Some final words…

A few people who couldn’t make Officer Alix’s funeral have asked if they could read my speech, and this seems to be the easiest way to share it. It was apparently way too long, I guess I see that now, but who the hell puts a time limit on grievers talking about a loved one?

I was honored to be one of the speakers at her funeral. So honored.

You have to read it in my voice through tears and choke up several times to get the full effect.

Thanks,

Don

——————————————————————————————–

Good morning.

I have worked for the Department now for just over 20 years.

During those twenty years I’ve answered, I don’t know how many thousands of radio calls.

Domestic Disturbances.

Calls for people suffering some sort of mental distress (OBSs) we call them.

Shots fired calls.

Assault calls.

Burglary calls.

Calls for Prowlers.

Calls for Robberies in progress.

Cuttings

Shootings.

Like most city officers, I’ve seen terribly grotesque injuries and deaths from all types of things befallen upon all types of people, from folks just a few months old to the elderly.

I’ve had foot chases and car chases down dark alleys and streets and had to wrestle countless people into handcuffs.

I’ve been cursed at, spit on and injured on-duty, but despite it all, if I retired tonight….

If I retired tonight, and somebody asked me, Don, what was the most difficult thing you’ve ever done in your 20 years as a police officer?

I would say, unequivocally, this.

This, standing in front of all of you people, many friends, but a lot of strangers, right here, right now, to say a few words about Katlyn. To talk about a small part of the life of a young woman, a beautiful young woman, whose death has quite frankly, shaken me, her friends, and of course her beloved family, right to our collective cores,– a young woman whose life had really only just begun.

This right now, is literally the most difficult thing I’ve ever done while wearing my police uniform.

I’m ashamed, a little bit, to admit that when I was asked on Sunday night by Lieutenant McCloskey if I wanted to say a few words about Katlyn, I didn’t say yes right away. I was caught off guard at first, so I told him that I’d like to get back to him, if that was okay.

If I’m being honest, when I hung up the phone, I knew that I couldn’t say no to Katlyn’s family, and that I would be here today. I knew it.

I was admittedly nervous about whether or not I could come up with anything to say, let alone something worthy of honoring the way too short but very meaningful life Katlyn lived.

Even if I could cobble together a passable speech, would I be able to get the words out?

I literally made it fourteen steps into the Kutis Funeral Home yesterday before I saw one of Katlyn’s Academy classmates and started to break down in tears.

Standing up here and breaking down in tears again as I look out at all of Katlyn’s family, friends and well-wishers was and maybe it still is, a real possibility.

Maybe though, that would be more meaningful than any of these words I’ve written, because it would show, better than I can articulate with words, how I’m feeling right now.

So yeah, the thought of standing where I am right now scared me a little bit.

But, I talked to my wife and some of Katlyn’s other friends and I got over it fast, because they all assured me that Katlyn would want me to do this, and I knew that too, in my heart.

She was so darned feisty, that girl. I could just imagine her in heaven, shaking her fist and yelling at me while she called me terrible names that I can’t use here in the house of the Lord, and threatening to sock me in the gut or worse, to haunt me the rest of my days, were I to have declined to do this.

As I talked myself off the proverbial ledge in order to assure myself I could do this semi-competently, I thought about a seventeen or eighteen year-old Katlyn signing her name on the dotted line to enlist in the Army during a time when being deployed into some war zone was a very real possibility. That right there is something worthy of being nervous about, not what a bunch of people think about you because you’re terrible at public speaking.

It takes a lot of courage for any person to agree to enlist in the armed forces, especially a young woman fresh out of high school. The military is still very much a man’s world. That she was willing to thrust herself into that environment speaks volumes about her commitment to others as well as her bravery.

I thought of that very same young woman, now twenty-two years old, agreeing to join the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, also during a time of considerable unrest.

It’s no secret that the post-Ferguson reality for police departments is that it’s becoming harder and harder to find good people who want to do this job for a lot of reasons.

The job is tiresome and dangerous and so often thankless, especially on pay days.

In spite of all this, Katlyn badly wanted to do it. She wanted to be a police officer.

