Bridge of Cries

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
I am a police officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I witnessed several tragedies in the course of my career. I love what I do, I want to think I do make a difference in someone's life. But sometimes, I forget that I'm only human and that this job may take a toll on me every once in a while. I am sharing this personal experience to shed some light on what a police officer will most likely encounter in his/her career from a human being perspective.

Submitted: March 03, 2019

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Submitted: March 03, 2019

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I personally have always been a believer that everything in life happens for a reason and that there is always a lesson to be learnt as we take a specific path in our life journey. Of course, this certainly wasn’t the way I was thinking when I was a child where the only worry I had was what meal has been prepared for dinner and what not.  I was around six years old when a friend of my parents, who was a police officer, gave me a special present that would change my life forever. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas – it was just a gift. That gift wasn’t wrapped either, I remember opening up the plastic bag and there it was: a real police shirt with real police shoulder flashes. Immediately, I had to try it on. I knew at that very moment that I had a calling. I wanted to become a police officer. Why though? Why did I want to become a police officer at such a young age? Well, like most kids, I thought driving a police car with lights and sirens looked cool and arresting robbers sounded exciting. I certainly did not think about the actual work that police officers are faced with on a daily basis.

As I got older and became a teenager, my desire to become a police officer had not faded away. The family values that my parents had passed on to me started to kick in. Without a doubt, I still believed that driving fast in a police car, with lights and sirens and slapping handcuffs on criminals sounded pretty thrilling. I had this compassionate part inside of me that wanted to help make a difference in someone else’s life. I genuinely believed police officers did more to help those in needs and difficult moments of their lives. Yet, none of these thoughts would prepare me for what I would have to witness later in my career as a police officer.

 

JULY 19, 2018

It is a sunny Thursday and my shift is leisurely getting to the end, I am sitting in my supervisor’s office working on some paper work. My supervisor (who is also my partner) is currently away this week so I take the luxury to work in his office as it is providing me with some privacy, but also with a quiet place to work on the computer. I am part of the bike patrol unit, however since I am working by myself in the unit; I take advantage of the day to finish up the paper work that had accumulated over time.  It’s a busy day for “C” Watch and the police radio is very busy. The calls for service keep coming in and there is no respite. There is a lot going on this afternoon and most of the Watch officers are tied up on calls for service, including a roll-over accident which appears to be quite significant.

A call for service is then broadcasted over the air by the Operational Call Centre (O.C.C.). Unfortunately, this is a call that I’ve heard so many times over the course of my nine years of service as a police officer.  The call is dispatched as a suicidal female biking, on her way to the Goldstream trestle to kill herself. The Goldstream trestle is a popular hiking bridge on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Not a routine call for service, but also not a call that is unexpected either. The Watch supervisor, Corporal Hill, contacts me on the police radio, requesting my assistance as the police resources were getting thin, busy with dealing with other calls. I acknowledge his request; I leave my paper work and jump into my unmarked police SUV. I was familiar with the location of the Goldstream trestle as I had been there not long ago to deal with another suicidal person’s call. The area is somewhat remote and not easily accessible but I knew exactly where to park my police vehicle and where to access the trail that would lead us to the trestle in the least amount of time. Because yes, as you can imagine, time is of the essence is these types of circumstances.

We are now getting updates from the dispatcher about this woman in distress. We learn that she had attempted this before and has once come at police with a knife in hope to get a suicide-by-cop. Again, not typical but not the first time we had to deal with this kind of scenario/behaviour.  I also hear on the police radio that an officer from the Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team (I.M.C.E.R.T.) is monitoring the call as he was acquainted with this woman.

So here I am, driving out of the detachment’s parking lot with my lights and sirens blaring as I am making my way to the Goldstream trestle. Traffic is getting heavy as rush hour traffic is settling in. At this point, I am uncertain who are the other police officers attending the call with me as I’m trying to focus on making my way through traffic while reading updates on the computer in my police car.  The police radio remains very busy with chatter as other members are responding to the roll-over accident. Then I hear Constable Vose on the police radio asking to be dispatched to the suicidal woman call as well. As Constable Vose is making his radio transmission, I can hear the siren of his police car echoing in the background. Constable Vose is acting as the road supervisor today so I am not surprised to hear him tagging along to come to this call for service. He also contacts Constable Baylin and Constable Valentine to ensure that they are making their way to the Goldstream trestle as well.  Constable Baylin acknowledges Constable Vose on the air by saying “10-4, we’re just behind Bérubé”. As I hear this radio transmission, I can see the red and blue flashing lights of Constable Baylin and Constable Valentine’s police car in my side mirror. The adrenaline rush of driving a police car with lights and sirens through traffic is undeniably present.  We are driving on the highway at this point and the traffic is almost at a standstill. There is a long line of cars lining up trying due to some construction. We are driving on the oncoming lane in order to bypass all the traffic. I am looking ahead as far as I can in order to dodge the oncoming traffic. I feel the tires of my police SUV on the verge of losing traction around the curve as I am trying to get to my destination as fast and safe as possible. I try to focus on the road and the traffic around me as the roaring engine of my police SUV, the siren and the police radio overwhelms my hearing sense.

