Aware of a societal scourge that recently culminated in the shooting of two Kissimmee police officers — one dead and the other listed with unfavorable prognosis — I never could have imagined waking on Saturday morning, August 19, to additional reports. A total of six cops were shot within the span of a few hours, putting an end to August 18, 2017. As this particular Friday concluded, so did the life of a law enforcement warrior while another, who initially clung to life, perished roughly 17 hours later.
Four other cops are stepping onto the road of recovery and boldly defined purpose.
From me you will not read any specifics pertaining to the perpetrators other than they are evil and vile beings. Whether deceased, in custody, or on the lam … such details are only deserving and worthy of the wrath they invited. For all we know, they may even be heralded by self-blinding individuals ritualistically refusing to grip reality. Hate begets hate. Furthermore, they might file a motion for money, and receive a ludicrously large settlement down the road. That is not dark humor. It is becoming more of a bizarre trend.
Assuredly, law enforcement officials in various jurisdictions are painstakingly and diligently picking up all the pieces and tightly fitting them so that justice has its day. Of no less import are two Pennsylvania state troopers engaged in gunfire with a suspect believed to be dealing in stolen property. Both troopers were struck but survived. The suspect was shot and killed by both troopers involved in the undercover sting.
In uncanny fashion, slightly northeast of Kissimmee two Jacksonville cops were also fired upon, each sustaining bullet wounds from a rifle fired by a suicidal man. The suspect was shot by police and died at a local hospital.
You see, we don’t get to stop for a minute and cry for somebody we’ve lost or who was born a hero … at the time that we’re going through it. Men and women of law enforcement are required to continue working.
Hardest hit is the Kissimmee police force, whose men and women are not only preparing a police funeral but also sewing up a homicide and an attempted murder investigation regarding two of their own.
Heroes’ honors. As he did in his final duty-bound moments, 27-year-old police Officer Matthew Baxter served the citizens of Kissimmee for three years, preserving the lives of his wife and four children in the process. Responding to what is preliminarily believed to have been yet another ambush of on-duty police officers, Officer Baxter responded to a call of “suspicious persons” and, upon arrival, scant minutes culminated in gunfire from one of a group of three males.
Initial reports indicate Officer Baxter was unable to return fire. Kissimmee police Chief Jeff O’Dell informed media outlets that 911 callers reported two cops lying in the intersection of where the suspicious foes were contacted. Chief O’Dell says that is how backup officers discovered their comrades. At this point, there is no mention of either of the two Kissimmee cops radioing, “Shots fired!”
Thirty-six-year-old Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard, a 10-year police veteran whose initial condition was described as “grave critical” by Kissimmee police Chief O’Dell, was the second policeman on scene at last night’s ambush-style shooting. (While I was writing this article, Sgt. Howard’s battle to survive ended.) He, too, was not able to return fire. That is the grotesque gravity that Sgt. Howard’s wife and child endure, the permanent etchings forever beckoning answers to the perhaps unanswerable question: Why?
The absence of any of the two police warriors returning fire ordinarily implies surprise attack. As we have seen in a growing number in recent years, the trappings of an ambush on law enforcement are seemingly depicted in this particular account. Known for drug-activity blight, the immediate terrain where this shooting transpired became illuminated by flashing police lights from a phalanx of law enforcement agencies in the Orlando area.
In a press conference the morning after the shooting deaths involving Officer Baxter and Sgt. Howard, Kissimmee police Chief O’Dell presented some cold, hard facts about the case, including that there are two Officer Baxters; Matthew’s wife is also a Kissimmee police officer. She was home with their children at the time her husband was scuffling with a gunman in proximity to a Stop sign and flashing traffic signals.
As Chief O’Dell explained, “You see, we don’t get to stop for a minute and cry for somebody that we’ve lost or born a hero…at the time that we’re going through it. Men and women of law enforcement are required to continue working.” He describes a warrior’s heart and battle-minded heroes, the same character traits the narrow-minded deny.
How did law enforcement officers identify, locate, and subsequently apprehend the cop killer? “A small snippet of video that placed the suspect at the scene at the time of the stop, based on the description received” — that was the link leading to the killer just under two hours after the shooting, explained Chief O’Dell. To the naysayers arguing against video surveillance and claims of “big brother,” take a seat while the wheels of justice spin, and reconsider your oppositionist arguments.