She wanted so badly to do it, I believe, because it’s just who she was. It was just in her personality and in her heart to be selfless; to give of herself in the service of other people. That is what brought her joy and meaning to her life.

So, in June of 2016, she started the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Academy.

That’s where I first met Katlyn.

I was an instructor at the Police Academy. I, along with Officer Donnie Walters, were her class supervisors. I also taught everybody’s favorite subject, law, which is why I was clearly the most popular instructor there.

In June of 2016 Katlyn was Recruit Alix to me.

Recruit Alix was one of thirty-nine men and women who made up Recruit Class 2016-02 on that first day.

The police recruits don’t have their brown recruit uniforms when they come into the Academy on that first day, so they dress in business attire.

I remember Katlyn, even on that first day.

She was dressed sharply, with her hair pulled back tightly against her head, up in a bun, almost uncomfortably looking so, but nothing was out of place. She moved with an obvious military infused precision, with no wasted motion or dawdling. She just had this sort of infectious energy about her and it was clear to me early on that she was ready for any challenge that we were going to throw at her.

Knowing her now, today, I know that she wasn’t a shy or bashful person per se, but she played that part those first few days in the Academy. I think she did that because she was smart. She was trying not to be noticed.

Not being noticed is a good game plan for getting through the Police Academy successfully, honestly. The best recruits don’t make any waves and just sort of fly under the radar for thirty weeks.

Unfortunately for Recruit Alix, she was already on my radar that first day.

In spite of her reluctance to be singled out, it was clear that she had the makings of a leader. I don’t know that I can pinpoint what it was then that made me think that, even today, but I remember being impressed with her. There was just something about the way she carried herself, her self-confidence and her maturity. Her mannerisms and personality belied her young age.

Each Academy class has a class president and a class vice president. These are fellow recruits who act as liaisons between the other recruits in the class and the staff. They are invaluable for an Academy instructor to have when they are competent.

I called Recruit Alix into my office sometime that first week and broached the idea of her being vice president for her class.

She was literally shaking her head no before I could even finish asking her the question or ask what her thoughts were on the matter.

She didn’t want any part of it.

I chuckled and assured her that she didn’t have a choice, that I was just being nice by asking, but I did appreciate that she thought that Officer Walters and I were running a Democracy.

Recruit Alix broke out of her shell, real or otherwise, soon enough and became a strong leader among her peers in that class.

She was very passionate and she was obviously driven to succeed.

I remember during one of the very first days of class, Katlyn raised her hand and asked – and I think I blame Donnie Walters for this – she asked about stats.

Stats.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, stats for arrests and tickets and stuff,” she replied. “How do we get them?”

Stats are sort of one way the department gauge’s an officer’s productivity. An officer with a lot of arrests or tickets or reports written or whatever, is clearly doing more work than somebody who has a stat sheet with a bunch of zeroes on it, and she wanted to be one of those officers known as a worker.

Later, maybe it was days, maybe weeks, during a riveting Con Law discussion in the classroom about the criminal process, we touched on the warrant application process. This is basically where a police officer, believing he or she has probable cause for an arrest that he or she has normally already made, presents that case to the Circuit Attorney’s Office. If the assistant circuit attorney thinks it’s a good case, he or she will issue the officer’s case and it will move forward towards trial. When I mentioned that sometimes, or oftentimes nowadays, cases are also refused for various reasons, Katlyn’s hand went straight up in the air.

She sat in the very back row, and I ignored her for a minute, because I knew what was coming.

I knew what she was going to ask me, and sure enough, she did…

“Do we get credit for the arrest?” She asked. “If the warrant is refused?”

Do we still get a “stat?”

That’s just how she was.

She was a competitor, and she wanted to win. She wanted to be a champion. Good stats meant she was winning, that she was doing the job well.

Ask any of her recruit classmates what they remember about her and I bet many of them will tell you that they remember her yelling and screaming at them to push themselves harder while running on the track during physical training.

She wasn’t yelling to be mean. She was yelling because she got it.

Katie just got it.

