Saturday, October 6, 2007

My Friend Was Shot and Killed

My sister emailed me today to tell me about the shocking news. The dear friend and roommate my sister had had for several years, Rhoni Reuter, was found with multiple gunshot wounds in her Deerfield, Illinois condominium Thursday morning. Rhoni was also pregnant, which multiplied the ferocity of the crime. Of course, my sister is torn up over it. I remember meeting Rhoni. My sister was anxious for me to meet her and her boyfriend of several years, Chicago Bears player Shaun Gayle. Rhoni was down-to-earth, beautiful, friendly and athletic. She will be missed.

What a terrible thing murder is. I, too, had a friend that was murdered. I’ve been thinking about him and his young widow wife all week.

With a background in law enforcement and military, it’s bound to happen sometime. I’ve lost friends and co-workers to terrorist explosions and I’ve have had a good friend get murdered on the streets of America. Almost two full years has gone by since my friend, Dallas Police Officer Brian Jackson, was shot and killed. He and I went through the police academy together and worked as cops together on the tough streets of Dallas.

Brian had been married just three months when he was killed. I’ve kept in touch with his wife Jo-Ann since his death. A couple of weeks ago she wrote saying the trial was finally here. She has also updated me since the trial began, and I’ve been following the news reports carefully.

Jo-Ann testified through tears on the first day of the trial. She explained how she went to the hospital after learning that Brain had been shot in the line of duty. When she walked down the hallway filled with police officers, she remembered, “no one would look at me.” When she finally reached Brian’s room an officer told her, “He didn’t make it.”

Jo-Ann screamed out, “What do you mean, he didn’t make it?” She had to re-live all those emotions again while telling her story at the trial earlier this week.

Brain’s dad emailed me that night: “We are in Dallas, and finished the first day of the trial.” He simply wrote, “Tough… But we are getting by.” That one word in that very brief email summed it up. It was ‘tough,’ which I translate to mean it was one of the worst emotional experiences of his life. It summed up every terrible, tragic, painful and hurtful feeling he had since learning about his son’s death. That single adjective embodied the full experience of something terribly painful to bear and exhaustingly hard to endure. Now he only has the memories of his son. He cannot see him, hug him, speak with him or watch the grandchildren Brain and Jo-Ann would have had, grow up. Indeed, it was tough. It was the type of pain not many on this earth have ever—nor will ever—experience.

I can still remember learning about his death. My friends from the police academy quickly contacted me. At the time, I was working as a Federal Air Marshal. “Did you hear that Brian Jackson was killed last night?”

Oh no, I thought, and as my heart began to palpitate in a slow, mournful rhythm. It took a second or two for the news to sink in before I asked, “What happened?”

On November 13, 2005, Brian was working the late shift with his partner Brad Ellis. Just 20 minutes before their shift ended, as they were about to return back to the substation and go back home, a call came out. An illegal immigrant named Juan Lizcano was again threatening his former girlfriend, Marta Cruz, this time with a gun. A few weeks earlier Lizcano was arrested for threatening her with a knife, and then days later he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

In a panic and threatened with her life, Ms. Cruz called the police. Dispatch made an assignment. The responding police officers needed some backup and put a call came out over the radio.

Brian told his partner, “Let’s go help them out.” That was Brian’s style. He had the uncanny willingness to go out of his way to say something nice, to do something kind. In police work it was no different. But this time it would cost him his life.

While his partner stayed in the house with the distraught complainant, Brian and other officers searched the outside of the home.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Lizcano intentionally shot his revolver towards three other Dallas police officers. None of them was hit. No doubt, Brian’s heart beat jumped up a notch when he heard the shots ring out. He took his newly purchased AR-15 rifle that the department had just authorized him to carry, and walked carefully through the dark. Brian didn’t want to hurt any one. He wasn’t that way. But he knew this mad man needed to be stopped before someone got hurt or, worse, killed.

