Thursday, November 30, 2006

Do it anyway

Had a good day today -- things are getting back to "normal" around here. I slept well last night and all you parents out there know how good that can feel. My father-in-law had surgery this morning here in Houston, and Jamie got to go visit him and said he is recovering well. Hopefully he will get to come home tomorrow, but it may take a little longer than that.

Thank you to everyone for the sincere calls, emails and prayers of support. Those who know me well know that I'm an extremely introspective person, and it has always been a high priority for me to internalize and learn from life's experiences. This time is no different, and I fully intend on having more kindness, more gratitude, more grace and more compassion for teenagers as a response to Julian's murder. His time was cut short and he cannot personally fulfill the potential he may have had of making the world a better place. Each person who knew him will hopefully take on a part of that task for themselves.

Tomorrow I've got a good 'ole regular workday at the office, plus finally getting to the gym for that workout that was planned for Tuesday. In closing, here are a few of the lessons I've learned (or been reminded of) over the past 48 hours. They are in the format of the "do it anyway" statements made famous by Mother Teresa. I recommend you look them up.

The human body is very fragile, even the very healthiest ones. I will exercise anyway.

When I tell the truth, others might try to take advantage of me. I will tell the truth anyway.

Teaching my kids about the reality of drugs, gangs, guns and hate will be difficult. I will teach them anyway.

Helping others is almost never convenient, easy or even appreciated. I will try to help others anway.

(Special thanks to my Grandmother Baggett for her email that inspired the "helping others" statement)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The day after yesterday

In some ways today was harder than yesterday, because there were less distractions. My adrenaline rush was long gone, Samantha's BD was over and I couldn't really muster up the motivation to dig into office work.

Spent the morning at home with my family and then went to swimming class with them at 10:30 -- what a great time! I hadn't seen Samantha swim in a few months, and had never seen Jack in swim class. Both of them were very impressive. Samantha can backstroke more than 50ft, and Jack was diving to the bottom of the pool for rings (his teacher helped the bouyant little guy get to the bottom).

Sleeping was difficult last night. If it's tough again tonight, I've agreed to see a doc and maybe get a prescription for a sleep aid for a few nights. Not my style but two close friends have recommended it, so I'm trying to be a good listener.

Update on Julian events

  1. Tonight police tracked down the car of the suspected shooters in the drive-by -- it was parked in an apartment complex southwest of Houston. The car was not reported stolen and detectives have solid information on the vehicle's driver and passenger. Hopefully it's just a matter of time before they are apprehended, or turn themselves in.
  2. I was able to attend a vigil for Julian tonight, held at the scene of the shooting. At first the high school principal spotted me, shook my hand and asked me if he could do anything for me. I just asked to be informed of viewing and funeral plans so I could attend and honor/remember Julian.
  3. For a while I didn't see anyone I recognized at the vigil, but then Julian's family arrived 15 minutes late. Or maybe it was more planned that that since they were escorted by Quanell X, a local "activist" with former ties to the nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers. Basically he follows the cameras around Houston and looks for photo opportunities. He led a good prayer, though, and then got himself and his posse out of the way so Julian's father could speak to the press.
  4. Yes, the media was there... lots of cameras. More on that in a minute.
  5. After Mr. Ruiz finished his heartfelt statement, a young girl at his side spotted me and pointed me out, asking me to come to them. I did, and finally got to meet Julian's family (father, mother, aunt, brother and sister). We hugged and cried and I answered a few of their questions.
  6. One unresolved issue for them was the exact location of the shooting/death. I realized that of the four witnesses, only one had come to the vigil and she seemed distant. These kids are only teenagers and I should have guessed that it would be too much for them to come back only one day after what they'd seen. Anyway, that meant I was the only person there who knew exactly where Julian's body was. I escorted the family through the crowd to the exact spot, and Mr. Ruiz laid down a bouquet there. It was followed up with other flowers and surrounded by a circle of candles.
  7. Congressman Al Green was there and gave me his card. I'm not sure why.
  8. I gave my phone number to Mr. Ruiz because he wanted to stay in touch. I'm happy to answer questions and help give him comfort/closure about what happened, but I'm not interested in lawsuits. This isn't a cynical thought -- it's realistic when Quanell X is in the mix, trust me. At one point Quanell asked me about the amubulance response, because he'd heard it took way too long to get there. Puh-leeze. Can we just grieve in peace. He'll disappear when the cameras do.
  9. Speaking of cameras, yes, they cornered me and asked me some questions. I went ahead and answered because it wasn't detailed information about the shooting. Still, I was very thankful to watch the news tonight and discover that not a single one of the five local stations aired my comments. Mr. Ruiz deserved to be heard as he lamented the loss of his youngest son.
  10. All that remains is to talk to Mr. Ruiz and his family at some point, and attend the funeral.

Burning questions

Here are some things that have floated through my head today:

If I had to do it over again, would I do anything differently?

