Most people just stare at me when they hear the story. That is the normal reaction. They don’t know what to say and that’s fine. What I want most is to stop it from ever happening to anyone again. Since I cannot do that, I’ll help anyone who needs me. But my words will never be “just move on” or “try to forget it.” I always say “fight” because you are worth it.
“Stay with me,” I exclaimed! I could hear sirens in the distance. They couldn’t get here fast enough. I looked into his eyes, saw him fading in and out of consciousness, his head bloody from the injuries. Holding his head up and silently whispering to myself, “Please God, hurry.” A young man of seventeen years old had careened off the road at a notorious curve on a rainy day and into a large tree and I was first on scene. That damned tree! It has made many people a victim as they lost control in the very same place. Why would anyone allow that tree to stand after all this? But there it stood, at least 100 years old and has outlived many who came across it.
I hear rescue pulling up, I was relieved to have the professionals here. A strange noise interrupted the sirens. It was my phone ringing.
“It can wait.”
As I watched the heroes work, my phone won’t stop. After three ignored calls, I dug it out of my pocket to check the caller ID. My heart raced – it was the school my children attend. I answered. Between radio traffic and diesel engines I can’t hear a thing. I make my way to my car to hear the principal say, “I need you to leave work and come to my office.”
What in the world? He promises, “Everyone is fine. There is not an emergency but I need you to come meet me now.” He would not tell me what was the issue but I could tell in his very serious tone that is was a pressing matter.
I called my supervisor and told him I had to leave. As I turned my car northward I looked in the mirror and said a brief prayer that God would save that kid.
I left the scene where that young man was in the midst of a singular moment in his life. And twenty miles away loomed my singular moment, one that would forever change me and the course of my life.
I arrived as fast as my cruiser would take me and rushed into the office. The headmaster and principal were waiting for me. I walked in. They closed the door. My heart was racing now. He didn’t beat around the bush or sugar coat it. As sensitive as he could say it he told me the school received information yesterday that they had to investigate today.
They came to the conclusion that my daughter, my first born child, had been sexually assaulted. She was twelve years old now but the devious act had happened multiple times and for three years running.
My heart sank as low as it could go.
I went to another place in my head. I was in shock. The silence probably lasted 30 seconds but it seemed endless. I had too many questions for them to answer. A cold sweat came over me and I began shaking. “Are you sure?” They were sure.
I questioned their information as well as their credentials. I questioned everything until I came to the same conclusion they did; it was real. Then they delivered the fatal blow when they told me the identity of the suspect.
It was my own father. My own father.
The greatest man I had ever known and my best friend, the one who I trusted more than anyone in the world, was a monster I didn’t know. I fell to my knees. They both jumped up to catch me. I balled up my fists and pounded the floor. Tears welled up and I just had to see my daughter. I had to hold her.
They brought her to me and left us alone. She was just an innocent child. She is my baby girl, who I love so much. She taught me what love is. How could someone take advantage of her, and someone she trusted so much, someone I trusted so much? She told me what was happening and I promised her that it would NEVER happen again. I promised her the world that day but, I also vowed that I would protect her and there would be justice.
She went back to P.E. class and the teacher told me she instantly changed. She started smiling and playing when she was normally sitting out and solemn. The weight was off of her. She wasn’t carrying the secret any longer. She was free to let it go. For a moment it warmed my heart. But I had work to do. I called my mother from that office. I told her in no uncertain terms what I found out. I was going to launch a full investigation and throw every page of the book at him when I was done. I said some things I cannot put on paper to read and I meant everyone one of them. She said she understood and she started crying and hung up.
What came next was a forensic interview and full investigation by law enforcement authorities. I began to dig. For the next three days I researched and snooped and dug up everything I could find. As each hour passed I learned more of what I never wanted to know. And I found not one, but two more victims over the previous 25 years. One was my closest cousin. She had never told a soul. I was the first.
Later that night what happened inside me is something I can only describe as rage. I experienced anger and hatred I had never felt before. We have all said something of the sort, “If someone ever touches my daughter,”- and then they do. All of those threats were boiling to the surface. I called friends, brothers to help me. I can say I came to understand what “temporary insanity” really is. In the end it was the four hour drive between us that kept me from taking his life. I knew I would stop myself in that 200 miles and, my daughter needed me. He would no longer be in her life but I would.
