"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Community Says Farewell

Last week I posted about the shooting in Ogden that had left one police officer dead and four others seriously wounded.  Yesterday was the funeral for Officer Jared Francom.  On my way to work in the morning I drove down one of the main roads the funeral procession would be going down.  As I sat at a red light, as far as I could see to both the north and south, American flags lined the side of the road.  On the road ahead of me another line of flags fluttered in the cold, clear morning.  As I drove, I passed a group of volunteers methodically placing flags along the curb.  I don’t know when they started placing the flags, but already, just a couple of hours after daylight, miles of roads in the city were lined with flags. It was a humbling sight that put me in an introspective mood for much of the morning.    
At lunchtime, I went downtown with some of my co-workers to watch the funeral procession.  The streets were lined with people, many of them holding more flags.  We found a spot on the side of the road and waited.   A friendly older man who was receiving reports from someone, somewhere, would periodically walk up and down the sidewalk shouting out updates on the progress of the procession “They’re just pulling out of the Dee Events Center”, “Just passing Mount Ogden Junior High”, “Coming down 30th Street, shouldn’t be long now” and so forth.  What we didn’t know was that it took 40 minutes for all of the vehicles to line up and clear the parking lot from where the funeral was held, so we had a long wait.  The procession itself took 90 minutes to travel approximately 8 miles. 

The crowd wasn’t the typical restless, loud and fidgety type that I’m used to seeing waiting for parades, air shows and such.  Even though the temperatures were in the low 30’s, people waited patiently and pretty quietly.  Finally, we saw a police car approaching with its overheard lights on.  Not far behind it was a line of motorcycle officers from all over the state, riding side-by-side.  The line stretched for what seemed like miles.  They road by in perfect formation, lights on, eyes straight ahead.  It was an impressive, moving sight that’s hard to describe.  For much better shots than I was able to get, check out this slideshow from the local paper. funeral-ogden-police-officer Following behind them was the fire engine carrying the casket of Officer Francom. I don’t think there were many dry eyes as the engine slowly drove by, followed by the limos carrying his widow, daughters and other family. 
After that came an endless line of law enforcement vehicles with all of the officers inside in their dress uniforms wearing white gloves.  Many were crying as they drove by, some nodded and waved to the crowds.  I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.  Even though the streets were lined with thousands of people, when the casket passed it was almost silent other than the sound of the vehicles in the procession. It seemed a little surreal. The entire experience was both sobering and heartwarming.

Last week I watched an interview with Jennifer Hudson where she talked about being “lifted up by love” from her fans and supporters after the murder of her mother, brother and nephew.  I cried as I listened because I know exactly what she’s talking about.  At my sister’s funeral, I remember literally feeling enveloped and protected by love from everyone there.  It didn’t matter whether I knew them or not. The simple fact of them being there to honor and remember someone I loved so deeply meant the world to me. Ogden residents and many others came out yesterday to lift up the family and friends of Jared Francom.  Whether we knew them or not, I have to think that in some small way it helped.   
Yesterday I was especially proud to say I live in Ogden.  Our community came together to honor and mourn a fallen officer and show support to his family and colleagues. It didn’t matter whether or not people agreed with how and why he died, who enforces the laws, or how they’re enforced by our city’s police.  Yesterday was simply about community, compassion and respect.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tragedy in Ogden

It's been a wild week here in Ogden. Things started out calm, but by Wednesday evening I was in the local ER with Mike and his grandma.  She hadn't been feeling well and was having some symptoms that at age 87 couldn't be ignored.  Despite her vehement protests, Mike convinced her a hospital visit was in order.  It's a good thing he did, because bright and early the next morning she had a pacemaker put in.  

