It is that time of year. A time of reflection everyone tells us and maybe it is as good a time as any, that we re-assess. A time to let the moveable feast of life slow down. To be sure, we all get too self absorbed, lapsing into a kind of funnelled vision, when thousands of thoughts pass through the days and months, constantly being sorted and willowed down leaving us with some general sense of well-being. Often, we are overtaken with thoughts of our life maybe lacking something, but what that is, is often hazy and ill-defined. Is there a singular or broad purpose to it all?
This circumspection is commonplace in the world of policing. The endless poverty driven calls for attendance, the needless violence and the shocking evidence of man’s inhumanity to man.
Additionally we find ourselves caught up in the office political micro universe; the “did you hear?’s” who got promoted, who deserves promotion, so and so called in sick again, not enough officers on the road, didn’t even get a lunch break last shift, not feeling well. Thoughts of the other half of your relationship or your children often interrupting your laughing or grousing, as you throw back another coffee or Redbull, thinking, just another eight hours to go– got to finish this report. Tired, so so tired.
The television, the internet, and the movies think they capture those feelings that you as a police officer go through every day. In that imaginary dramatic world, the universe is filled with too beautiful cops, perfect teeth all living a Peloton lifestyle. In that world torrid relationships interrupt constant calls of shootings or near death experiences, shoved into a neat package of 47 or 90 minutes.
It is a job seemingly of endless curiosity to the general public, but you know as do other officers that none of the on-screen portrayals is exact, somehow they miss the essence of it all.
There is no awareness of the moments at 3 or 4 in the morning; your car abutting up against your co-worker, the calm darkened interior of the police car, the constantly idling engine, as you share some quiet thoughts with your friend, an ear turned to the radio. Another styrofoam covered drink, dark humour, stifled yawns, in between moments of a shared intimacy brought on by the job and the darkness. Seconds, minutes, maybe hours, before the next significant work file comes your way. When it does, you naturally and unconsciously shift into a more comfortable sitting position, adjust your holster and push up against the ever strangling seat belt. Put the car in gear and pull on those lights; your senses now also being forced to re-light.
You will never be rich. You will never be wholly accepted as part of the community. You are different, but at social events people want to hear your story. You are not going to discover the genome, your reports will not ever be published and the only people who will appreciate the aches and pains as you get older will be those close to you.
Your upper managers feed you the usual pronouncements about their caring for you and to be aware of the constant dangers, the need for you to “come home at the end of the shift”. But that too is not quite real, no one could withstand that kind of mental pressure on a daily basis. Most shifts can be boring, rudimentary, reporting by constant repetition, and we fall into routines like any other worker.
But there is a difference in your job. It is this one simple thing.
The odds of you facing a life changing incident is not a remote possibility– like it is for everyone else in society.
In fact it will happen.
In some usually untimely, unpredictable moment in your life, a previously unaligned group of circumstances will collide. A set of events, a flurry of action, or in-action, will tilt your world and set your peripheral nervous system on fire. It will be a good thing, and you will never forget it.
That is actually why you do the job.
Let me give you a personal story of just such a moment in time, that even ties into the Xmas time of the season.
I had come into work at the usual 6:00 pm night shift start time, at the normally sleepy North Vancouver RCMP detachment, where I was then posted. It was July 1992, on a fairly warm summer evening. But something was different on this night.
The building was a bit too quiet inside, but you did not spend a lot of time dwelling on it, so in the dreary basement change room you go through the routine; you absent-mindedly clip your tools to your belt, load and holster your gun and head upstairs; as you have hundreds of times before, and then walked up into the small briefing room.
You were right, there is a buzz, and it quickly becomes clear as to why there is an apparent urgency to the next 12 hours. Having slept the afternoon away in preparation of this night, those of us just coming on shift had missed the abduction of a young female from a video store in the Westview area of North Vancouver. Her VW bug had also been taken.
A couple of hours after the reported abduction, two officers, Reg Cardinal and Dave Kwasnika had found the small Volkswagen in a secluded area of Deep Cove, on the road heading up to the top of Seymour mountain ski area.
As the officers got out and began to look around, they ventured a number of yards into the dense, rain-forest like bush that surrounded them on three sides. Not certain as to what they were looking for, they shuffled through the trees when a woman’s scream shattered the still forest. It echoed icily through the woods making it difficult to figure from where it was emanating.
Hearts pumping, they ventured in further, guided by the continuing cry’s for help. In a few seconds they were able to locate the girl from the video store, tied to a tree. As they began to untie her, they were taking repeated glances over their shoulders for anyone who may be lurking about, maybe even watching them from a few feet away.
As they calmed the woman, unimaginably, a second distinct cry for help was heard. They began scrambling deeper into the woods, once again following and encouraging the cries to locate her. They found a second woman.
This woman was also tied to a tree, disheveled, tired eyes staring at them or through them, in a stare that only persons responding to a trauma get to witness. It turns out she had been abducted nine days before in Vancouver from a photographic studio on Hastings St. She had been held at gunpoint, punched, and while tied and bound, had been repeatedly sexually assaulted many times a day.