He tried to contact me days later. He knew how angry I was. I told him he could email whatever he wished but I was not going to talk to him. He did so, and in the process incriminated himself. I gathered all the evidence and drove West a month later. I wrote out my statement, delivered the interview files and signed the warrants. I drove home knowing that before I made the state line my father would be in custody.
The prosecution took almost eighteen months. Continuances and other delays took its toll on us. We needed closure. That was part of the healing. We struggled with counseling sessions as well. And we disagreed on how to move forward. The process was arduous. On the day prior to jury selection I was working when my phone rang. The caller ID just said “Dad”. I hit ignore.
He called back. I walked outside and grabbed another officer to go with me. I couldn’t do this alone. I answered and he pleaded for me to drop the case. He said his attorney was sharp and it would be hard on all of us. I paused, then I told him my cousin was coming and soon the entire family was going to learn of his history. I told him as knowingly as I had ever said anything, “You are going to prison.” He hung up. I leaned on my friend as he stood there silent.
I got a call from the department chaplain a bit later. He invited me to lunch. I indulged. We spoke of the looming trial that was to start in just 36 hours. He was saying the usual platitudes that one says to encourage someone who needed strength when my phone rang again. It just said DA’s office. I answered. The voice on the other end was jubilant. She said, “He pleaded guilty!”
Apparently he was on the steps of the courthouse when he called and when he hung up he walked straight to the judge’s chambers and entered a guilty plea. It was over. A rush of relief came over me and I started crying. My chaplain put his arm under me and walked me out. We hugged while I bawled my eyes out. I had to leave. I had to tell my daughter. He said, “Just go. I’ll tell the boss.” I drove once again to the school and pulled my daughter out of class and told her. We cried together. The principal had a hug for both of us. I watched as my little girl ran back to class.
During the process I had to switch hats from father to cop and back to father countless times. I learned a lot about sexual assault and pedophilia during that brutal process. What I learned was this crime is prevalent. It occurs in every family and most families sweep it under the rug to maintain family unity.
That’s not me. I also learned that the victims of familial sexual assault aren’t the only victims. No, everyone who loves the victim also hurts with them. The psychological damage is longer lasting and damaging than the physical scars. It has been ten years and the effects are still lingering.
The pedophile is a master at manipulation. He makes his victims feel worthless and that they somehow deserve what is happening to them. He also convinces them that if they tell they will BOTH be in trouble for what THEY did. He steals their youth. He steals their identity and self worth. He robs them of being a kid, and of growing up with a sense of normalcy.
He is the worst predator known to man, if you ask me. There is none below him.
When I first told this story in public, I had a reaction I didn’t expect. People came to me to tell me their story. People I knew, both friend and family. They want to tell their stories but there is this stigma to the act hanging over them. It shouldn’t be there but it is.
So, here is what I want to say to you, the victims- It is NOT your fault. You did not cause this. You are a worthy individual. And above all else DO NOT LET THIS THING DEFINE YOU! It was an event that happened to you, it is not YOU. You do not have to wear a scarlet letter because of what happened to you. Cast it aside and do not let it defeat you or control you. And you are not alone. There are many like you who understand. Don’t try to carry it with you and struggle by yourself. Reach out through proper channels and get help so that one day you find closure.
It’s been ten years now. The family ties were severed and I have not had any contact with the other side since, except in 2011 when I sent an email that contained three words:
“I forgive you.”
I had to forgive. The bitterness and hatred was destroying me. But, forgiveness does not necessarily mean that reconciliation is possible. For me, it is not. A trust was violated that can never be restored and I’m fine with that. I still drive that road to the school on my old beat. The curve is still there waiting to catch the unsuspecting motorist by surprise.
And just beyond it, there is the tree with its scarred bark. That tree has taken a lot of hits over the years and it is still standing. Well….so am I.”
Officer Stephen Williams from Alabama is also known as LT from Humanizing the Badge.