Death of Little Ones

For a week I’d harbored a terrible premonition of death. I couldn’t shake it. I was going to take a bullet, I was almost sure. That was the Summer of 1971, and I was a cop working the hot spot of Austin, Texas, the East Side. It was quiet that night, until a call came out on the South Side, “man with a gun.” This is it, I thought. I called Arnold Hernandez, telling him I was heading South. He followed me. We arrived to find three South Side officers and a Sergeant already there, attempting to console a blood spattered, frantic woman. “He’s going to kill my babies!” ‘He’ was her estranged husband. She’d jumped out of a window to escape him. “Officers!” he yelled from a darkened upstairs window, “if you don’t send my wife up by the count of ten, I’m going to kill the babies! One…two! Send her up…Three!” The Sergeant and his men were not moving, so I whispered to Arnie, “let’s go in.” The front door was open. We entered the darkened house and started up the stairs, stopping every time the stairs creaked. The count had reached six, as we topped the stairs. Again he cried out, “Officers, send her up! I mean it! If she’s not up by ten, I’m gonna kill these kids!” In my mind I was silently pleading for that Sergeant to answer the man to give us time. We needed time to come up with a way to take the guy out! Nothing! From the outside, not a peep, not a sound! Nothing but silence! “Seven!” And then in my mind’s eye, I saw him. He had the frightened babies in a headlock, and his right hand held a large caliber handgun to the temple of the first baby. There was no way we’d be able to save them…unless…unless he fired at us first. “Eight!” We quickly whispered out a plan. We’d would kick open the door, Arnie would hit the light switch, and I’d take him out…if only I could get a clear head shot…IF. “Nine!” We smashed open the door. “BOOM! BOOM!” Too late! The perp fired one .357 round through the head of the two babies, and quickly, the next round into his own head. The light now on, there before us was a terrible and horrific scene; two blonde haired toddlers, now spattered in blood and brains; babies, just like the two I had at home! There welled up in me an inexpressible feeling of frustrated rage, piled atop the horror. I was seething with it. In that awful moment, all I could feel was that the coward had denied me the palliative, though meager, of killing him. His suicide further fed my awful, gnawing, empty, feeling of desolation and revulsion. Arnie was at my side, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh, please, no!” There was noise down stairs. Next, a tentative, hopeful, “Lopez, are you guys OK up there?” Miraculously, one of those babies, though shot through the head, survived. But that was a different era, and Austin talk radio was aflame in the next week. Arnie and I were excoriated by the arm chair warriors and wannabes. The worst of the calls were ugly, after the manner of this one on KBUC: “Why didn’t you send White officers up there, someone who could save those babies?” I hadn’t considered that angle. Nor did APD speak out on the matter. The three officers and the silent Sergeant were White. The unspoken question was, did the man really intend to shoot the babies at the ten count, or did we set him off by kicking in the door at nine? That was a judgment call, made in a matter of seconds, with ensuing racial overtones over our failure to save those precious babies. Arnie and I were alone on the decision, with the department never coming to our support. The three officers and the Sergeant; what mattered their silence? They were never present. In my mind and Arnie’s, the strange timbre of the perp’s voice, (as well as my premonition of death, which I had felt would be my own) gave us no other choice. And, throughout all these years, I have known that Arnie, also with two toddlers at home, was prepared to take a bullet for those precious babies, unlike those men preferring to remain outside. We failed, but oh, how we had wanted it to be different! What could we have done differently?