I love our life here in Durango. Its been all weve hoped it would be since retiring here: beautiful place, lovely people, wonderful friends. Yet, occasionally, I see something in The DurangoHerald that literally jolts me back to my 30-plus year career with the Los Angeles Police Department. This happened when I read about a man found dead in his vehicle as a result of a self-inflicted gun shot (Herald, June 23).
During the course of my career in L.A., I was personally involved in the investigation of more than 400 deaths. The actual number is probably closer to 500 if I took the time to go back and sort them all out. In some cases, I was the first responder. In others, I was the primary investigator. And in others I was the supervisor or command officer. I watched one man shoot himself and another jump from a building. Once, as the SWAT team commander, I was monitoring a phone conversation between a man and a negotiator when the man shot himself in the middle of the conversation. Four hundred dead bodies is a lot. Believe me.
From a law-enforcement perspective, people die in rather broadly described categories: naturally, accidentally, at the hands of another, or by suicide. The manner in which some die is an entirely different matter. Accidents may occur that cause death in the strangest of ways. Most homicides are pretty quick and straightforward; others are committed in ways very few of you could comprehend. And suicides can be as bizarre as anything imaginable.
During the course of all this, Ive always been more interested in the suicides. None of us had anything to do with our birth. It seems to me that none of us would want anything to do with our death. My personal belief is that when its time, its time. Yet some people choose to take their lives.
Whenever I investigated the life of someone who committed suicide, I tried to put myself in his or her place and make some sense of the actions. In those cases where there was a history of profound medical or psychological diagnosis, I was able to reach a level of understanding that worked for me. Yet I could never understand the many other cases motivated by lost finances, failed relationships or professional setbacks. I stopped trying to understand those cases early on.
Ive seen more than a few suicide attempts. That is, cases where people have tried to kill themselves and failed. Ive seen failed attempts that resulted in paralysis and horrible disfigurement. And the scarring didnt end there. Many of those cases also resulted in divorce, runaway children, the suicide of other family members and a lifetime of shame and sorrow. Some, not many, had positive outcomes for those involved, thanks to professional counseling and strong family bonds.
Ive seen suicides where people unwittingly subjected themselves to a prolonged and horribly painful death because they simply botched the job.
And perhaps the worst cases Ive seen were the ones where suicide was used as a weapon against those left behind. The most heinous of these was committed by a man one Christmas morning with his house full of family and children. The details of that case haunt me today. Ill never understand suicide as an instrument of revenge.
Weve come a long way in our understanding of suicide since I saw my first case in 1971. There are resources available today that didnt exist then. I dont pretend to be an expert in prevention or counseling but I know from experience that the simplest intervention and the slightest offer of help can sometimes avert a needless death. We now know there are recognizable pre-cursors to suicide. There are places we can go and people we can talk to. Those with a friend or family member about whom they are concerned should take the time to educate themselves about the various services and resources available. And individuals need not face their crisis alone.
Life is perfect for only a few of us. The rest of us have to deal with whatever comes along. Most of us can, some of us cant. There is help out there for those of you who cant.
I dont pretend to understand much of this. But I do care. My hope is that the man who took his life in his car last month has finally found refuge from the demons that haunted him, and that his god will have mercy on his soul.
Tom Lorezen is a retired Los Angeles Police commander and former consultant to the U.S. Departments of Justice and State. Reach him at TWLorenzen@aol.com.