I haven’t written or commented much on the five previous anniversaries of the murders of Officers Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong and the attempted murder of Officer Tim Doyle. I suppose I’ve had my reasons but as I think about it today, the only reason I can think of, is that I may not have wanted to pick at a healing wound. It’s certainly not that I haven’t thought about the men who died on this day six years ago, or that I haven’t seen Tim Doyle since and while talking with him, visualized the bullet fragments still in his head, neck and chest.
As I drove to work this morning, there was a man in my neighborhood wearing a “Heroes Wear Blue” T-shirt. I thought it was nice, since a quote from me is printed on the back, and especially nice since the T-shirt signifies support for the Armstrong, McCandless and Doyle families. It also signifies support for law-enforcement, but I think what’s most important about it, and most meaningful to me is that the T-shirt was purchased and first worn during a time when many communities would have burned to the ground. There was tension and turmoil in our City; concerns about a race war; rumors about police retaliation and at times for me and those around me, anguish, but people bought T-shirts as a sign of solidarity. People bought T-shirts to reaffirm the meaning of community and to show love and support for the grieving families. When I see a six-year-old T-shirt hanging off the back of a community member, what I really see is a six-year-old commitment to Rapid City and the people who live here. It was a terrible time and a beautiful time for different reasons obviously.
During the middle of today’s work, a man came to my office requesting to see me. I invited him in and could immediately see he was holding back tears. He wanted to thank me and the men and women of law-enforcement for the commitment and sacrifice given while serving the community. He then went on to tell me how he had been feeling all day, and that he had gone to the memorial site on East Anamosa Street to pay tribute to the men gunned down there six years ago today. He felt bad and he told me so a number of times and for one of the first times there was really nothing I felt I could do or say to encourage him. I suppose I was feeling a little discouraged at that time myself.
Just after supper, I went to the intersection where the shooting occurred. There, the memorial stands as it has for years, surrounded by beautiful landscaping installed by Nick’s mother Kim. At the base of the stone, someone placed four roses. The church building at that site stopped some of Ryan’s bullets as he returned fire – a different kind of memorial for me.
When I think about the events of August 2, 2011, I think about the commitment and obligation law enforcement officers feel toward this community. I think about the men and women who serve, receiving in return little more than a meager paycheck. I think it’s awful that good men and women sometimes die at the hands of a desperate criminal – who if it any point in his struggle would have just asked for help, they would have done everything in their power to help him. Maybe, in a way, that’s what happened.
I am proud of who Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong were, and who Tim Doyle is today. I am especially proud of the people of Rapid City and the surrounding communities who six years ago, stopped everything to lend a hand. I am grateful.