I update everyone responding to the call about the location where we are going to park our police vehicles. There is a little pull out area on the right side of the highway where we will gather and formulate a plan of action prior to hiking up to the trestle. Corporal Hill, the Watch commander, ensures that someone is equipped with a Conducted Energy Weapon, or commonly known as Taser. Yes, the use-of-force tools police officers carry are not meant to hurt people, but are rather meant to incapacitate people in order to gain control of them. Constable Vose acknowledges that he is carrying one. Corporal Hill then asks the O.C.C. to “ping” the woman’s phone to get an update on her location. In other words, trying to identify the cell tower of the last signal the phone was received.  At the same time, the officer from I.M.C.E.R.T. provides updates on the police radio that the woman has history of violence and alcohol/substance abuse. He continues on by explaining some of her previous history with police. We learn that her name is Jennifer.

At the same time, I pull over on the side of the highway at the rendezvous point. I see Constable Baylin and his recruit, Constable Valentine pulling in right behind me. I update O.C.C. of our location as the smell of heated up brakes is making it known that we have pushed the police cars to their limits. Constable Vose advises over the police radio that he isn’t too far behind and that he’ll be there momentarily. The I.M.C.E.R.T.  officer provides further details over the police radio, stating that a few months ago; the woman was at the Goldstream trestle and had attempted to commit suicide.

The O.C.C then provides the update of the cell phone ping which is mapping right north of the Goldstream trestle. Hearing this update makes me realize that the chances of finding this woman at the trestle are greatly increasing.  As all the updates are coming together, Corporal Hill pleas to myself and my other partners to be careful and to not be placing ourselves in harm’s way, but to rather communicate and to not do anything to put ourselves in danger.

As the four of us gather together by our police cars, I update the O.C.C. that we are starting the foot patrols towards the trestle. We stop the traffic travelling north on the highway, we jump over the cement barrier separating the northbound and southbound lanes and we then enter the forested area of Goldstream Provincial Park. We hike at a high pace. Constable Vose requests to obtain further descriptors of the woman to help us identify her. We are notified that there is no clothing description available but we are reminded of her height and built, about 5’10 and athletic build, and that she was riding a bike.

The weather is still fairly warm and it does not take very long before we start feeling the sweat under the 20 pounds of equipment that we are carrying. We are requesting an ambulance to stage in the area in case of injuries. As we hike, we come to a junction where the beaten path splits into two single trails. We make the decision to split our group into two in order to cover more ground and to reach both end of the trestle. Constable Baylin and Constable Vose continue on the main path while I take this side trail to my right with Constable Valentine. I pick up the pace as the terrain becomes more and more treacherous and steep. My heart is racing and I catch myself getting out of breath as I communicate to Constable Vose about our updated location.  I jump over a few downed trees, climb over boulders and tree roots. I use both my hands and feet to climb up the single trail towards the north end of the trestle. I look back and I lose sight of Constable Valentine. Then I remind myself that he had just recently returned to active duty at work following a leg surgery from a bad motorcycle accident he was involved in a while ago. I feel bad, I don’t want to leave him behind of have him suffer during the ascent. But he quickly appears again behind me and he is powering through the rough terrain. I can tell he is as determined as I am to reach the top of the trestle and to carry out the task at hand – which is to prevent a tragedy.

It doesn’t take much longer before I’m able to take a glimpse of the gigantic wooden trestle from below peeking through the trees. The Goldstream trestle is a majestic bridge, which has unevenly spaced slats with a rail line that is not currently in use. With an approximate (and breath taking) height of four hundred feet over the Niagara Creek, it provides an incomparable view of Mount Finlayson.  And then I hear crying… The situation is all of a sudden getting more real by the second. As I grind up the hill, I can now see somebody on the edge, almost in the middle of the trestle. It’s a woman; she’s wearing a purple tank top with black leggings. She is covering her face with her hands and stomping her feet. The echo of her cries is bouncing within my chest. I have no doubt in my mind; this is Jennifer. We are still far from her and my legs are starting to hurt. I make another radio transmission to update the O.C.C. I have to pause after every two or three words as I am trying to catch my breath to provide the update that I now have a visual confirmation with the woman. There is no doubt in mind she is who we are looking for. She is standing closer to the south side where Constable Vose and Constable Baylin were going. I can also see that there is another woman with her who appears to be trying to comfort her. Through the million things going through my mind, I think about public safety and want to ensure that nobody else accesses the trestle. So far our plan to divide up into two groups works well as we can access both side of the trestle to provide a secure perimeter.

As myself and Constable Valentine approach the north side of the trestle, I see both, the woman and Jennifer, now walking towards the south end of the trestle, which makes me believe that this intervention is about to come to an end and that Jennifer had decided to come off the trestle. I advise Constable Vose over the police radio of her actions.

