’s almost two in the morning. “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.
“Try another number,” says the cop in a gray, monotone voice.
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 calls 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.”
“I’m on the way,” he responds. “I’ll make some calls first.”
Hearing a family member’s voice infuses a bit of strength back into her shattered soul. She remembers the phone number for her husband’s father. “Mr. Wills, please hurry, John has been shot,” she blurts out.
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 filled 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 all of it: her husband. He sees her. “Sorry, Honey, I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he sheepishly says.
“But what happened . . . how?”
The doctor walks up and interrupts. “Are you the wife?”
“We’re going to get him stabilized first and then operate in about five hours. Go home and come back later. He’s going to go to sleep right now.” In just a few seconds, he closes his eyes after the doctor administers the drug.
The nurse leads her out to where the detectives are waiting. They take her home where she showers and makes arrangements for the babies to be watched while she stays by his side at the hospital. Her home is filled with people - 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 the 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, 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 awakes fully 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, it seemed to him 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.
When a cop is shot, it’s as if the whole family has been struck by the same bullets. Long after the initial surge of compassion and prayer has passed, the family is left alone to deal with the demons Satan has assigned them. Most families will eventually recover; others will have lasting effects that haunt them forever.
The remedy? Faith. There’s a reason why cops are known as God’s Warriors and why we look to St. Michael the Archangel to lead us in battle. He defeated Satan in the heavens; he will do the same thing here on earth.
This story is true, and others like it are happening with more frequency than ever before. Sadly, there are also officers who suffer fatal wounds. In memory of those fallen heroes, National Police Week is celebrated May 15 – 21st. Officer fatalities are up 20% in 2011. Please remember not only our departed Warriors, but their loved ones left behind.
Stay Safe, Brothers and Sisters!