The officers escorted the two bewildered women out of the woods, shivering under the officers coats and a provided blanket, and waited for backup police officers to arrive.
The manhunt was now on for the man responsible.
One of the officers, Dave Kwasnika while in the woods with the women, thought he had heard footsteps scrambling through the bush. He heard the suspect, but he could not see him. Up the mountain the sound had gone and had tried to follow until his portable radio, his only lifeline, ran out of reception and battery.
Through the next few hours, manpower poured in to the area. Helicopters armed with infrared (FLIR) hovered overhead, police dogs from Vancouver and the RCMP, and an additional forty officers answered the call. Command centers arrived at the scene, and an evacuation of the residences up Seymour Mountain began. Heavily manned and armed road blocks were established on the Mount Seymour Parkway
Then darkness began to fall.
At the time of our briefing back at the detachment, there was now a shortage of cars and of personnel. Almost all had been sent to the Mount Seymour area where the roadblocks would continue throughout the night.
A police presence was still needed to maintain the rest of the city. The shuffled resources only allowed a single car for the city and District west of Lonsdale avenue to Capilano road; an area which normally would have six vehicles covering. We needed to “partner up” that night due to the lack of cars. Young, recruit Constable John Woodlock would be partnered with me for the evening, to patrol the area which was at the the farthest west end of North Vancouver and very far away from the Mt. Seymour area.
A suspect profile had already been quickly developed by the Toronto Metro Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and most recently the Vancouver City Police. We learned that the person in the composite they passed around the briefing table was believed to be that of David Snow, who was also wanted for two murders back in Ontario. The “House Hermit” as he had been dubbed, was 6’3′, gangly, and smelled just like someone would living in the woods. He was armed with handguns and was a survivalist. He had been living in the woods, accustomed to wrapping his feces in newspaper and urinating in bottles to avoid any DNA tracing. He had been on the run from Ontario for three months.
One has to admit that when given the choice, most police officers would have preferred to be where the action was, there is nothing better than an arrest, except for maybe the pursuit. That was not to be for Cst Woodlock and myself, who were destined for a normal, but busy shift, covering the west part of the city.
We began attending call after call, with not much time to pause. Noise complaints, allegations of assault, break-ins, nuisance party calls. As normal a routine as there could be running so short staff. Except on this night there was the radio traffic from the far eastern part of the city always crackling, animated, and we would catch broken conversations from the Emergency Response Teams who would be catching readings from the FLIR devices; seemingly indications of a warm body somewhere up the mountain near them.
Cst. Woodlock and I became somewhat lulled by the constance of the radio calls. One call to another, write a report, and move on. As the night grew heavier and as the natural comfort of street lighting slowed the calls for service, we received a call for an “alarm”. Actually “there are two alarms” said the dispatcher. One coming from the local Starbucks in the Edgemont Village area, and another alarm from further up Capilano Road. This second one was coming from the Bridgehouse Restaurant which was across the road from the Capilano Suspension bridge. A tourist area to be sure, but at night would and should normally be calm.
For a reason known only to one’s imagination, I told dispatch we would take the further alarm at the restaurant, driving by where we could have turned for Edgemont village.
As we approached, the restaurant building itself sits in the back of a large, heavily wooded lot with a gravel parking lot in front, some fifty yards away from the restaurant itself. As we pulled into the empty parking lot, dispatch came on the air again. “3 B 21, you can cancel–alarm company has called back”. Typical, we thought, but still I said to John, “we might as well go take a look”. “You go around to the left, I will go around the other way”.
I started on the south side, dim yellow flashlight leading me along, a beam of light maybe twenty feet in front of me. I dutifully walked past the windows, shining on the undisturbed glass. I then rounded the corner, to a porch area and the back French doors to the restaurant. Two steps up to the wooden porch, a shake of the rear door handles, nothing–everything secure.
Off to my right and a little further in the wooded area was a lattice work shed, where the piles of extra chairs for weddings and such were stacked, the metal legs could be seen glinting back at my beam of light. It would be unalarmed in any event, I thought to myself, but, I decided to walk the forty or fifty feet, and walk around the outbuilding as well.
As I walked around to the far side of the outbuilding, a movement startled me. A dark figure moving into the edge of my beam of light about 20′ away. A male, in dark clothing was kneeling over a female body, who was on her back, naked from the waist down. The male was making a twisting motion at her head area, but the head didn’t seem normal, there was no face, no nose or eyes to be seen. He looked at me.
The rest of the story took about as long as it takes to write this line. There was no thought process, it was trained instinct that pulled my gun, it was instinct that had me running after the male as he bolted like a startled deer. I remember yelling “police”, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to respond, this was clearly a foot chase. I vaguely remember going through a large hedge behind him, the branches brushing my shoulders and legs, hearing something hit the ground, but I was closing on him. I remember us both hitting the gravelled ground, he face first, in what looked like another parking lot, and I was on top of him, struggling. I don’t remember handcuffing him, but I did.