Constable Vose then replies on the radio and asks us to stay put on the north side as she appears to be freaked out by the police presence. This is not something we wanted to happen. Indeed, she got frightened when she saw Constable Vose and Constable Baylin.  She ran back towards the middle of the trestle. The other woman is still on the trestle with her, talking to her while her friend is frantically calling 9-1-1 to report this incident, not aware that we were already there. Constable Vose tells me that the other woman, who was trying to communicate with her, was doing a good job and decided to let her communicate with her to avoid her being spooked by police again. I keep a vigilant eye on her as she is awfully close to the edge of the trestle, once again.

I request the fire department to attend the scene with their high angle rescue gear. I’m thinking to myself that we need all the resources we can think of to deal with her and with all the different potential scenarios that can unfold. We are still standing back as the other woman who had established a rapport with Jennifer was communicating with her. We decide to not intervene at this time, fearing that our presence would simply scare her and make things worse.

I hear on the radio now that the Fire Department is en route to help with a rescue.

I can still see Jennifer on the trestle. From what I can see, she still appears to be with the other woman who is attempting to talk to her. I can only stay put at this time and hoping for a positive outcome. A few minutes go by and I can see her walking back towards the south end of the trestle with the other woman. I make sure to let Constable Vose know by calling him on the radio to advise him of her movements. I also ask him to let me know once she is completely off the trestle. I explain that myself and Constable Valentine will move in from the other side of the trestle and close in the distance in hope to prevent her from returning on the bridge deck. We are keeping a very tight communication on the police radio, making sure that we are all on the same page and that we are all aware of her every single movement. I also want to make sure that Constable Vose and Constable Baylin are aware that I will be walking on the trestle towards them with Constable Valentine.

The O.C.C. contacts us. The Fire Department is asking to have a police officer liaise with them over the phone to coordinate their response. I request a stand-by as I spot Jennifer walking towards the south end and eventually off the trestle. I advise over the radio that we are going to attempt to apprehend the woman under the Mental Health Act.

Unfortunately, the plan changes rapidly as she sees Constable Vose and Constable Baylin standing by on the south end. She runs back towards the trestle once again. I am feeling more and more anxious about her sudden movements as she is visibly very upset and does not want to be near the police. I am about halfway through the trestle at this point while Constable Valentine is a few feet behind me. So many things are going through my mind at this time. As I see her running towards me, one of her leg gets stuck in between the old wooden slats which causes her to fall down. She quickly gets back up though. I can clearly see the distraught look on her face as she is crying in despair. I can’t make out what she is saying – if she is saying anything at all. I get tunnel vision as she keeps running towards me. I quickly recall the information that was broadcasted to us earlier where there was mention that she had charged at police with a knife before. I have no idea what is about to happen next. I don’t want to have to wrestle with her on the bridge, I don’t want her to fear me and I certainly don’t want her to make impulsive movement that would cause her to lose her balance. I think about my young six year old son and then my mind goes blank. So I stop right in the middle of the trestle. I raise both of my hands up in the air in hope she would not perceive me as a menace. It did not take very long, maybe a few seconds for her to realize I did not want to make her feel afraid. I said: “My name is Alex – I just want to talk to you”. I initiate a verbal connection with her. However, overwhelmed by emotions, she does not respond to me.

As the O.C.C. scramble to coordinate other first responders resources, the Watch commander requests a negotiator be called out to assist with this incident.

As I get closer to her, Constable Valentine keeps a distance behind me to provide updates to O.C.C. without compromising the bond I am trying to build with Jennifer.

The bond. As I am standing with her side by side, I inevitably acknowledge the extra inches taller that she has on me. She is crying and she can’t stand still which is making me very nervous because of our vulnerable position on the bridge. I ask her if we can sit down. To my surprise, she accepts and I find myself sitting with her in the middle of the trestle and I have no idea what is going on around me. Even though I know Constable Valentine is not far behind me, I have no idea where he is. All I see is her blue watery eyes which she can barely hide. In my head I’m wondering what can be so hurtful for her to be in this situation. Though I was, myself, hurting inside because of personal struggles, but today wasn’t about me. So I think maybe the best way to engage with her is to just listen to what she has to say as I felt this is what I would want. So I say to her: “I can tell you are very upset Jennifer, what is going on?” Although she is not clearly providing me with a clear answer, I understand that she is scared of heights and that she does not want to die. For a moment I feel slightly re-assured and I think that for her to say that, it is a step in the right direction to a successful and peaceful resolution. Through her frightened feelings, I grab and hold her hand gently as we are sitting next to each other. I want to make her feel safe and show that I truly care about her well-being. I want to give her the opportunity to trust me, a police officer whom she’s never met before. Sarcastically, how hard of a task can this be? But I see some hope as she discloses to me that she has lost her infant daughter a few years ago. I mean, this is very personal information to share. She tells me that she has never been able to get over it. At that moment, I also feel sadness inside of me. No, I can’t fully understand what she has been going through, I have not lost an infant before either. But I had recently lost my wife through a separation and the feeling of a void as suddenly caught up to me. I reminisce on the good memories of my past which fuels my emotions. But I swiftly come back to reality. I keep holding her hand and I try to tell her that I am here to help her and that I want to get through this with her. We sit there for a moment as I want her to be able to absorb the few words I am telling her, but most importantly, I don’t want her to feel rushed or pressured. I want her to know that we genuinely care for her. While it might feel strange to act this way towards someone you have never met before, I believe it to be basic human nature to want to protect and help each other. She cracks a little smile and wipes down a tear slowly sliding down her cheek. She then gets up on her feet. I think to myself that I must have succeeded in creating a bond with her and that she accepts my help in this very difficult time in her life. I take a deep breath and sigh in relief.  I don’t want to get up at the same time as her, again because I don’t want to make any rough movement that would trigger any frightening thoughts in her. She looks at me right in the eye, she does not say a word and just like that – she jumps over the trestle. She is looking at me, not at the ravine behind her…

