When Tragedy Strikes: The Story of Measured by Character

January 12th, 2015 by

Ryan White Roadside Memorial

Being a police officer in a small town affords some great benefits in that it offers an opportunity to know the citizens you serve a bit more intimately. However, this familiarity can be a two-edged sword.

In April of 2012 I was assigned to the Aubrey I.S.D. as a School Resource Officer. In addition to safeguarding the welfare of students and faculty I was also called on to assist in classroom instruction when needed. On April 6, 2012 I was presenting a class on “Distracted Driving” and though I generally have my radio turned off while instructing a class, for some reason my portable radio was turned on this morning. At just a few minutes after 10:00 am Denton County Communications contacted me regarding a major accident on F.M. 428. I turned the class over to Coach Hodge and proceeded to the scene of the crash. Though I have worked a number of fatality accidents in my career it never gets easier.

This particular morning the reverse edge of the proverbial sword increased the difficulty exponentially. As I arrived on the surreal scene of the accident I surveyed the damage and knew from experience someone had perished. I recognized one of the vehicles involved in the accident as belonging to one of my students, Ryan White. Ryan was an affable young man with a gentle disposition and a smile that could light up a room. Tall and handsome, he was well liked and quite popular among both students and teachers. And now, just weeks before his graduation from Aubrey High School, Ryan had been killed instantly in a horrific automobile accident.

Ryan WhiteOf all the difficult things a police officer does, there is nothing more heart wrenching than telling a parent that their child has been killed. As I was conducting the official investigation of the crash something caught my attention, a man approaching the crash scene. I didn’t know him but as soon as I saw him, from about 75 yards away, I knew who he was. I instructed an officer to stop him and prevent him from coming closer. I said a short prayer for strength and made my way to his location. As I reached him, with indescribable anguish showing on his face he pointed to the vehicle and said, “Is that my boy? I knew the minute I heard about an accident that it was my son! Please tell me that’s not Ryan.”

“Mr. White,” I choked the words out as tears welled up in my eyes, “I’m so sorry, it is Ryan.” As grief overwhelmed him I watched as he collapsed onto the pavement. I tell people that from that point it was all a blur, I tell them that I can’t really remember much of what happened next. I must confess that to be untrue. Every second of the next few hours is seared into my memory. It isn’t that I want to be untruthful, the truth is I just can’t talk about it.

Several months ago, while once again thinking about that day, I wrote the following and posted it to my Face Book page. I was advised by some of my friends that the words helped them and so I wanted to post it here.

“Something I am learning in life: When someone has a devastating loss in their life they don’t get over it, get through it or get past it. They don’t move on, heal up or get whole again. They don’t get their grieving over with or out of their system. They don’t return to normalcy. When someone has a devastating loss in their life they wake up each day and again attempt to manage the grief, to find solace in their family and friends, to deal with the range of emotions that flood their consciousness every moment of every day. When someone has a devastating loss in their life they don’t need lectures, advice or sympathy. When someone has a devastating loss in their life they need love.”

In my next article I want to tell you about Wade, Laura and their son Cooper who is now a student at Aubrey High School.

Coming Next: Wade, Laura and the birth of “Measured By Character”

Photo courtesy of Ryan