She knew that pushing yourself in the Academy meant you’d naturally push yourself on the streets, when your very life might depend on pushing yourself past your comfort zone.

She was pushing her classmates to make them better police officers. She was pushing them to help protect their very lives.

And she wasn’t just rattling cages and yelling to be heard, either. That girl practiced what she was preaching. Once, she pushed herself so hard running on the track that she lost her breakfast and caught it in her shirt. She finished the rest of her run like that without complaint.

The police academy isn’t easy.

There is a lot of material for recruits to take in. Just the laws and department policies alone are overwhelming to try to remember, let alone defensive tactics maneuvers, cpr, mental health best practices, and everything else that goes along with learning how to be a good police officer.

Recruits have to be able to balance their personal lives with their Academy work to succeed.

In the end, class 16-02 lost thirteen good people from that first day of class for various reasons and finished with twenty-six at graduation.

Almost each class loses a handful of recruits and graduates with less than what they started with. Some fail academically, others just aren’t quite prepared for the physical rigors, others are booted for disciplinary issues and some just decide on their own that the job isn’t for them.

Those people are to be applauded for recognizing that before they get themselves or somebody else hurt.

This job is not a job for everyone. In fact, I’m loathe to even call it a job. It’s a calling, really. Policing chooses you, and if it is your calling, you’ll be hooked and you’ll know you’re hooked.

The academy is hard because policing is hard.

It’s hard for obvious reasons such as those risks inherent in the work like dealing with armed bad guys hellbent on avoiding jail, or traffic accidents, but it’s also hard for reasons that are more mental than physical.

Patrolling in the city, every day, in areas where there is so much blight and violence can wear any person down, mentally.

Dealing with other peoples’ problems, some big and others small, all the time can wear any person down.

Having a front row seat to watch human beings treat each other so often with such callous disregard can wear any person down.

Katlyn wanted to be in the middle of all of these things anyway.

She wanted to go where the action was when she graduated, and she certainly got her wish when she was assigned to the Sixth District after graduation. District six covers basically the northernmost part of St. Louis City, and finds itself the leader in violent crimes nearly every single year.

That’s a stat that I’m sure made Katlyn eager to begin her career there.

In spite of its reputation, I never worried about Katlyn going to the Sixth District. In fact, I knew it was going to be a perfect fit for her. Every day there is a new adventure, a new challenge, and the mix of officers there are some of the best in the city. I had no doubt she’d fit right in.

I was further tickled to learn that she would be assigned to then Police Officer Suzy Kearney in Field Training. I worked with Suzy in the 6th District and don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed answering calls with another officer as much as I did with her.

Suzy is a detective now, deservedly so.

I knew they’d not only be great policing partners, but they’d get along great as friends to boot. Or “pals” as Suzy would say.

To know Detective Kearney is to love her, same as with Officer Alix. They were a great match.

I think women have a different experience with this job than men do, at least a little bit, so I thought it was outstanding that Suzy could impart what she knew about that aspect of the job to Katlyn as well.

Katlyn and I stayed in touch after she graduated from the academy, and during the course of my getting to know her as Police Officer Alix, I became impressed with her quick understanding of the realities of the job and the city.

She learned quickly that her thirst for stats wasn’t always congruent with her even stronger thirst to do what was best or right in her mind and to help people who were down on their luck.

We talked about the rampant poverty that she saw in so much of that part of the city and how hard it was sometimes to know that you just can’t help everyone.

She understood not to take the job personally and that people who misbehave after a few drinks on Friday night aren’t necessarily terrible people come Monday mornings. She didn’t hold unnecessary grudges and she brought a fresh attitude to each person she encountered.

She made going to work more enjoyable for everyone who worked with her.

It took me years to appreciate some of these nuances that Katlyn was beginning to understand already, with just two years on the job.

You have to grow up fast when you start your career in the sixth district, and she certainly did just that.

Katlyn worked hard and she brought that same effort to her personal life.

