A Slip & Slide Nightmare

Of all places that good old Gumshoe has frequented lately, it was during an afternoon Bible Study at my church this week that caused me an unexpected trip on PTSD route.

Our group’s discussion arrived on the topic of blood sacrifices and blood oaths in regard to the sealing of covenants in Old Testament times. A very astute member of our group (who knew that I was a retired cop) asked me what it was like for me to encounter “large pools of blood”. He was not trying to be grim or morbid in my opinion; he was just curious.  Most “civilians” would not have this “blood experience” in their normal work-a-day lives unless they love the blood and gut Zombie movies. (Yuck!)

My initial response was to use my tried and true method of “cop humor” by telling him that just as long as it was not my blood, I was always okay. This probably would have elicited some uncomfortable laughter among the group and his question would go by the wayside. But I did not give this flippant and curt response dear readers.  I told him the truth. He desired an honest answer as did our church group who were just as curious – just maybe some of you folks might also want a “true-to-life” answer as well?

It was during my police rookie year on the street and as all newbies (babies in blue); I was assigned to the graveyard shift from dusk to dawn.  The training philosophy at the time  (and even to this present day) was that probationary officers would progress more effectively (training and experience-wise) when in a late-night environment.

The rationale: less to no traffic, few people out and about, a dearth of radio calls that afforded the rookie more time to learn the beat (no GPS’s). Easier to supervise and find just in case he or she got lost or fell asleep.

Of course, the usuals arrests for DUI’s and responding silent business alarms and nighttime prowlers were the usual graveyard fares. However, there would always come the “first” for every rookie officer.  The first type of radio-dispatched call that he or she has never handled before in their infant stage of police experience. Something you don’t train for – the unexpected.

My “first” happened about 0200 hours (2:00 am) at an all-night convenience gas station located in the east side of the city. The clerk phoned in a report of a guy with a rifle who had entered the unattached restroom of the station.  The clerk reported that this armed individual was possibly getting ready to rob the business. This was my call and I was advised that I had no back-up officers.  My splinter muscle tightened and I tried to remember how to rescue breathe.

Note:  My fellow patrol officers were tied-up on a serious injury multi-vehicle traffic collision on the other end of the city while other officers were already engaged in calls that they could not break from.  (**** happens!)

I radioed the dispatcher to keep the clerk on the line for up-dates.  I also asked her to instruct the clerk him lock down his station office for safety and turn off his interior lights. ( I later learned that he hung up the phone and hunkered down, but he did turn out the lights.)

My emergency “gumballs” (overhead unit lights) and my “growler” (siren) were turned on as I speeded to the call. I thought of all of the “what if’s” scenarios along with “what am I doing here?” But, I did not answer that subconscious question because I was already consciously there, pulling into the side lot of the station. My unit was to the rear of the detached restroom.  I was opening my driver’s door when I heard it.

The unmistakable “blast” emitting from that unattached gas station restroom.

I rounded the outside corner of the structure and in my “adrenaline-fed state of mind and body”, I kicked-in the partially opened door as I wielded my Smith & Wesson Model 59, 9mm semiautomatic pistol.  My heart raced as I had a “death” on my pistol. The force of my kick propelled me into the semi-darkened cramp space.  More than I ever wanted to go.  The ambient light from the outside bright station lights illuminated my personal “slip and slide” into a nightmare of carnage. Simultaneously, I awkwardly slipped backward on my butt as my momentum drove me forward into a soft pliable mass.

I tasted copper in my mouth and my nostrils took in the smell of burnt gunpowder that permeated the stale air. My free hand felt a sticky warm fluid and my pants legs felt like sponges. Yes, it was a gusher of fresh blood as I bounded into the half-decapitated corpse.  The 12 gauge shotgun barrel was still inside his puckered mouth. The glazed over film of the one remaining eye seemed to stare at me in a mixture of shock, amazement and utter surprise.

The shadows of his slumped body adjacent to the waste can somehow seemed appropriate for a ghastly tale from Edgar A. Poe that beckoned “nevermore” from a “telltale” stopped heart.

I later destroyed that uniform and along with anything else that still had that blood taint.  I washed my hands raw.

I just could not destroy that memory that was seared on my soul. That pool of fresh blood that drained life from a fellow human was too real for me to make a joke about.  It coalesced my thoughts into a fear, into a dread, into a horror and ultimately into a genuine compassion after a lot of prayer and meditation.  (Not medication!)

Of course, being that “macho” image of a cop that I had at that time kept all of those feelings bottled up deep within my psyche.  I did not want to be ostracized by my fellow cops of being weak.  The embarrassment would be too great!

Well gentle readers, did I describe that scene in that exact graphic detail to my fellow Bible study parishioners? Yes, I did.  It was a memory that I long-buried but was it was “triggered” (pardon the pun) by that question of blood. Sharing this was in some way cathartic and weirdly therapeutic for this Gumshoe. I learned that honest feelings of weakness are indeed strength when we have our faith in God alone.

Maybe we all have things we must talk about to an understanding ear and with an open and contrite heart?

I still pray for that “hopeless suicide” by the way.  No one is beyond “hopeless” not in my book or more importantly, not in God’s book.  Amen!

Till next time dear readers, remember to love the ones who love you and the ones who don’t.


Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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  1. Danny: I’ve dealt with several suicides and shotguns are the absolute worst. Well, maybe a jumper is up there as a tie. No, I wasn’t a cop, just a lowly hotel manager. For some reason that I’ll never understand a sizeable number of people decide to do themselves in at a hotel. I don’t know why the can’t use a city bridge to jump off of or blow their brains out in their own bathroom, but they don’t.

    • Indeed Ken! Folks wanting to murder themselves sometimes desire an audience afterwards. I had to deal with “the suicide by cop” syndrome for those souls who wanted me to pull the trigger for them. Thanks for your insight my lowly innkeeper friend!

  2. What a story Danny. I can’t imagine the life of a cop although I did consider being a dispatcher for emergency and my son was with the AZ police department a couple years back.
    I want to hear more. Reliving them if enough years has passed might be easier…
    thank you and I’m glad you’re still with us. God bless you for your service.
    Laurie Hill

    • God always puts us where He wants us to be as long as it is His will and not our own. Thank you for your comment and I hope your son fares well as an Arizona copper.

    • Yes, sharing traumatic experiences really helps for those of us caught up in human tragedies to deal with the pain and soul killing loss. God bless you and your son! See my tale titled “Fear ends when Faith Begins” for one of my many documented police tales Laurie.

  3. Well described Mr. Pitocco (aka Retired Officer Pitocco). Nothing can beat a well-described lost memory such as this. I am sure there are many more and it took Bible Study and the topic of blood to bring it out. Honest feelings of weakness, equaling strength, as a result, is certainly a grace. A quote I took from our Retreat today “Sometimes a soul has to drown in the precious blood of Christ before it receives Grace.