Following last week’s chase and exchange of gunfire in Wise County, one life ended. Many others will be affected forever.
When a cop on television kills a bad guy, he somehow seems to just go about his day as if taking someone’s life is as routine as using the copying machine. And often, the lasting emotional impact of both actions seems about equal.
But in real life, shooting a suspect is not something law enforcement officers take lightly. If they do, they’re in the wrong line of work.
Last year I had the opportunity to interview Justin police officer Kevin James, who was shot by a suspect, returned fire and killed him. The emotional scars linger longer than the physical ones. He told me a year after the shooting, he still tried to avoid driving by the home where it took place. The memories were just too painful.
We don’t know which officer took the shot that ended Evan Ebel’s life last Thursday. I do know that a photo I saw from the scene showed an emotionally distraught officer who appeared to be coming to grips with what had just happened.
There are no high-fives or celebrations in real life when an officer has to take a life. But they have a job to do, and in this case, the job called for taking a life in order to save others. This was a suspect, after all, who had already shot one Montague County deputy and had fired on at least two more officers, missing one by mere inches. When he crashed at a busy intersection in west Decatur, he came out firing, and there were potential civilian victims all around.
Ebel would also emerge as a suspect in the murder of a high-ranking Colorado official, and evidence may link him to the murder of a pizza delivery driver in Denver.
Clearly, he had no intention of being taken alive.
In the back of many of our minds was a similar chase that ended with the death of an officer. Next week marks the fourth anniversary of the death of Bridgeport Police Sgt. Randy White.
On April 2, 2009, White was struck by a car driven by Bridgeport resident Stephen York at the end of a high-speed, cross-county chase much like last Thursday’s. White was not involved in the chase – he was trying to protect civilians in the area, knowing it was headed into the city.
That incident started, ironically, in almost the exact spot where last week’s chase ended. York was involved in a hit-and-run accident on U.S. 380 near that same intersection where Ebel crashed his car into a rock hauler, effectively ending his run from the law.
Prior to that, the last Wise County officer killed in the line of duty was Decatur police officer James “Pancho” Bennett on April 3, 1980 – almost 29 years to the day before White’s death.
Bennett’s case is reminiscent of how last Thursday’s chase started. Bennett was shot and killed by a suspect in a car he had pulled over on U.S. 380 just east of Decatur. Last Thursday, Montague County deputy James Boyd was shot three times by Ebel after the deputy had pulled over Ebel’s late model Cadillac on U.S. 287 near Bowie. Thanks to a bullet-proof vest and the grace of God, it appears Boyd will recover from his wounds.
Boyd will no doubt be honored for his heroic efforts. Despite being shot three times, including once in the head, he was able to call dispatch and give a description of the car and a direction of travel. That allowed Wise County officers to intercept Ebel.
If you think officers are always stoic and emotionally detached from their jobs, you should have heard Montague County Sheriff and former Wise County Fire Marshal Paul Cunningham talk about Boyd at a press conference last week. Cunningham, who has known Boyd and his family for all of Boyd’s life, teared up when talking about the actions of his deputy.
In all these cases, there are victims beyond those directly involved in the traumatic incidents. The families of those shot, killed or jailed, whether the officer or the person running from the law, must also deal with the pain.
It would be nice at times if life could be more like those television shows, where characters can simply move on to the next episode without carrying that emotional toll with them. In reality, service and sacrifice have a price.
Here in Wise County, many know that toll all too well.
Boyd was released Tuesday from Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital to a rehabilitation facility in Fort Worth. An account has been opened at Legend Bank in Bowie to help the family.