As is customary in crime scenes involving gunfire, Chief O’Dell explained that the murder suspect’s arrest resulted in two firearms tucked on his person. Those guns will undergo ballistics testing to conclusively denote the one(s) that fired the fatal shots.
Bittersweet blues. Albeit bittersweet, Chief O’Dell announced the apprehended cop killer was shackled “in Officer Matthew Baxter’s handcuffs” during transport to Osceola County jail. Good riddance to one more societal non-contributor.
In response to the Kissimmee incident last night, Hartford, Connecticut-based police spouse Marissa Cullen courageously wrote about what it is like to be a police family. “As a law enforcement officer’s wife I’m in a high-anxiety zone as my husband walks out the door for his 16-hour shift, with my boys telling him, ‘Daddy, be safe.’ Why in the world should a child need to be concerned for their father as he leaves for work, simply because he wears a blue uniform? The violence against police officers, and each other, must stop.”
“This is out of control,” she added. “It feels like I’m living in the twilight zone, because this cannot be happening, AGAIN.”
Indeed, once again.
A police colleague of mine still serving was in an officer-involved shooting recently. Officer Courtney Baldwin stopped a dark-hued Jaguar. His police antennae were jutted. Back-up was en route. Like an eerie hand arising from a dirt-covered crypt, the shooter merely held his firearm out the open window of his car. That Jaguar was suspected of having been the getaway car in an armed robbery the night prior. Fired upon, Officer Baldwin then returned fire, took cover and, fortunately, was not struck in the gunfight.
The bad guy was captured and awaits justice. What is a close call for one is on the opposite end of the spectrum between two blue brothers.
The irony I arrive at is that Officer Baldwin and Sgt. Howard are friends, serving as policemen an hour’s drive away from each other. Unlike the galaxy’s constellations, there is a limited number of cops who take up the fight on behalf of millions. And, although the cop-to-citizen ratio is quite lopsided, society’s attendant needs are chaperoned by warriors in blue, green, gray or khaki. Despite the color variations, the iconoclastic commonality is the badge.
Another dear friend of mine retired last week after a 28-year stretch of serving as a city cop. Tampa police Corporal Kevin Doan’s law enforcement career culminated also with the retirement of his police canine partner, both partaking in a celebratory barbecue as I write this piece. Albeit awkwardly reminiscent of the changing of the guard, as Doan revels in deserved police retirement joy with his family and friends … police families one hour east, in Kissimmee, are enduring the polarity of ending a police career in stark variation, arranging a funeral. I realize that is a dour expression but, much like our military equivalent, it defines the reality of public safety institutions that exist to defy evil and chaotic encumbrances.
As Mrs. Cullen pointed out about the policing profession, “It seems now that they are dispensable. If you want to make a name for yourself, you go kill a cop — the hell with the consequences.” If that statement fails to sink in, then you must be one of the evil-doers to which she more than alludes. These sentiments are upon the minds of many. Frankly, they ought to be emitting from the lips as well, continuously, without intermission.
Many millions can only imagine the mindsets of men and women who rush into the abyss of unbridled peril.
The police documentary “Fallen” is making its way around the country. Those from whom I heard were “moved” and “shaken” by the reality-based footage and dialogue. Narrated by Michael Chiklis, this film chronicles how “line-of-duty officer killings in the U.S. rose a staggering 42 percent [2009-2011], with overall officer deaths increasing over 60 percent. Not only were more officers being murdered, more and more were being targeted, ambushed, and slain in numbers.”
With lump-in-your-throat telegraphing, the producers of “Fallen” added, “All sides want to interject politics into these numbers, but all of that aside, there are countless personal stories going untold beneath these tragic numbers. These fallen heroes deserve a voice, as do their families, loved ones and partners, who are struggling to pick up the pieces these tragedies leave behind.” Besides the throat lump, all streaming tears are justified and wholly understood.
Similarly, the documentary “Officer Involved” depicts firsthand accounts of real-life police officers who were engaged in gun battles and survived to tell their harrowing stories from when life flung open the door as well as present-day aftermath. I suspect the two Pennsylvania troopers and the two Jacksonville officers can relate to this particular feature.
Many millions can only imagine the mindsets of men and women who rush into the abyss of unbridled peril. Like the six law enforcers who were felled last night, roughly 900,000 more know the score, and some of those assets are not mere pawns in the game of America, but pillars when pieces appear to be crumbling at our feet.
Stephen Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and field training officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a senior OpsLens contributor, a researcher, and a writer. This OpsLens article is used with permission.