The moment of the actual jumping motion until the moment our eye contact breaks and I lose complete sight of her as she falls off the bridge feels like an eternity and almost like in a slow-motion fashion. My body feels numb and I feel complete silence during that moment. Stunned, I sit still for a few seconds, in complete disbelief. This all seem so unreal. I mean, how can this happening when I thought she had realized life was worth giving it another shot. And I also think, in all selfishness, about how this can be happening when I believed to have done everything to comfort her.  This daze that I am into quickly fades away as I hear the crackling sound of tree branches below the trestle breaking and the unthinkable noise of what sounded like a boulder hitting the small rock river bed at the very bottom of the ravine. As this is not enough to sink my heart, I now hear the panicking screams and cries of the other women who were standing on the south end of the bridge with Constable Vose and Constable Baylin.

Constable Baylin attempts to transmit over the police radio that the woman went over the trestle. The radio transmission can’t be heard clearly so the O.C.C.  is asking Constable Baylin to repeat: “Go again, she is over the trestle?” As I slowly get back up on my feet, still in complete disbelief, I reach out to my portable mic with my hand. With a lump in my throat, I painfully update the O.C.C. with the following words that will forever stick in my head: “She jumped.” I become angry at myself. I think to myself that I let her jump and feel blameable for it.

Though the odds of survival for the fall are practically nil, we still ask Fire and Ambulance to attend in hope to save her. Although we can’t see where she fell, the instinct of rescuing her is still kicking in. What if there was a chance of her making it? Constable Valentine and Constable Baylin immediately provide support to the other women standing with them who were in complete shock and uncontrollably crying after witnessing something they should have never have to witness in their lives. Constable Valentine calls for Victim Services to attend the scene to provide additional moral support to those witnesses.

As I now walk by those witnesses, I feel shame. I feel like they are judging me for failing to save her and that I did not do everything I could to prevent this terrible incident. I now try to get down the very abrupt slope which is right underneath the trestle as I try to get down the ravine. Constable Vose is stopping me right away. He doesn’t want me to go down there. I understand this is his job as a road supervisor to oversee our actions and planning but I feel like I have to finish what I came here for. I tell him that I’m fine, that we need to check and assess her just in case. Constable Vose does not try to hold me back any longer and tells me that he is coming with me. I sense that he knows exactly how I feel inside. As we are going down the treacherous steep hill, holding on to branches to not fall over, he tells me that I’ve done everything I could and that the outcome wasn’t my fault. I don’t look back or say anything back to him. My mind is busy with the constant replay of the event in my head while trying to get down this ravine as fast as possible through the thick bushes and tree roots.

After a few minutes during the descent, Constable Vose asks me: “Alex, are you ok?” At that very moment I pause, I lean my arms against a think branch and I feel my eyes filling with tears. I try to lie by telling him that I’m fine but there is no sound coming out of my voice. I can’t hold it anymore, I break down. I feel my legs weaken and the emotions finally come out. Here I am, crying in a forested area in the middle of nowhere. I can’t sit because of the rough terrain. “I did everything I could” I weep to Constable Vose. I’m in pain but I understand that I have to push those emotions aside and continue on with the task at hand.

