Tuesday, January 11, 2005, was a cold night, and I was feeling a little worn down. I lead what some would call a rather hectic and often stressful life often juggling a constantly changing duty schedule, court, off-duty employment, and outside activities. Life can get stressful, but it's never boring. Sometimes, though, I'd give anything for "boring."
I had worked that day, but I didn't have any meetings or activities that night, crawled into bed early. I had drifted off to sleep when my phone rang. I could see from the caller ID that it was my good friend Scott Armstrong. He's a good man, I thought, but frankly I've had enough for today. I can always call him back tomorrow. I rolled over and went back to blissful sleep.
At four in the morning my sleep was interrupted by the ringing phone. I answered, and it was my dad. He was panicked and obviously disturbed. In all my life, I had never heard my dad so upset. He has always been a hardworking man who cared deeply about his family, but he never really showed a lot of emotion. "Is this Scott?" he asked. Yes, I said, of course. Just minutes earlier Larry Armstrong, Scott's father, had called my father and told him: "Scott is dead. Scott is dead." My father, sound asleep when he received the frantic call, and had not been able to make the connection that it was Scott Armstrong who had been killed. Now, although my father was relieved to hear the sound of my voice, another reality quickly set in: A close friend of our family had just been killed.
While I was dreaming of sugar plums, in the early morning hours of January 12, Scott was killed, while on duty, by a drunk driver going the wrong way on Missouri Highway 370.
I had lost my chance to speak to him.
I jumped out of bed and ran across the street, without my shoes or coat, to my youngest brother's house. My brother Matt is married to Scott's younger sister, April. When I arrived at their house, Matt was pacing the dining room and April was crying. My heart sank.
April just sat there and cried while I hugged her. She and Scott had been so close. And April is such a precious, outstanding young woman. I knew she was going through hell.
My family has strong ties with Scott's family. Obviously, my youngest brother was close to him. My sister had been close friends with Scott, and Scott and I had planned on boxing in the annual Guns 'N Hoses charity event. Our families had spent a lot of time together. We had a whole future of things to do. Not any more.
My family has also become a police family. I entered the police academy in 1994. Todd, my other brother, became a Missouri State Trooper in 1996. My youngest brother, Matt, had been a police officer for a couple years.
As I sat there and held April, she asked for my sister. I rushed off to her house. When I showed up at just after five, from my knocking on the door she knew something was wrong. "Scott Armstrong is dead, isn't he?" She said she'd just seen that a Bridgeton Police car, the municipality where Scott worked, had been struck head-on on the Interstate. They were saying the officer was seriously injured, and the pictures she saw on TV were bad. I told her, and she began to cry.
I rushed Carrie to April's side. We spent the next twenty-four hours with Scott's mom and dad. It was tough. Larry asked my brother Todd and me to start to work out the funeral arrangements. It was very tough.
Everywhere I looked, every channel I turned to featured Scott's death. I saw the gruesome scene over and over. The story unfolded, and we learned that Scott probably never knew what hit him. It is estimated that at the time Scott was hit, dispatchers were putting out a broadcast warning about a wrong-way driver on Highway 370. The whole day was filled with the death of a dear friend and the tears of mourning from those who loved him. We couldn't believe it.
It was like being drunk on grief, like the cold, gray morning of loss after a dark, cold night of death.
January 13, 2005, was one of the worst days of my life. Scott's young son, Tyler, lived in Washington State with Scott's ex-wife. My brother Todd, sister Carrie, and I had the task of picking him up at the airport as he arrived that morning.
We had a marked patrol car from my department and were met by uniform officers who even in this supercautious post-911 era took us right to the gate to meet Tyler. They then made sure he got his luggage promptly, and provided multiple patrol cars to escort Tyler on his journey to his grandparents'.
That afternoon we escorted Tyler to the funeral home, and I watched a nine-year-old boy quietly walk up to the coffin that held the remains of the father he loved so much. He stood for just a moment and I realized he was just a little boy, that he shouldn't have to go through something like this. I knew he was going to have to grow up and face this terrible thing, make it a part of his life, and still he was just a little boy.
Tyler began to cry when he saw his father lying there in the coffin. He reached up and put his hand on his father's chest. He bent over his dad and just cried. That image will forever be etched in my mind.
Friday, January 14, we buried Scott my brother in blue, my good friend, my boxing buddy, my fellow jokester. There are so many things I could say about him. He was a good cop and a good man. My brothers and sister, April, and Scott Armstrong we were an inseparable group of six. Now we are five.
It has been hard on his family and our family since Scott was killed. There have been struggles, and I know our hearts were broken, our dreams tattered and torn. The journey has been full of many obstacles.
In May 2006, we all journeyed to Washington, D.C., and were there when Scott's name was officially added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial's walls in Justice Square. We listened as his name, and the names of many other officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, were read and echoed throughout the capital. We got up early each morning to race to the wall to make sure that the mementoes and pictures were still sitting there as perfectly as they were when we left them. I escorted Scott's mom and dad Karen and Larry during many of the events. It was a hard week.
Things continue to be hard at times. It's a struggle to drive down Highway 370 and pass the cross that marks that tragic location. Every event that honors Scott brings up the memories of a good friend who was lost.
Scott's life, like that of too many other police officers, was cut short. He died protecting his hometown, protecting his family and friends, and even strangers he never knew.
Each day police officers across the country do just that. Each year about 150 of our nation's officers die in the line of duty.
Some good has come out of it all. There has been a substantial amount of attention given to the drunk-driving problem here in the St. Louis area. The story further strengthened efforts nationwide to protect our officers on the roadways, for nearly 50 percent of policemen's deaths are the result of crashes on our roadways.
And now there is a little bundle of joy named Morgan Rose Barthelmass my niece. April, my sister-in-law, gave birth in June 2006 to a beautiful girl. This little girl would have also been Scott's niece. That little girl is named in memory and honor of Scott Morgan Armstrong.
In a way, life has come full circle.