After she graduated, Katlyn would come to the academy gym regularly, not be seen, but to work her butt off. She would push and push and push herself because, as she confided in me one day, she wanted to be able to see whatever in the world these muscles were. (point to hips)

Katlyn was strong of body and of mind.

She had a heart of gold and would do anything for anybody.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals and children.

Katlyn worshipped her doodle dog and puppy and absolutely loved her curly haired little nephew. She talked about how she wished she could take all the homeless dogs and less fortunate kids and give them a better life somewhere safe.

She meant it.

It literally hurt her heart when she felt like she couldn’t save a dog or a kid from a less than desirable situation.

When I saw her name on a recent transfer list, I was surprised, and I had to tease her for being moved from the Sixth District to the much less violent Second District.

When I ribbed her about her being tired of the action after only two years, she told me that she had to make the move so she could work nights in order to go to nursing school.

I loved hearing that from her.

I always harped on the recruits and even now, the officers who work for me, to get as much training and education as they can, especially if they can get the department to pay for it, so I was so proud of her, but not surprised, of course, because if there’s any profession that requires more heart and soul and commitment to one’s fellow man than policing, it’s nursing.

She would have been an amazing nurse, unfortunately, of course, Katlyn’s story ended before she got to be a nurse or even step foot into a nursing classroom.

To say that her death was unexpected and shocking is an understatement.

Like many of you, I’ve spent nearly the past week in a mental fog, in a daze, sometimes angry, but more often just hurt and frustrated that a light that shined so bright, could be extinguished just like that.

I don’t feel the loss of Katlyn so deeply because she was a police officer. That’s a part of it, sure, but I feel it because of who she was, because of the kind of person she was, and because I know that the world is a worse place without her in it.

She still had a lot of growing up and living left to do.

I only knew Katlyn for two and a half years and I am almost twice her age, a generation apart, really. Even so, we were more alike than you might think. For me to be able to tell you that I loved that kid like she was one of my own is a testament to what an incredible young woman she was.

To her family, especially Tony and Aimee and Taylor, and her friends who knew her even better than I did, and to all the great current and former soldiers and police officers who went to battle side by side with her every day or every shift, I can’t imagine your grief, if mine has been any indication.

You all have my gratitude and my condolences.

Thank you so much for giving me the honor of doing this today. It means so much to me.

May we all find peace during this terribly sad time.

Thank you and God bless.

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13 Responses to Some final words…

  1. tric says:

    I am so sorry Don for the loss of your young recruit and fellow police officer. I’m sure her family and friends greatly appreciated your kind words spoken from the heart. I think as we get older we appreciate life more and mourn losses greater, knowing all that life should have offered. Take care of yourself during these difficult and sad days.
    Codladh Sámh Katlyn. (sleep peacefully)

  2. claywatkins says:

    Thank you for your eloquent words at a time when it is difficult to come up with words in such senseless tragedy. I am thankful there are men and women like you who are teaching young recruits and making our streets just a bit safer and saner. Thank you for your words and your service. Peace.

  3. Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Don.

  4. A Bailey says:

    BEAUTIFUL WORDS – prayers to her family and friends.

  5. Heide says:

    I’m glad you said “yes.” What a beautiful, moving tribute! Thank you so much for sharing it here.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know how you do this, but you have the ability to always and so eloquently offer comforting and sage words at both the best and worst of times. Thank you!

  7. julie says:

    I couldn’t agree more with “anonymous” you definitely have a gift Don.

  8. After finally getting a chance to talk to you in person last month, I can honestly say I heard this in your voice, and knowing your dedication to the job and the people you serve, that having to give this eulogy was painful, but well worth it. You painted the picture of Katlyn so perfectly, that I am disappointed I will never get the chance to know her myself. This is a perfect example of what an honest and eloquent writer you are, and I am proud to have got to know you. Excellent work as always, Don.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for speaking Sergeant ….

  10. Schmaive Wavey says:

    I think you are a master Don, a master of writing with emotion, meaning, and honesty. This was and is a tragedy for all. I am still waiting for that novel you have been writing. Been a long time since we have had a beer together. Hope you stay well.
    Schmaive, your favorite Librodarian

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