We try hard to get down the ravine as much as we can, we get discouraged as we are not sure if we’ll be able to make it all the way down. We find an old climbing rope attached to a tree that was probably left there by some hikers. We decide to use it as it would be too dangerous to slip down if we weren’t attached. Though we have no climbing gear, we use whatever we have around us to guide us down there. We carefully wrap the rope around our hands which are protected by our gloves and we continue down the slope. Then, I see her. Though I am still very far away from her, I see her laying down there, lifeless. Though I had a pretty good idea of the outcome, it had just become so real. I advise Constable Vose of the grim discovery. She is laying on her stomach, face down in a small pool of water. I am still trying to get down this ravine, trying to find the safest way to get down to the bottom while Constable Vose is following me down the path. By then, we are made aware over the police radio that another team of police officers are attempting to get to her from the ground. Myself and Constable Vose keep pushing our descent and eventually have to stop as we run out of rope and further attempts to descent the very abrupt slope would without a doubt put ourselves at great risk of injuring ourselves, or worst. Luckily at that point, we hear the voices of the ground team arriving at the scene. They confirm they are now with the woman and confirm the obvious death at this point. I look at the woman from about a hundred feet away. Against all odds and expectations, I don’t see blood or anything else of what a human body should look like after such a fall. It just seems like she was just laying there, sleeping – at least maybe this is what my mind was tricking me into thinking. Myself and Constable Vose have reached a point where we can’t go any farther. For obvious safety reason, we decide to return back up to the trestle in order to get to the path that would get us back to our police vehicles parked on the side of the highway. We pause for a moment to gather our thoughts and to do a quick equipment check, ensuring we haven’t lost anything along the way. We are all good. I wipe the sweat off of my face with the back of my glove and follow Constable Vose as he now leads the way back to where we came from. We remain silent as we climb our way back up, using both our hands and feet. We are sweaty, our uniforms are dirty and I ponder in my mind about what went wrong during this incident. My mind is brought back to reality when I hear Corporal Hill on the police radio, requesting all officers at the scene to return to the office. Fair enough as the shift change is coming, but also because the relief Watch is coming to help us so that we can clear from the scene and group back together.

As myself and Constable Vose reach the top of the trestle again, I observe Constable Baylin and Constable Valentine and other police officers that had arrived to provide additional support. I keep some distance from the group who is now looking at me. I notice the sad look on everyone else’s face, not knowing what to say in light of this tragedy. Until one officer asks me again how I am doing. I feel another rush of emotions coming in but I try not to let it show. I keep my sunglasses on, even though the area is shaded from all the trees surrounding our group to not let my tears show. It’s now time to go back down the hiking path and return to the office. We all make our way down and about fifteen minutes later, we reach our police vehicles. I am tired, physically and mentally. Constable Vose tells me to stop at the gas station nearby before we return to the office. I am unsure why but figured he might want to talk to me about the incident. Too tired, I acknowledge his request and don’t ask him why. We both take our separate police vehicles and meet at the gas station. Constable Vose wants to buy some water. This turned out to be a great idea as I was parched and exhausted. Inside the gas station, I make my way towards the fridge and reach for a small bottle of water; however Constable Vose tells me to grab the big bottle. We both grab a big litre bottle of water and Constable Vose pays for them at the till. Oblivious to what just happened, the cashier smiles and tells us that it’s a nice and hot day out there. It is a very nice and hot day indeed, though little did she know is that we had just gone through a terrible moment. We don’t say anything, we crack somewhat of a fake smile and return to our police cars. I thank Constable Vose for the water and thank him for being there with me. We then drive back to the office.

As I drive into the office parking lot, I see other police officers from the night shift signing in into their patrol cars and notice their looks follow me as I park my police car. They obviously must be aware of what happened. I take a deep breath, get out of my car and start walking back to my office. The wave of emotions mixed with my mental and physical exhaustion makes me very sensitive at this point. I’m happy to have a private office as I sit down and prepare myself to write a report about the incident. This is short-lived as an RCMP officer from our Peer-to-Peer support program enters my office. She has this compassionate look on my face and asks me how I am doing. I look at her for about five seconds as I can’t come up with words to describe how I feel. If there was one sentence that would make my emotions come out without failing, is exactly that. The build-up of emotions becomes too much and I shake my head as I start breaking down again. She sits down in front of me and tries to comfort me. “I’m so sorry Alex. At least you have a beautiful wife at home” she says. Awkwardly, I tell her that I had just been separated for the past three weeks. She now feels so bad for bringing it up in what she felt was a devastating moment that I was going through right now. She tells me that she wants to sit down with me, Constable Vose, Constable Baylin and Constable Valentine and Corporal Hill to just talk about how we are all feeling. I am not surprised as this is something we expected after living a traumatic incident in the workplace. At the same time, Corporal Hill enters my office and explains that he needs to take photographs of me as it is standard procedures because the Independent Investigations Office (I.I.O) has been contacted. The I.I.O. is an agency that is mandated to conduct investigations into officer-related incidents of death or serious harm to determine whether or not an officer may have committed an offence. In this case, whether my actions or inactions contributed to this woman’s death.  Corporal Hill takes photographs of me in my dishevelled uniform from all angles to show how I appeared when the incident occurred. I am then suggested to contact our Workplace Advisor as I become a Subject Officer under investigation. As if my day wasn’t enough of a nightmare, I find myself to be under investigation and potential facing criminal charges. So I phone the Workplace Advisor and explains what just happened. I cry on the phone once again when I provide details of the circumstances surrounding the woman’s death. The Workplace Advisor basically tells me to not say anything and to just leave the office. He was actually very kind and compassionate over the phone which made me feel good.

