“You will do many things, and make many arrests in your careers. But remember how this felt, because that’s what it’s all about.”
That was the advice from Deputy Chief John Zen, with the Grand Junction Police Department, to some of his officers that responded to the screams of a child on a particularly cold and rainy night a few weeks ago.
Right before Halloween, at around 1:30am, officers with the Grand Junction Police Department were investigating a traffic stop in the northwest area of the city. It had been raining for several hours, and weather conditions seemed to be worsening. As they were wrapping up their investigation, they heard what sounded like a child screaming. Any parent knows that sound; it will make you stop in your tracks. Most of the time, it ends up being the sound of a little one playing, with reckless abandon. Not at 1:30am on a rainy night, though.
Two officers, Officer Parks and Officer Simpson, immediately headed out in search of the child. They were able to locate the residence from which the cries seemed to be originating. They attempted to contact someone in the home, but there was no answer at the front door. As they were knocking, again, they could hear the child screaming. Officer Simpson said it was very clear; the child was screaming “help,” and was calling for his mother. The officers looked over the fence, into the backyard, and found a little boy, who looked to be no more than four years old, soaked head to toe from the pouring rain. He was reaching his arms up, as if wanting someone to hold him.
Without hesitation, Officer Simpson jumped over the fence and picked up the little boy, reassuring him that he was safe now. Officer Simpson lifted the child over to Officer Parks, and they placed him inside a patrol car to warm him up, calming him, and giving him a flashlight to play with. Officers were able to locate an open window, which appeared to belong to the room of a small child. There was a dog trying to jump out of the window, and after making several loud announcements into the house, officers decided to make entry and do a protective sweep of the residence. Maybe there was someone inside in need of medical assistance? No. Not the case. After moving a large dresser that had been placed in front of the bedroom door – far too heavy for a child to move – it was confirmed that the house was empty.
Officer Simpson says, looking back on it, he wonders what might have happened if their stop had been just a little further away, and they couldn’t hear that little boy. He wonders how much longer he would have been safe, and thinks about how scared the child must have been.
After investigating for half an hour, the child’s parent arrived back at the house. She was arrested for reckless endangerment and child abuse, and the little boy was turned over to the custody of Child Protective Services. But that’s not why we tell this story. The case has been turned over the District Attorney’s office for prosecution. The defendant will get her due process, and justice will take its course. We tell this story to highlight the work of our officers. We tell this story to illustrate how imperative it is that our law enforcement be capable of switching gears at a moment’s notice; from investigating a traffic stop, to searching for a child in distress in a second. Sergeant Steve Moore states, “Maybe it was fate that the officers made a traffic stop where they could hear the screams of a child, but I was very impressed with how everyone handled the situation. I feel, because these officers acted quickly and because of their persistence in finding this child, a tragedy was avoided. This is just another example of great team work, unselfishness, and hard work.”
Upon being told of the incident, Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said, “This is one of the most disgusting examples of child neglect that I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s also one of the best examples of stellar police work that I’ve seen.”
We enjoy an incredible amount of support from this community. We don’t take that for granted. We recognize the responsibility that comes with a police badge, and we want to honor the officers that are living up to that duty. This is one example of many. Perhaps some will think that we’re singing our own praises. And maybe we are. But to bring light to the positive, life changing work our officers do, we’ll sing from the mountain tops.