With G comfortable in her room and knowing she was in good hands until morning, I headed home for bed. I hadn't been in bed long when Mike texted me to ask if I'd heard of the shooting several blocks away involving six policemen.  I quickly logged onto the local paper's website and discovered that only one block away from my grandparent's home, in a quiet middle class neighborhood, six policemen serving a search warrant had been shot, several of them were critically injured.  Rather than recount the entire scenario, here's a link to a story about what happened. http://www.standard.net

The next morning I woke up to the news that one officer, a husband and father to two young children, had died from his injuries.  I headed to the hospital to see G after her surgery.  When I arrived, the parking lot was filled with law enforcement vehicles.  The ICU unit was on lockdown, and officers were gathered there holding vigil for the critically injured men.  

In G's room we turned on the TV to watch a press conference.  I listened and watched as the events of the night before were recapped and the death of the officer was reported.  It was a sad, sobering morning.  I watched hardened law enforcement officers, some of whom I know personally, weep in front of the cameras.  It was the first full day in office for our new mayor, who is also a family friend.  It was a sad day in Ogden.  In a small town like Ogden there are many intertwined connections, so it's hard not to find someone personally impacted by this tragedy.  

On Thursday night a candlelight vigil was held at the downtown amphitheater so the community could come together to honor and mourn the officers involved.  I didn't go, but Mike's friend Erin captured some great shots that night.  Here's a link to her blog with some of the pictures she took at the scene, the press conference and the vigil. http://erinhooley.blogspot.com

Now, two full days after the shooting, details about what happened are emerging.  The assailant is still in the hospital with non life-threatening injuries.  Two of the officers remain hospitalized in critical condition.  Tomorrow the entire Ogden City Police Department will be given the day off to rest and recover.  Surrounding law enforcement agencies will step in to cover for them.  Messages of love, support and healing are everywhere.  It's gratifying to see how my town, often mocked for its gritty, rough, gang-infested, and poverty-stricken side, is pulling together showing what it means to be a community of loving, caring neighbors.  

It's also made me think about other things, such as how necessary and wise is it for law enforcement to barge into someone's house during the night.  So far, it appears the target of their search, the assailant, was growing marijuana in his house.  According to his parents, he's self-medicated with marijuana for several years now.  Obviously, I don't know all the details, but in a state with some of the highest prescription drug abuse numbers in the country, and in a city with a serious meth and heroin problem, I don't know why low-level marijuana growers are such a concern.  I'm not going to make a case one way or another here today, but I think all cities and law enforcement agencies bear great responsibility for how they use the military-style tactics and weapons so common in police work these days.  Entering someone's house during the night, fully armed, isn't usually going to result in a positive, peaceful outcome.  

I also have spent a fair amount of time thinking about the shooter.  What led him to the circumstances that resulted in such a tragedy?  There are many who have zero tolerance for any talk of compassion for someone who shoots a police officer.  There are those who would take great joy in seeing him put to death.  I'm not one of them.  Yesterday my cousin posted this on his Facebook page.  

"Some might find it inappropriate to focus on the assailant . . .

But when I think of Matthew Stewart, I wonder 'have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?' And I hope the answer is yes. Those thoughts cause me to want to lift others. I wonder if anyone lifted him."

Matthew Stewart is part of our community too.  He grew up here.  His heartbroken parents live not far from me.  He was in my cousin's class in school.  The only things I know about him are from what I've read in the paper.  From reading the comments on my cousin's Facebook page from other classmates, it appears that he was a quiet boy, not well remembered, someone that was occasionally picked on.  Reading the comments makes me cry.  I don't know Matthew Stewart at all.  But I do know that people who are loved, accepted, listened to, understood and respected don't end up doing drugs as a form of self-medication and shooting intruders with an automatic weapon.  What happened in his life that brought him to such a place?  We may never know.  

The events of Wednesday evening are tragic for every person involved. The entire community has been affected.  I grieve for the families that have been forever changed. The children who lost their father. The wife who is a now a widow. The other wives who have husbands in critical condition. The officers traumatized by seeing one of their own gunned down.  I also grieve for Matthew Stewart and his family.  They too have lost a son and a brother.  He will probably never see freedom again.  Mostly though, I'm just sad.  Sad that we live in a world that allows people to become so lost that they end up alone, feeling their only defense is a gun.