The Chill

  • Author’s Note: I wrote this piece in June 2009, the morning after the shooting of Chicago Police Officer Alejandro “Alex” Valadez. It appeared on another blog at that time. I learned late this evening that the killer of Officer Valadez has been convicted of First Degree Murder for this incident. I republish the story here in memory of Officer Valadez, as a tribute to his family and a solemn salute to all Police Families in Chicago and across our great country.

June 2009, Chicago

I woke to the news that a 007th District police officer had been shot in the head… extremely critical condition. No name, pending family notification.

My own son, who on occasion takes his undercover narcotics squad into 007 was day off last night. In fact we had dinner with him, his wife and their twins.

But Danny… Danny works in 007. The Chill went up my spine, “Please God, don’t let it be Danny!”

Danny was a grammar school and high school buddy of my son… they both grew up wanting to be the police. But Danny had several issues, any one of which would preclude him from joining the force. We would talk. “One thing at a time.” I would tell him. He would make one hurdle and then we would talk some more. One by one he tackled every obstacle, and over a matter of years of self-perseverance and determination, he beat them all. On the night before his graduation from the Police Academy, I cut short weeklong meetings on the east coast and flew home to be there.  He gave me a bear hug that I swear broke several ribs and brought a tear to my eye. They assigned him to 007, certainly one of the most dangerous districts in the city. I got The Chill then too… “You’re responsible for him,” I told myself in an absurd moment of self importance, “Please God keep him safe.”

We saw Danny and his wife Terri a couple of weeks ago… we babysat for our son and his wife. Danny and Terri picked them up for a night out, a class reunion as I recall.

“Please God, don’t let it be Danny!”

I could feel my pulse pick up as I rapidly scanned the news on the computer screen for clues.

Unmarked car… last I heard Danny was working a marked car.

Plain clothes… last I heard Danny was working uniform.

Three years on the job… I was sure that Danny had five or six.

Age 27… Danny was our son’s age, 35.

“Thank you God!”

I sat there staring dumbly at the screen cradling my coffee cup. I took an occasional sip to quiet the not too irrational fears that had momentarily inhabited this retired cop’s body. How many times did some variation of this scene play out across Chicago this morning as the Police Family awoke to the news? For all but one family The Chill faded and the adrenaline washed slowly out of their system.

For all but one family…

Rest in Peace Alejandro “Alex” Valadez, may God be with your family in the coming days… and with Police Families everywhere who will have to endure The Chill all too many times in the coming years.


5 Comments on “The Chill”

  1. Silvia says:

    Well put! I too started taking inventory of those I knew that worked in 007. When I heard the name I realized that somewhere in the city a family’s life would forever be changed. It brought to mind the day two uniformed men came to our front door and read something that said “We regretted to inform you …………. ” My mother’s piercing screams filled the air. No, no, dear lord, no! And another family would be grieving for their loved one!

  2. Chris Karney says:

    Everyone who is on the job always get that feeling in the pit of their stomach when they hear an officer has been shot, especially when they get the address of where it happened. You start thinking about who you know down there and pray it isn’t them. You breathe a sigh of relief for just a moment that it isn’t a friend or relative, but, then start to think about the loss to all of us. Civilians try to understand, but they just can’t. 2010 was a brutal year for our department. These trials are all coming up and we get to relive those moments all over again.

    Once again, great writing Jim.

  3. Tom says:

    Again you express our feelings “the chill” it’s horrible. Somtimes when people find out I was a cop they ask me if I ever knew anyone who was killed. I tell them, “I knew them all”. They don’t understand that answer very well, but they never ask the question again. My God Grant Them Eternal Rest.

  4. robin says:

    This is a true account of how we are relieved ‘it isn’t me” only to qickley realize it’s “someone”. We are humans who care for our own salvation… but we are humans who in fact care for those we don’t even know. That is what makes us unique mammals.

    thanks again jim for keeping us grounded.

  5. Dave Joseffer says:

    You never fail to evoke an emotional reaction in me, Jim! It’s amazing that you can do that with so few words!

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