The heartless assassin stood only 20 feet from Brian, hiding in the dark. As Brian passed by, the revolting criminal shot him in cold blood. He ambushed my friend from the side. The foul and vile cop-killer fired the last round of the murder weapon, a revolver. The bullet entered through Brian’s upper arm, tore into his chest, passing through his lungs and heart, and lodged in his back. Although my friend wore a ballistic vest, it didn’t matter. He was shot in the side where there wasn’t any protection. Three shots rang out from Brian’s weapon, but to no avail. Although conscious enough to feel the excruciating pain, he was mortally wounded. His life quickly ebbed from him and he gurgled on his own blood.

During the trial as the chief medical examiner explained what had happened and showed the jury pictures of the autopsy, Brian’s family had to leave the court room. Jo-Ann, emotionally drained, sat alone, weeping silently.

Seeing he was out of rounds, or feeling he had accomplished his mission and didn’t want to be killed, the coward dropped the weapon and lay down on the ground, waiting for police to arrest him. My cop friends told me the revolting murderer had no feelings of remorse whatsoever. In fact, calm as baby, he fell asleep moments after being arrested.

Even though Brian and Jo-Ann had only been married for three months, they had known each other a lifetime. Brian had moved out to Dallas to go through the six-month-long academy while Jo-Ann stayed back east. Originally from Rhode Island, I remember him telling me he had thought about working for NYPD, but he felt he made the right choice by moving to Dallas, Texas. Dallas, however, was home to some of the worst criminal activity in the nation—just the thing cop’s love: action.

Brian liked the thrill of the case. As an Emergency Medical Technician prior to getting into law enforcement, Brian enjoyed running ‘Code 3’ with full lights and sirens. He had a winning attitude and a warming, effervescent smile. He had one of the greatest attitudes of anyone I’ve ever known. He was truly a hero.

About the same time Jo-Ann wrote to me, my friend Jeff Evans sent me a note. Jeff had just descended the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. On May 25, 2001, Jeff made history. He led Erik Weihenmayer to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. The amazing thing is Erik’s blind. Erik’s the only blind man in history to climb Everest. And, Jeff Evans led him there!

A few years ago I had the great opportunity to get to know Jeff a lot better. He’s an amazing guy with a real winning attitude. He told me that when other climbing teams heard that he and the rest of his team planned to take a blind man up Mount Everest, they told him he was on a suicide mission. People doubted him and questioned his intelligence. But Jeff saw something in Erik that others hadn’t seen. Erik had a gift. He could climb. He would climb well. And, more importantly, he wasn’t a quitter.

When I think about the seemingly insurmountable odds and the virtually overwhelming personal struggle facing Jo-Ann and the rest of Brain’s family, my thoughts are turned to Jeff and Erik. Times will be tough—there’s that word again. There will be hard times, no doubt. There will be obstacles to overcome and precipices to traverse. There will likely be times when they want to give up and quit. They will experience a lifetime of bereavement. But unlike the climbing duo, Jo-Ann is now bereft of companionship. The love of her life was murdered. She surely has felt the bleak feeling of loneliness and despair. And she will likely feel that more in the future. But Jo-Ann’s not a quitter.

Jo-Ann has an indomitable human spirit—that same power that lies within each of us. It’s the ability to get up when you’re knocked down; try when the trek seems too dark, too difficult or too steep.

Life is a journey. Some climb mountains, some climb hills. Jo-Ann and her family were given the Mount Everest’s of mortality. But God will not give us anything we cannot overcome, conquer and win. Life isn’t just about surviving, though merely ‘getting by’ may seem all we can muster or encourage ourselves to do at times. No, life is about winning. Life is about helping. Life is about loving and life is worth living.

Officer Brian Jackson was the epitome of goodness, of charity, of kindness and of life. He will be missed immensely.

1 comment:

bcellis3 said...

Brian had a good friend in you. Brian is still missed today. Keep his memory alive.
You ever need anything, look me up. I have all the details.
Brad Ellis Dallas PD