A few seconds of me sitting astride him, breathing harder, his cuffs on behind his back and then me pulling him over to see his face. My mind was starting to clear apparently, as I asked, “Are you the one we are looking for”…”I think so” he said dully. Mr. Snow had two other guns, and a third one was found in the hedge area later.
Cst Woodlock then came running out of the same hedge from where we had just come, having heard the yelling, but having no idea where I had gone or what the hell was happening. He took it all in, but he had not seen the woman on the ground.
I told him to go back, find the woman and he quickly turned and ran back.
He went back and found 58 year old Dalia Gelineux– still on the ground unmoving.
Dalia it turns out, had been closing up the restaurant where she worked, and locking the back french doors when she had a gun placed to the back of her head by David Snow. (Snow had travelled 10 kms through the night over the top of the mountains following the Baden trail and the hydro lines, and then down to the restaurant location) He pushed her inside making her call in and cancel the impending alarm. He then took her outside and was demanding that she give him her car keys.
Dalia now knew that she was in the fight of her life, with Snow telling her that “I’m going to f**k you to death”, at times stomping on her stomach to the point that her rib cage and breast bone separated, and punching her repeatedly. She felt her dress being removed as he was binding her arms and legs.
She had a plastic bag over her head, her slip already stuffed into her mouth as a gag, and was being garrotted by a plant hanger wire. It was all then interrupted and she had been left clinging to life. She testified later that she felt that “she was in heaven” as she began to succumb to the garrotting.
Cst Woodlock, using his newly acquired utility knife, managed to cut the tightened wire from her neck and removed the bag–she was still breathing, as they loaded her into the ambulance.
Back up cars were then everywhere. I turned over Mr. Snow to another officer for transport and I spent the next hour or so time going over the scene with the Forensic Identification squad and making notes before I returned to the office.
Tired, but surely gratified, I arrived back at the office, where congratulations flowed, but when I finally got around to writing my report, the General Duty common area was somewhat abandoned by the change in shifts and quiet had set in. The only sound the usual hum coming from the neighbouring room which contained the radio and dispatch centre. The sun had now risen and the real bone aching fatigue was beginning.
As I began to see the end of the report, a call came in for me from the Emergency room at the next door Lions Gate Hospital. The doctor asked if I had been the officer at the scene, I said I was, and then he went on to explain that Dalia was having problems. In and out of comprehension, at times believing she was dying or dead, she wasn’t able to make out doctors from nurses, or distinguish the good people from the bad. Her imagination was overlapping her reality. Her brain had gone through something in that survival mode which wasn’t allowing her to come back. He thought maybe if I came over and she saw the police uniform it would help her cognition, to help bring the real world back to where it had left her.
I went over to the hospital and was introduced for the first time by the nurse to Dalia. She was laying on the gurney, her eyes flickering, going from side to side, at times clutching the rails as if hanging on to a window ledge. I had not seen her face before, as her head had been covered in plastic, she had been a body before and now she was a person.
Not knowing what to say, I leaned over close to her and said “Hi Dalia, I’m Pete, I was the cop that found you tonight”. A few seconds went by, but she seemed to re-focus, staring at my face. “Your voice, your voice” she said emphatically. “It’s your voice…your voice”. “I thought you were an angel voice”. Over the next few minutes, this new recognition seemed to calm her and she began to settle. After a period of time, she drifted off to sleep. I trudged back to the office wondering what form her dreams would take in the future.
The day was over.
My few seconds had come, but the reverberations would continue for quite some time.
Over the years, as Xmas approached there would come a Xmas card from Dalia addressed “To my angel”.
This somewhat lengthy story about a few seconds is for those of you who are getting a little mired down as the policing world, which sometimes seems out of sync, swirls about you.
This story is an example of when the world tilted for me, and a few of my fellow officers– where for a few seconds several people who up until this time were unaware of each other ended up on a physical and mental collision course, the outcomes fanning out in waves.
I see you and appreciate you– you with your head down and just doing your job.
It doesn’t matter your level of service, your rank, or the type of uniform you are wearing, if you continue, you too will face and enter into those few inexplicable and unpredictable moments in time.
And so it is to you, that I dedicate this particular blog.
And let me take these few seconds– to wish you a Merry Xmas.
Post Script: Dalia Gelineux went on to lecture on her experiences.
The two girls who fought and survived, recovered in stages, and eventually testified. (I chose to keep their names out of this blog for privacy reasons)
David Snow, psychologically assessed as a sexual sadist, was deemed a dangerous offender; was convicted of sexual assaults, forcible confinement, and convicted of the two murders in Ontario. He remains in a Federal Penitentiary.
Two documentaries, a movie and a book have been made on this case. David Snow still remains a suspect in another murder in Ontario, the case of Caroline Case whose body was found in the territory of where Snow used to live, after having been abducted from a Bloor St. gift shop..
Photo courtesy of Rina at Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved