What It Feels Like To Take A Life

By George Love // As Told to Alexander Ruano

More stories from Alex Ruano

Split seconds…1…2…3… shots fired!

I knew I had to be there; I had this instinct in my gut. A cop must always trust their gut and mine was bursting. ten years later, I remember that day crystal clear. The call came out around four. I arrived and was on scene for less than a minute when the subject came into sight. The man walked out of the bar and fired his gun. I felt the bullet’s steaming air as it whistled past my left ear. The iron sight of my glock looked like it was the size of a beach ball. In a split second it was over. The man’s limp body lay on the ground before us. My hands were strangling my side arm like an anaconda to its prey. Three rounds were spat out of its mouth, everyone hitting their mark.  I did my job: to serve and protect. For a moment, the world stood still.

My fellow officers and I went into the bar, weapons drawn, ready for anything. We successfully got the four hostages out without trouble. I knew I did the right thing. You train for situations like this and my experience with the Tac team made me ready. However, the adrenaline release was too much for anyone to bare. I could not help but drop to my knees as I felt the sweat dripping down my face. I was exhausted. I really was exhausted. My body was trembling with all the chemical changes that happened from that event. I had to release all the endorphins that built up inside me.  At that point I felt it was him or me; he got the first round off and I did my job by responding.

As police officers, we are behind the eight ball; we are not the aggressors in these situations. I was at ease with my decision to open fire since I trained for it just in case events like this would happen. In a perfect world, this would never happen, but since it did, it was up to us to remember our training as we do the best we possibly can to get through the rough situation. Even with great training and preparation, the experience was tough. I did not get into this job to hurt people or take lives, but then again it is part of the job when it comes to it. Anything to keep the citizens, fellow officers and myself safe. My personality took a slight change as emotional walls were built up around me. I seized the moment and opportunities around me to go to counselling and open up with my experience. I took full advantage and went to four seasons of it due to my recurring dreams that happen from the event of opening fire upon another human. It took me a few months to get through the dream. The dream itself had nothing to do with my actions, but I knew it was sparked from the event of taking a life. I would be driving in my squad car next to a large body of water and then the front of my car would sink into the water. It was a strange dream, I never had that problem before but it was how my body dealt with the stressors built up inside. I found it helpful to talk to the guys around me and get everything off my chest. We are a family, I can count on my fellow officers and friends to always have my back and be there for me, as I will be there for them. Family is more than blood. Taking training seriously is the best possible to step to prepare ourselves because we never know when a bad situation can happen.

Over the ten years now, I noticed a few changes about myself. I am a little slower when it comes to grabbing my fire arm. To be honest, I don’t know if it is good or bad but I have become more hesitant. I noticed this a few days before I was promoted. I was the only officer on scene at a domestic call when a suspect pulled a knife out. I decided to pull out my taser instead of my gun and handle the situation without lethal force. Looking back on it, I believe I choose my taser instead because I have a certain understanding that others are blessed to not share. I’ve been in the situation of taking a life, I know the feeling that will forever be inside me. Our goal is to never do that and by having a greater understanding, I am able to handle situations that we wish would never occur, but if we have to do it, we do it.

Our training is so important; I cannot stress this enough. The Sheriff’s office is excellent at giving us the proper training that we need for instances just like those of Jan. 10, 2007. The training we go through is very important. No matter what training it is, take every season as if someone’s life depended on it. My actions on that day were not easy.

Every officer may say, “I can do it, I can do it.” But in reality, you never know until you are in that situation, because everyone is different with many different outcomes.  If anyone finds themselves in a similar situation to mine, I hope for them to feel free to come and draw from my experience and drift away from the tempting alcoholism as a way to deal with the emotional stress. Taking a life is a terribly stressful situation. You do not just have to worry about you and your personal behavior, but also the effect it will have on your family. For example, in today’s world, in Chicago there was an officer who was being attacked and decided not to draw her gun due to the effect it would have on her family. Morally, that is wrong. If you fear to do what is right to protect yourself, how can you possibly protect others. One should not fear to do what is right, to do their job to serve and protect because of the horrific outlash that could be stowed upon them and their family. However, this is not a perfect world. Now, we have the media that can do wonderful things for us, but also become our downfall. In this world we must learn to adapt to the unpredictable and become stronger from our own experience. We must always remember that we are not alone, we have friends and family to shower us with their support in our darkest of times. We move on.. If the same thing was to happen again, I would not do anything different.

On that beautifully clear day, I reacted to my instincts and returned fire against the man, striking and killing him. I know, what it feels like to take a life.