“I Want to Kill Someone”
“I want to kill someone,” a man said after entering a small town’s sheriff’s office. Any time someone issues such a threat, it can be alarming. When that person enters a sheriff’s office to confess such a desire to his local sheriff, all parties concerned should consider this an elevated threat. When the individual making such a threat is a 6’8” and 350lb. man with a history that warrants a level of scrutiny from local law enforcement officials, the audience to such a threat drops everything else to address the man’s concerns.
Officer June, the wife of Sheriff Dan Anderson, was working front desk duty the morning this 6’8” and 350lb. man entered the station and issued his threat, and she was also working the radio dispatch. The problem for June Anderson that morning was she was the only person in the station when this man entered.
The sheriff’s office did not consider the man violent, as he had no criminal record, but he did have a history of unpredictable behavior that put him on their radar. He suffered from a mental illness that required regular medication, and the fact that he was not on his medication on this particular morning was obvious, for he did not direct his anger at one particular person. His anger was more general, and he sought a release.
“He had his hands splayed out at the sides of his head, and he was squeezing his fingers together, as he repeated that line, ‘I want to kill someone,’ over and over,” June said. “When I asked him for how I might be able help him, he repeated, ‘I want to kill someone,’ and he added, ‘I need to talk to Sheriff Dan.’
“Sheriff Dan is not here right at the moment,” June informed the man. “He is at the hardware store, but he’ll be back soon. The man told me that he could not wait,” June added, “and that he wanted to kill someone, and he started in with the fingers again.”
“I’m six foot tall,” Sheriff Dan said, “and I would have to look up to the man when he talked. When I run across a person who has a somewhat troubled past, I’ve always consider it the lawman’s job to get to know them on a personal level, so that I can lay some groundwork in the event that something could happen at a later date. When that person is as large as this man was, and his history suggests that he might be capable of hurting someone, I reach out to them to diffuse possible future situations with day-to-day contact. When I would see this man on the streets, or in the hardware store, I would stop to say hello to him. ‘Hey, how you doing today?’ I’d say. I would ask him about the particulars of his day, and I would ask him about his job. I would then ask him questions about how his family was doing. I would make small talk, in other words, to establish what I considered a vital link with the man. I did this so often with him that he and I developed a relationship. I would do that, with the thought that if a day like the one June is describing should ever arise, he’d look for me, his friend, if he needed to talk to someone.”
“The first question I’ve been asked,” June said. “Is if you were on radio dispatch that day, why didn’t you get on the horn and tell Dan what was going on in the station? The problem was that Dan never answered his radio.
“I was lucky this day,” June continued, “because Dan informed me where he was going before he left. He told me he was going across the street to the hardware store. He normally didn’t tell anyone where he was going. He just went. So, when this 6’8” and 350lb. man walked in talking about wanting to kill someone in such a manic state, and with him being so insistent that he wanted speak with Sheriff Dan, and only Dan, I sprinted across the street to the hardware store and retrieved him.”
“Learning the details of such a situation might have led a less tenured law enforcement official to believe that such a situation required force, especially when your wife is the one providing these details in such a distressed manner,” Dan said. “I thought I laid the foundation for a decent relationship with this man, and I thought this might lead to a peaceful resolution, but peaceful resolutions are a two-way street. I knew this man could be unpredictable, and I decided that the best course of action was to prepare for the unpredictable nature of this man.
“Before we made it back to the station,” Dan continued. “I told June to put a gun on the two of us, and if anything should happen, just start firing. My rationale being, that if my interaction with this man devolved to a tussle, I would rather take a bullet than the haymakers I feared this man could deliver.”
“He had these enormous hands,” June said to illustrate why Dan’s concerns might have led him to believe that it would be better to take a bullet as opposed to a punch from this man. “I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say I’ve never seen hands as large as his, in person, and I would say that if you think you’ve seen large hands, go ahead and assume his hands were larger than that.”
“So he and I start talking once I arrived at the station,” Dan said, “and he informed me that he wanted to kill someone today, and I suggested that he might want to go back into a cell and cool off, but he did not want to do that.”
“He did not want to go into a cell,” June interjected. “I invited him to sit in the cell when I went to retrieve Dan from the hardware store, and he made it abundantly clear that he did not want to be in a cell.”
“So, I said, okay,” Sheriff Dan said, “and we start talking again. He began explaining his situation to me, and I decided that the best course of action for me was to just sit back and listen. I developed a relationship with him as I said, and I knew a number of details about the dynamic of his relationship with his various family members. When he went through the details of his situation, I participated in that conversation, but for the most part, I just offered a sympathetic ear. When he finished, I told him that I understood his situation and that we would work together to rectify it. I also told him that I planned to go to ice cream after I was done at the hardware store and before June interrupted me. I told him that I still wanted to go to the ice cream store, and I asked him if he would like it if I bought him a dish of ice cream too. He said, ‘Sure.’ I knew the man had a weakness for ice cream, so I said, ‘Well, why don’t you go have a seat, and I’ll go buy you some ice cream.’ We looked for a chair for him to sit in, but we couldn’t find one, until I suggested one. The chair I suggested happened to be in our cell. When he sat, I locked the door behind him, and I went to get him some ice cream. We called his family and told them to find the medication this man required, and there were no further incidents. The man ate his ice cream and took his medication.”
“One of the things I tell less tenured law enforcement officials when I relay this story to them, is that one simple act of kindness, and understanding, can go a long way with people,” Dan continued. “Some of the times, a lawman needs to be strong and forceful, but some of the times, a lawman can be just as effective by listening to the complaints a person has about their day, and that they should display a level of interest and understanding to the person’s problem that is genuine. A lawman can be too kind of course, and people like this 6’8” 350lb man can sense this. They can misconstrue it as weakness. In the case of this 6’8” 350lb. man, however, diffusing the situation that happened that day at the station, occurred long before he entered the station all worked up. He and I developed a friendship founded on mutual respect, and it concluded with one simple act of kindness.”
*This story was used with permission.
The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff II: “Is He Dead?”
The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff III: He was a Real Sonofabitch