Shortly after, Corporal Hill tells me that the Watch is going to grab dinner and drinks at a pub nearby in order to unwind about the stressful day. I need that as I have nowhere else to go. We all meet at the pub and through some storytelling, smiles and laughter, we can all sense a sad vibe around our table. My phone keeps receiving text messages from many different police officers of all ranks who had heard about the incident and wanted to offer me their support. I am becoming somewhat numb again. In my mind, all these texts messages, though appreciated, feel a bit over the top. At the end of the day, I try and tell myself this just another day at work, doing what we are supposed to do – or maybe not… Nevertheless, after a couple hours, the dinner comes to an end and I return home. I meet with my ex-wife whom I was still living with and try to explain what I just went through earlier in the day. However, she tells me she does not want to hear about it. She tells me that she is probably not the best person for me to talk about these things. Fair enough, she isn’t my intimate partner like she used to be. This is an adjustment for me and I feel broken inside as I felt like I needed her to listen to the painful event I had to go through. But I respected her wish and decided to simply go to bed to what would be a very sleepless night.

Days go by and I feel fine. I return to work the next day because my life at home is very mentally draining. As I walk throughout the office, everyone I cross path with makes a point of stopping to check on me which makes me feel not only good, but appreciated. It’s amazing to see how this incident has spread out like wildfire as it seems like everybody knows about what happened. While it appears that everyone is walking on eggshell around me, I try to disguise the pain and pretend like everything is fine. I carry out my duties as a police officer like I used to. I even schedule a meeting with a psychologist as it was recommended to me – why not. I think I’m doing fine overall but at this stage, I don’t want to take any risk and think this wouldn’t be a bad idea to speak out about my experience to a psychologist. After all, this can’t hurt. So a few days later I end up meeting with a psychologist. I explain once again the circumstances of this incident. I try to go into as much details as possible without breaking down again. But every time, without failure, I start chocking when I pause and re-live the moment that she made the decision to end her life. I don’t want to dwell on it, but this is the reality I am living with and I find it challenging. I choke but I’m able to hold the tears. I am eventually able to tell the story until the end. Furthermore, I tell the psychologist that I cope with this incident by staying active, eating well and keeping myself busy overall. And it does indeed work. I feel like at this point I’m meeting with the psychologist as a checkmark on a to-do list to deal with a traumatic incident. Honestly, I feel fine and I am able to look at this incident from an objective point of view. I am aware that I have done everything I can and that I had no control over the outcome. However, I seek comfort in knowing that I may have had a positive impact in Jennifer’s life before she passed away. Maybe this is what she needed – to be heard.  Nonetheless, I feel good about meeting the psychologist and I believe my mental health is going to benefit from it.

Back at the office, I’m met by a police officer who tells me that he was contacted by a family member of Jennifer via a social media website. The officer tells me that this family member wanted to express her gratitude in my dealings I had with Jennifer. I acknowledge his message and pretend like it’s no big deal, that I was just doing my job that day. However, the reality was that I was getting emotional, knowing that a family member had reached out and I just wanted to avoid being emotional in front of that officer. Having said that, the next day I reached out to this officer asking for that family member’s phone number because I felt the need to speak with her. After obtaining that phone number, I send a text message to that person. I introduce myself as being the officer who was with Jennifer on the trestle. As delicate as possible, I explain in my text message that Jennifer appeared to be at peace before committing suicide. I explain that I was there, holding Jennifer’s hand and providing her with a moment of peace and serenity and just listening to her. While I am still under investigation by the I.I.O., I feel like the need for Jennifer’s family to know what happened before her death trumps the investigation. This is a decision that I consciously make as human being, not a police officer.  What I receive as a reply was something that I did not expect. The family member thanks me for text message and extends to me, an invitation to Jennifer’s funeral in a few days. I get caught off guard as this is not something I was expecting. I thank her for the invite and conclude the conversation. I am not sure what to think about this invitation. While the days go by and I ponder on this invitation, I decide to attend the funeral. I am told by the family member that there would be a short ceremony outside the funeral home, in a garden. On the day of the funeral, I show up before the ceremony starts.

The sun is shining as I walk around the memorial garden and look at the different memorial plaques of those who passed away. I feel lonely but peaceful.  I think about what Jennifer’s family may be going through and feel sad for them. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming to her funeral. As I stand back in a corner of the memorial garden, I observe what seems to be Jennifer’s family and friends walking out of the funeral home. I see the pain and sorrow that’s surrounding these people. I try to stay strong myself, even though these people have no idea who I am at this point. The group gathers in the centre of the garden, under a gazebo.  I faintly hear, what appears to me to be a pastor, addressing a few words to the group. I see some of these people holding their heads down, some people walking away crying and some people standing straight, carefully listening to the pastor’s words. As the ceremony comes to an end, I see the crowd dispersing. I slowly start making my way out as well as I am not sure what to do at this point. But I’m being watched by this woman. I soon learn that this was the family member I had been exchanging text messages with. I walk closer to her and without a word; she takes me in her arms. It becomes obvious that she recognized me, even though she had never met me before. We hug for a minute and she asks me if I wanted to speak with Jennifer’s mother. Though I think this is a painful thing to do, I don’t hesitate as I believe this is what I had to do. I remain standing where I am while she goes and speak with Jennifer’s mother, who is visibly very upset. She shortly comes back and tells me that she wants to take me inside the funeral home, in a private room to meet Jennifer’s mother. I patiently wait as she does just that. I become nervous and think about what to say to her. What am I supposed to say? My mind goes blank as I enter this small room inside the funeral home with Jennifer’s mother. We are both standing face to face. I look at her in her eyes for a few seconds. She looks just like Jennifer. As I find myself tearing up, I tell her that I am so sorry – and I start crying. She holds me in her arm and tries to comfort me. “This is not your fault” she says. And we sit down. I am glad to be able to sit down with her and explain to her that Jennifer was at peace until the end. I feel like this was my job, as a human being, to let her know that. She tries to convince me that I did everything I could and there was nothing else I could’ve done to prevent that. She adds on that Jennifer would have likely taken me with her if would have tried to restrain her because she was that determined to end her life. As I hear this, I feel chills going down my spine. This is a scenario that I had thought of but never actually had someone else confirm that scenario. We are still sitting down a few inches away from each other when she tells me that she was sad to have lost her daughter. She also tells me about how she had lost her infant daughter a few years ago. And at this time, she pulls out a photograph of Jennifer holding her daughter. She looks exactly how I remember her, with bright blue eyes. I am unsure of what to say. She then asks me if I have any children. So I answer that I have a little boy. When I tell her that, she looks at me and tells me: “Make sure you tell his mother every day that you love her.” Once again, I get caught off guard. She doesn’t know that I was going through a separation. I decide to let everything she was telling sink in. I am not going to tell her I was going through a tough time. This is not about me. Besides, she just lost her daughter in a tragic incident. I nod my head in agreement and I hug her again. She thanks me for one last time and I tell her that I’m sorry again before parting ways. Even if I feel sad and drained, I feel like I did the right thing by talking to Jennifer’s mother. I go home and carry on with my day-to-day life.

 

November 19, 2018

About four months later, the Commanding Officer for the RCMP in British Columbia announces via email that the I.I.O has just issued a public report relating to this incident and conveys that the I.I.O. will not be referring the file to Crown Counsel for consideration of charges. She goes on by outlining some of the details of the incident which, upon reading, makes all these vivid memories re-surface. But I continue reading anyways. The email states that the Subject Officer in this incident displayed professionalism, compassion and courage in his interactions with the woman and that there were no grounds to consider any charges. While these words to describe my actions seem complimentary, I find no comfort as I feel the outcome of this incident should not have been so tragic. I think to myself that the only appropriate choice of word to describe my actions would be that I acted “humanly”. The Commanding Officer concludes her email by saying that we never know what stressors are impacting a person’s life, but that we can treat them with professionalism and compassion knowing that it can, and very often does make a difference. This was simply an unfortunate case where, despite doing everything possible to de-escalate the situation, there was nothing more we could have done to prevent this woman from taking her own life.

I never really worried about facing criminal charges as a result of the investigation. There was no doubt in my mind that I had not done anything to make her fall to her death. I also feel good after reading the Commanding Officer’s email. I feel that my efforts are being recognized and that those efforts were not in vain. I then move on and read the newly released statement from the I.I.O. with regards to this incident.

In their report, the I.I.O mentions that as the death occurred while police were on scene interacting with, as they referred to the “Affected Person”, the Independent Investigations Office was notified of the incident by the RCMP and commenced its investigation. The evidence collected during the investigation included statements from involved police officers, statements of civilian witnesses, scene examination and police records. The report goes on by detailing the sequence of events:

At 2:59 p.m. on July 19, 2018, West Shore RCMP received a call concerning a female who had stated she was going to a bridge in Langford, BC and was threatening to end her own life.

At 3:15 p.m., West Shore RCMP officers arrived in the area and began to make their way to the bridge.

At 3:24 p.m., the RCMP received a second 911 call from a civilian witness (CW1), who was at the bridge, stating there was an unknown female (the Affected Person) on the bridge threatening to jump. CW1 also reported that another civilian witness (CW2) had moved onto the bridge and begun to talk with the Affected Person.

Over the course of several minutes, CW2 was able to convince the Affected Person to walk off the bridge towards the south end a number of times; however, each time the Affected Person would return back towards the centre of the bridge.

In a statement to the I.I.O., CW1 stated the Affected Person appeared to be very distressed and scared at this time.

At 3:29 p.m., the Affected Person and CW2 were seated at the south end of the bridge talking to each other. At this time, two RCMP officers approached from the north end of the bridge and saw CW2 and the Affected Person seated at the south end. Seeing this, the two officers, Subject Officer 1 (SO1) and Witness Officer 1 (WO1), attempted to move quickly towards the south end in order to deny the Affected Person access back towards the centre of the bridge.

