|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
His name was Sergeant James Dean, but everyone called him Jamie. He was the farm boy who fished, hunted and tossed a horseshoe like nobody else. He was the guy at the end of Toots Bar, nursing a Bud and talking Nascar. He was the driver of that blue Silverado at the red light, his hands on the wheel, his mind on combat horrors that made him moody, angry, withdrawn.
Now here he was, another American soldier, dead. Only Sergeant Dean was killed at the front door of his childhood home, the day after Christmas and three weeks before his redeployment, shot by a sniper representing the government for whom he had already risked his life in Afghanistan. His wife and parents received the news not by a knock on the door, but by gunfire in the neighborhood.
“If they had just left him alone,” says his wife, Muriel.
A few days after Thanksgiving, a FedEx truck delivered an envelope to the Dean farm just as Jamie was about to go hunting. It was a form letter of redeployment, as impersonal as a bank statement.
“It was downhill after that,” Muriel says.
He withdrew from the present, it seemed. He drank more, and took his medication less. Finally, on Christmas Day, he and Muriel returned from a family gathering with plans to watch his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys, on television. He went out to buy some beer — but went to Toots Bar instead.
She called him, and he came home, livid. He smashed some glasses, said something about winding up in a body bag, and sped away in his Silverado. He wound up at the family home, alone, talking on a cellphone with his sister, Kelly, saying things like: “I just can’t do it anymore.”
When his sister heard a gunshot, she called 911. The deputy sheriffs arrived at the isolated farmhouse around 10 p.m. and quickly determined that Jamie was drunk, agitated and carrying a shotgun. He told the deputies to back off.
Based on something a family member had said, the police knew that Jamie had other shotguns in the house, but they mistakenly believed he was an Army Ranger. “Rambo,” his mother says ruefully.
At 4:19 in the morning, the police shot dozens of tear-gas canisters, smashing the windows in front of Jamie’s horseshoe trophies, piercing walls decorated with garland. Several minutes later, Jamie fired shotgun pellets in the general direction of a police car parked at least 50 yards away. Then he sat down on the back porch.
A situation in which an armed man was in his own house, alone and a threat to no one but himself, had now escalated into a military action. On the ground, men with guns; in the sky, the whop-whop of helicopters. Now and then, Jamie would respond to some movement or sound with a shot into the ground or into the air.
Around noon, two negotiators pulled up to a family friend’s garage, where Jamie’s loved ones were cloistered a half-mile away. His wife was pacing. His mother was bracing herself. His father, Joey, was staring into the woods.
At 12:25, a negotiator talked briefly by telephone to Jamie, who indicated he might come out; “I’m going home,” he said. Then the police cellphone’s battery died.
At 12:34, Jamie was reached again by telephone, but the volume was low and the negotiator could not make out what was being said.
At 12:45, the police cut power to the house and began shooting more tear gas through the front and the back of the house.
At 12:47, an armored vehicle called a Peace Keeper pulled up to the house. Jamie opened the front door and, according to the police, pointed his 20-gauge shotgun at the vehicle. A state police sniper, positioned in a garage 70 yards away, took aim.
Later, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police would say the department was reviewing its actions, but would refer to a statement by its superintendent, Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, in which he said that Sergeant Dean bore “sole responsibility.” The police could not walk away, the colonel had said, because the soldier had the potential to do harm to himself or to others.
Later, Richard D. Fritz, the state’s attorney for St. Mary’s County, would criticize the state police as using tactics that were “progressively assaultive” and “most unfortunate.” In the end, he would say, this paramilitary operation was “directed at an individual down at the end of a dark road, holed up in his father’s house, with no hostages.”
Labels: Memorial Day