Stolen Words

Lying on the floor near the back of his bar, the old man coughed and gasped for air.

In his 60s, the man's face was well wrinkled, and his gray hair was coned from wearing a ball-cap. The hat that had caused this effect had fallen from his head and was next to him.

“Joseph” had been operating this drinking establishment for about 20 years.

I offered him some encouragement, but there was little I could do to ease the pain caused by multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and neck.

The tavern was empty; except for the victim’s middle-aged son, who had called the police, and was standing in front of me.

Pool balls chipped and scratched lay uniformly racked in a triangle on an adjacent table ready for a next game. Empty glasses and beer bottles were scattered about on the top of the bar and on tables to the side.

Prior to being dispatched to this robbery and shooting, the night had been quiet. As a patrol unit covering the expansive area, I just happened to be close and arrived on the scene first.

No suspects to be found here; just the son who had arrived to help his father clean the tavern, and found dad lying on the ground bleeding.

“Who did this to you Joseph?” I asked the victim in a loud and authoritative voice.


The man’s eyes closed. He turned his head toward me, and with all the strength he could muster replied: “Two guys...masks.”

“What did they say to you?”

“Which way did they leave?”

“Do you think you have seen them before?

None of my subsequent questions to the dying man received any response.

The medical techs arrived shortly thereafter. They stabilized the victim the best they could, and transported him to a trauma center.

Joseph never regained consciousness and died a brief time later.


Whatever occupation an individual performs in life, the training can never prepare you for everything that you’ll encounter as an employee.

Policing is certainly no different. Despite the six-month academy and then four months of direct supervision, as a young officer, I was quickly exposed to the unexpected.

I did not comprehend the significance of my brief conversation with Joseph until weeks later.

It was almost as if I had stolen those last three words--there was so much more that I could have allowed him to say.

He was not able to tell any of his family members goodbye. He did not have a chance to tell his wife, his sons, or his grandchildren how much he loved them.

His last moments on this earth were not of peace, but filled with agony.

I have always regretted not allowing Joseph's final utterance to be a cherished moment with his son.

Instead, "Two guys... masks" represents the last sentence spoken by an elderly victim of a homicide case that was never solved.


jinksy said...

The victim was probably just as eager as yourself for justice to be done, so don't beat yourself up about his words. No matter what questions you fired at him, he still had the choice as to what he said...

chuckmullis said...

I don't know if I could handle the weight of that job. Thankfully the Lord does not allow for evil to go unpunished.

Sue said...

Wow. ((( slam )))

I agree with Jinksy. He offered the words to you as a choice; you didn't steal them.

diaryfromscotland said...

A poignant reminder of life and the harsh realities of the criminals within our society.

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

Wow-that's intense. More power to you and all other officers than respond to those situations on a daily basis.

J. J. in Phila said...

Not stolen, purposeful.

He needed that resolution. The sad part is, it help all that much. Sometimes it can't.

LadyFi said...

Wow - powerful stuff.

angelcel said...

You wouldn't have been doing your job if you hadn't asked what you did. I agree with jinksy - both Joseph and his family would have been keen to see justice done.

Luisa Doraz said...

Stories such as this one bring me even closer to my reality...Life is precious and we should not take it for granted.

Bob G. said...


Everyone commenting here is 100% correct.
At least Joseph was NOT alone in his last minutes.
He had people around him who took those extra steps to keep him alive and try to imbue some justice in an otherwise INJUST incident.

You did right...and what you had to do.

I like to think Joseph knows that, too.

Stay safe.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Posts like this lift the veil for others, to show them that life is not full of easy, ordered choices.

The person who sees that full set of choices is an amazing person. Unfortunately, one can frequently only choose one of the many courses of action. The rest of those choices live on as regrets, what-ifs, might-have-beens.

Yet you have given this elderly man a rare honor. He lives on in you. Now he is made real again in your words.

We hopefully learn compassion from this, for the victim, his loved ones, and those who cared for him in his last minutes. This is a kind of rightness, too.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Bob G., I also agree with your comment very much.
Ann T.

Javajune said...

I feel for you. It must be difficult to carry around this quilt that BTW is not deserved. You couldn't have known his fate and you were doing your job to protect the public. It is so easy to look back and second guess yourself but unfortunately it won't change the outcome.
Tough job, thank you!

torn blazer said...

The other comments are correct he knew what he was saying and was asking for justice……what I get out of it is that life can end unexpectedly so you should try to say the things you want to say to friends and family long before the moment of death.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Heartbreaking and powerful. You couldn't have known, but I imagine that doesn't make you feel much better.

Sorry man, that must be tough.

Iva said...

heartbreaking....please don't beat yourself up. you truly have an incredibly difficult job.

terri said...

I can't imagine how difficult it must be to have to be in the role of police officer during such a traumatic moment. You did the best you could. You didn't steal anything from "Joseph." You offered him the only help you could.

Dan said...

Any time you are present at unexpected or agonizing deaths, it seems you can do no right no matter what you do. I think that is true for police, doctors, nurses, you name it. And unfortunately, those who have suffered and died cannot come back and tell us how they might have preferred it to be.

Holly said...

So many people do not realize how difficult it is to be a police officer. I watched my dad go through some very tough times...including having to respond to a "massacre" at a city council meeting where the gunmen happened to take out the two police officers - no one knew that when they responded (it was a city council meeting...nothing police related at all), so all the officers were affected even more deeply because they saw two of their friends (different police dept. but the city next door) lying there and they could do nothing. I have seen him torn up from having to rescue children and women...and men from bad situations. It is a tough job that takes a toll. I could go on and on...I'll stop. Great post.

gladwellmusau said...

Sad least bodily ending so to speak. But, I don't think there are any proper words, especially coming from one dying so suddenly and unexpectedly. Trust me, when he said those words, he wasn't planning to die. But these are just my thoughts.


Tamika: said...

Sorry I'm so late dropping by!

Wow- this is a gripping story! The first line pulled me in and made me ache for the victim.

Thank you for being a protector, and I pray that you will find peace.

Slamdunk said...

I appreciate all of the wisdom and encouraging comments.

One thing I did want to emphasize is that I don't do policing anymore, but I am thankful for all the brave men and women who di.

Cindy (C.L.) Beck said...

Touching post, and I'm glad you wrote it because it helps others understand what so many officers go through in trying to do their job.

As for "stealing" Joseph's last words, I can sympathize with how you feel about it, but look at it this way ... what if Joseph had given a name? Then the family would have had so much more closure. You did your best and that's all you can do. And because you were there, the son didn't have to deal with the situation alone.

A big "thank you" to you and to all officers who do their best.

Amanda West said...

Oh man, that brought tears to my eyes.

But don't be so hard on yourself man, you were just doing your job, trying to save other people from the same fate as Joseph.

Anyways, thanks for stopping by my blog. And yeah I totally understand the addiction to Salt and Vinegar chips.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

What a powerful post!

I agree several of the other comments that the victim had a choice to say or talk to whoever he wanted to and he made the choice to help you solve his murder.

MONICA-LnP said...

wow!you were just doing your job, and you gave him peace by being there.

alece said...

i can't even begin to imagine how many "similar" situations you found yourself in during your years in police work. i don't know how a heart recovers from facing so much grief and heartache. only by the grace of God...

Rhiannon Banda-Scott said...

you were by his side. please don't be so hard on yourself. you were doing your job to bring justice to a terrible thing. he's looking down on you now knowing you did the right thing.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Have arrived very late to reading this, but find it most touching. You pulled me right into the story. Hope you will write more like this experience.