At 3:33 p.m., the two officers who had approached from the north met with the Affected Person towards the centre of the bridge deck. One of the officers, SO1, engaged in conversation with the Affected Person while WO1 remained a short distance away.

In a statement to the I.I.O, WO1 reported he heard SO1 introduce himself to the Affected Person, state he was there to help, and ask if he could move closer to the Affected Person so they could talk. SO1 and the Affected Person then sat down next to each other on the bridge deck and spoke for two to three minutes. At one point, SO1 and the Affected Person held hands while they talked.

In statements to the I.I.O, CW1 and CW2 reported that they saw SO1 talking with the Affected Person on the bridge and that the officer appeared to be calm and soft spoken. CW2 stated she heard a police officer say to the Affected Person “let’s just talk.” A third civilian witness (CW3) who was nearby the Affected Person stated it appeared the officer was trying to calm the Affected Person down. One witness said the conversation went on for two to three minutes. During that time, the Affected Person’s mood included silence, crying and yelling. However, at one-point the Affected Person appeared to have calmed down.

However, at 3:36 p.m., it was reported that the Affected Person said she “couldn’t do this”, released her hand from SO1, stood up, and jumped from the bridge. SO1 tried to stop her but was unable to do so. Unfortunately, the Affected Person did not survive injuries sustained in the fall.

This is a tragic incident that has impacted all involved. It potentially placed others in danger as they engaged with the Affected Person.

Statements from civilian witnesses and witness officers, which were corroborated with police records, demonstrate that the actions of the subject officer did not in any way contribute to the Affected Person’s death.

Further, based on evidence collected in this investigation, the subject officer displayed professionalism, compassion and courage in his interactions with the Affected Person. It is also worth noting that, in her attempts to get the Affected Person off the bridge, CW2, a 17-year-old who did not know the Affected Person, demonstrated significant courage and kindness in dealing with the Affected Person.

The evidence collected does not provide grounds to consider any charges against any officer.

 

December 12, 2018

I receive an email from the Commanding Officer of the RCMP for the Vancouver Island District. I find attached to the email, a copy of a letter that this Commanding Officer received from the Chief of Investigation for the I.I.O. It was a very flattering letter of my actions during this call for service and adds that my interaction with Jennifer was beyond anything the RCMP could have hoped for, that the outcome was not what anyone wanted. He stresses that I can’t let that weigh on me as my compassion, empathy and professionalism was beyond reproach.

Again, while I appreciate another top brass reaching to me in a very kind matter, I simply thank him for his email and wish him Happy Holidays. I feel overwhelmed inside once again as the circumstances surrounding this incident are coming back to my mind more frequently, especially after being reminded by those emails from the senior management and from the publicly issued report from the I.I.O. Maybe I am a bit more sensitive around this time of year.  Maybe it’s just the nature of the job I am in – or maybe it’s just the nature of the person I am.

What I know is that there is something I need to take away from all this. During the course of my career as a police officer, I witnessed many types of trauma and difficult situations. One might argue that this is what I signed up for. The answer to that is no. While I choose to accept that I will not always make a difference, I did not sign up to be hurt physically or mentally. Having said that, this particular incident, combined with my personal issues make it the hardest traumatic event I have to deal with. On the same token, this is what is making me grow as a professional and as a person. There is a life lesson being taught here that I still haven’t completely figured out. But I understand that it takes time to grow.  I questioned myself a lot, and I cried a lot. I have absolutely no shame in that.

I am a human being before a police officer. I can honestly trust today that I have given Jennifer some peace and serenity before she passed away. I have learned that we can’t always succeed on the task at hand every single time. I have learned that there are people out there who are suffering in silence and would never dare to seek help. I have learned that, sometimes it takes someone’s story to reveal your own. I have learned to be nice to people regardless of anything else that is going on in your life as you might make a difference in their lives that may seem hopeless. The power of caring, having a quick conversation or just smiling can alter someone’s path towards happiness. Take time to tell people you love them because tomorrow is uncertain. Accept what life is throwing in your path and embrace it as this is what will determine what comes next for you.

Something I also take back with me is that we need not to focus on the “what if’s” but to rather focus on the “successes”. In other words, not “what if I tried to physically restrain her on the trestle to prevent her from jumping” or “what if I took more time to negotiate with her”. I may not have saved her that day, but I succeeded in giving her that peace, succeeded at building trust and bond with my teammates who worked so incredibly hard with me. And if there is one thing that is really sinking after all this, is that nothing last forever and to enjoy every small moment that goes by before it’s too late.

There is still a long road ahead. Without a doubt, it will be a rocky one. Unless I choose to pave it the way I want it to be so that the ride can be a little more comfortable. There will be obstacles, there will be challenges but I have to believe that there is something worth it on the horizon.  The only “what if” I need to ask myself today is: “what if things work out in the end?”

 

Alex Bérubé

Alex Bérubé is a police officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a son and a father


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