In the meantime, all schools in the local district were on lockdown. The shooter was barricaded inside his parents’ home just a little down the street from an elementary school and about a four-minute drive from the local high school. This neighborhood was not downtown Baltimore or Philly; it was an affluent neighborhood in which I could probably not afford to live. The sirens going by, the local Facebook group giving updates, the helicopters in the air. This wasn’t on the news; this was the news.
I had neither the opportunity nor the honor to know Cpl. Ballard. I do know that he and I are --forgive me-- were the same age. I know that he took the risk of yesterday’s final chapter of his life for eight and a half years. Getting up, going out, not knowing if he would return from a shift of protecting us. Every day he was able to come home, until yesterday. A third of a century on this Earth ended for whatever reasons, none of which worth the text that could be used to write them.
My office is right next to a fire station. A dozen times a day I hear the sirens go off, selfishly say a quick version of a prayer that it’s not for my family or anyone I know, and wish luck to whoever that truck or ambulance was for. Clients, understandably, can be a little startled as they don’t hear it often. For me, though, it was my norm. A desensitization had set in, just like on the news with a report of something bad happening. Everyday, someone lost her or his life in a way that would make the news, everyone would say the word “tragedy”, and then it’s time to see what the weather will be like this weekend.
The victim in each of those stories, though, doesn’t care about whether the weather is rain or shine, because for that person, there is no weather. It’s done. Next weekend the same. And every weekend after that. For Cpl. Ballard’s family and friends, it’s going to be 80 degrees, sunny, and most importantly entirely empty. As will each day after that. The emotional bleeding may stop, the pain may dull as the mind gets used to it, but the scar will remain whether or not it’s today’s headline.
I did see a massive outpouring of support for those who were not allowed in the neighborhood until the situation was resolved. Someone I know well offered to pick up children from school if parents could not make it there due to the shelter-in-place order. Food was donated by Middletown Pizza to a local police troop. Individual citizens brought food and blankets and other comforts to those displaced residents waiting in a nearby shopping center. The local firehouse opened a shelter for the night as the situation looked more and more like it would not be resolved.
There was a girl was home alone in her basement, as all residents who could not flee were advised to do, for the entirety of this time. I can’t imagine the fear in her mind or the terror in the minds of her parents.
While my child is too young to understand what has happened, this was an excellent chance to talk to the teenagers I saw yesterday as this situation was unfolding. I frequently, if not incessantly, hammer home the point of personal responsibility and the long-term consequences of our actions. This paired with the ongoing discussions of the series “13 Reasons Why” and its romanticization of suicide have been opportunities that are as unfortunate as they are golden to talk to kids about the realities of their choices and the permanent reverberations they cause. In this very dark day, we can make our mark to prevent this from happening again.
It is also critical to remember that as parents we have tremendous influence, but choices are still made on an individual basis. This is a small town and a small state, and while their son may be a murderer, the parents of this person are not. If you live here, then you are probably connected to everyone by two or three degrees, whether it’s a friend of a friend, a sister of a teacher, or a neighbor’s doctor. You’re going to know everyone whether you are conscious of it or not, and it’s important to remember whose responsibility this is. Through a few people, I know one of the parents of the shooter. This parent is a good person despite the son’s actions. Resist the urge to synonymize the family’s last name with its most notorious member. His actions do not balance or impact the contributions this family has made throughout their lives.
After the initial shooting, many said, “The shooter didn’t think about the officer’s family when he shot him!” This is true, and it only adds to the despicability of the crime. Simultaneously, the shooter didn’t think of his own family, either. The grieving family of Cpl. Ballard mourns a hero while the shooter’s family is left to mourn a killer. The shooter is a junior, so his father will never escape his son’s terrible legacy. The pain that this family will endure in no way minimizes the pain of Cpl. Ballard’s, and vice versa. As a community, we must come together for all victims regardless of their bloodlines. The reverberations of our actions have no respect for titles, social constructs, or our own categorizations.
I hesitate to post this out of the possibility to have a perception of hypocrisy, but I am saddened by those who have made it a point to have this incident, during and subsequent to, become yet another source of attention-seeking behaviors. Cpl. Ballard, along with everyone who shares that uniform and its local variations, is a hero and a professional. Admonishing law enforcement for not treating this situation like Call of Duty by running in with guns blazing is completely disrespectful to the officer and his comrades that you supposedly are mourning. You are telling them how to do their jobs, ones you are not brave or able enough to currently have, you are telling them to put their own lives at risk, you are telling them to put the rest of the neighborhood at risk, because you know better? As unprofessional as this may be to say, you are part of the problem when you say things like this. You are demonstrating arrogance, self-importance, and apathy. You are not making yourself look good. Get over yourselves. A blue line in your profile picture doesn’t make up for making someone else’s grief your own reality show. If you judge your success in life by the number of comments or likes that you get, then you have some work to do to find out why that is.
Those who make light of Cpl. Ballard’s death are barely worth the seconds it took to mention. He and countless others died to protect your ability to, quite frankly, act like an ass.
I close this with a sincere thank you to everyone who risks the same sacrifice that Cpl. Ballard made yesterday, whether today, tomorrow, or in days past. While individual police officers may disgrace their uniform by the decisions they made that do not represent law enforcement, the vast majority do this job to protect and serve, and we will never know the danger they encounter and the safety they guarantee. I also thank Appoquinimink School District for keeping our children safe, providing updates to terrified parents, and making sure that our children’s very temporary innocence was protected just a bit longer.
If this situation has shaken you as it has many of us, do not bear it alone. Talk to someone and do not fear a shame in doing so. In fact, relish in the strength that you have to open up. Cpl. Ballard died protecting you, and taking care of yourself makes sure that his sacrifice is not in vain.