By Jim Palmer
When you turn out the news, it can often be depressing. It is hard to make it two minutes into any newscast without seeing death and/or destruction. Of course, when something terribly goes wrong, that is news, and that is why it is reported. It still makes watching the news unsettling. For most people, the further away the death/destruction is located, the less impact it has on them personally. It is just plain human nature. If something bad happens in Minnesota, we feel it more than if something happens in Mississippi. And if something bad happens in Mississippi, we feel it more than if it happened in Mongolia. And when something terrible happens in your own community... well, it can hit you like a ton of bricks.
Last month, a man in a neighboring town shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy during a domestic violence call. Two other officers were also shot before the suspect was shot and killed.
The sheriff’s deputy who lost his life was Josh Owen, a former Army National Guard member who had been serving the Pope County Sheriff’s Office since 2009. He died on his 44th birthday. Josh was a big, muscular man with a distinct laugh. According to his colleagues, he loved to work the night shift, hated paperwork, was fearless with a fun-loving side, and his world revolved around his wife and 10-year-old son, his job, and his K-9 dog, Karma.
Josh lived about six blocks away from our office. The Pope County Sheriff’s office and courthouse is located right across the street from our office. The Glenwood Police Department is located a few doors down from us... on the same block. So when news spread, our little block in our little town became the center of this news story. News crews were parked outside our office for a week, and Owen’s squad car was parked on the courthouse lawn. And there was a steady stream of family and friends of Josh making their way to his car to grieve -- placing flowers by the squad car, shedding tears, and offering a hug to the next person.
The night of the shooting... word spread quickly throughout our community through social media. We didn’t know the details... but we knew an officer had lost their life in the line of duty. And before all the details of the shooting were made public, you could see our community already coming together to offer their support and love to both Josh’s immediate family, and to Josh’s law enforcement family. I think part of the story that is often overlooked in police shootings is the impact felt by their fellow officers. You could see the pain in their eyes, and you could hear the tremble in their voices. And then you try to put yourself in their shoes, -- How do they go on another domestic dispute call the rest of your career and not think about Josh? While officers in our community were working through the loss of their friend and colleague, officers from across the region came to our community to patrol and lend a hand.
Support was also showed in other ways, from blue lights to yard signs to posters and meal trains. When times get tough, communities always rise up to help and support, and that was shown in full force in our city of Glenwood and surrounding communities. You could see residents and businesses doing whatever they could to raise up the family and other officers.
The law enforcement community is a loyal and tightknit group. At Josh’s funeral, thousands of officers from across Minnesota and neighboring states converged on our local high school to show their support to the family and the other officers. Some traveled over 1,000 miles to be there. Dozens of K-9 dogs were also represented in a display of support. Our family watched as squad cars from nearly every county (maybe all) in Minnesota, and many, many communities in the state drove through town after the funeral. The processional lasted about an hour and a half. It was quite a sight.
Law enforcement is a noble profession, and a dangerous and stressful profession. Like fire fighters and members of the military, it takes a special person to devote their life to protect and serve the rest of us. Thanks for all you do.
A special thank you goes out to all who helped the Owen family, who helped the other officers, and who helped our community through this difficult time. Some of the signs and blue lights will eventually go away, and the meal trains will stop, but the support that was felt here will not soon be forgotten.