I'm relieved to answer this with a resounding "NO". I found out tonight that I literally missed the shooting by less than 10 seconds. The witness said I was on the scene right when Julian hit the ground. If I had known that it was a shooting then I would have looked around more, but I thought it was probably a drug overdose, seizure or just a case of fainting. My focus was on Julian, not nearby cars. Even though the car was surely in sight if I would've turned my head, I had no way to know that so there are no regrets.

How did my shirt get blood on it?

This question has bothered me, and I will probably never have the answer. Like I've said before, there was very little blood on Julian, and it was on his stomach, which I never touched. The chest wound I found had no blood whatsoever. Still, when it was all over and I was having coffee with my father-in-law, he saw the blood on my collar and shoulder. I have no idea how it got there. He graciously took the shirt to his house to wash so that Jamie would not have to see it or wash it herself.

Who is Quanell X?

This guy has been linked to many interesting organizations and has been quoted saying completely outrageous things. Yet I still don't find him dangerous because none of his promises and threats ever have any real follow-through. He seems to lose interest or funding after a while and follow the cameras to the next event. In the last few weeks he spoke at a school district meeting and jumped to the "aid" of a man tasered by a police officer. Of course the man was black and the cop was white. If it was the other way around then Quanell would never involve himself. If you are looking for some entertainment, you should go the website of the New Black Panthers and read their goals. Among them are the demands for financial reparations, the release of all black prisoners in jail, and funding to build black communities. It's some of the most racist stuff I've ever seen.

Bottom line

I will not be used for any type of racial agenda or lawsuit. I'm not a white guy who tried to save a hispanic kid in a black neighborhood. I'm just a guy who tried to do a good thing for another child of God. It didn't work, but I tried.

One woman told me tonight that "people don't just go around helping strangers like that around here." I looked her right in the eyes and said, "Maybe they'll start now." I can't control them, but as for me and my family, we serve God and our fellow man.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Life and death in one day

Today was Samantha's 4th birthday, which we have been anticipating for quite some time. Last night she was hopping up and down, repeatedly yelling, "ICANTWAITTOBEFOUR!!!!" My plan for the day was to go to work, leave a little early, get a good workout at the gym and head home in time to meet the family for a birthday dinner at Samantha's favorite restaurant (Escalante's). Jamie planned on taking Samantha to school at 9:30, then running errands with Jack during the day until Sam got out at 2:30.

I left the house at 8:40 this morning. Approximately 30 seconds later the daily agenda was totally changed. I'm processing this as I type, so please forgive me if it's too long or too scattered. As usual, though, I'll try to put some structure around it.

Part 1 -- Chronologic events from inside my head

At 8:40 I approached the corner of Burdine and Dryad, an intersection that borders Westbury High School, less than two blocks from my house. As I was about to turn left, I saw a boy lying in the street to my right, with a few friends around him crying and talking on cell phones. I hit "Mute" on my laptop computer (was listening to a sermon), put the car in reverse, parked on the curb and called 911.

First thought -- "He passed out, had a seizure, or overdosed on drugs."

The 911 operator asked me what dispatch I needed, and I said, "Ambulance". They transferred my call and I gave my location while walking across the street. There were two girls and two boys around the boy on the ground. All five of them looked to be about 16 years old, and I could tell that whatever happened, I had only missed it by a few seconds. This thing had just started. As I walked up to them, I noticed two things about the boy. First, he had a strange tattoo on his right hip/oblique (visible because his shirt was hiked up a few inches, and he wore low-hanging jeans). Second, he had a small pool of blood, perhaps 1tbsp, in his belly button.

Second thought -- "He was hit by a car and is bleeding internally."

By now I've been on the phone about 30 seconds and am speaking to the four teenagers. I tell them I know CPR and they back away, glad to let someone else be in charge. That's when I get a sudden realization of the difference between 16 years old and 30 years old. They're talking on their cell phones to friends and family, not to emergency personnel. I'm the only one calling this in to 911, and I'm the only adult on the scene. A few other students are gathering around, but they're staying back.

As I kneel down I realize the boy isn't breathing. I ask the teens if he was hit, and they say, "yes". I can tell by their voices they're super-scared and probably didn't even hear my question. I look again at the pool of blood but it doesn't appear to be growing. That's good. I need to get this kid breathing and get his heart pumping until the ambulance/EMT arrives. That shouldn't be long; there's a fire station less than 1/2 mile away.

I hear that the boy's name is Julian, and I grab his face gently to pull it towards me and check his mouth. Then I see his eyes and see that he's already gone. Just gone. There's nothing there. It wasn't even sad -- it was like looking at a shoe, a rock or some other non-living thing. I doubt I will ever forget that face.

I look again at his mouth and don't see any blood. But his lips are so pale. So pale and dry. How could that happen so fast? Why is he already gone? This whole time I've been pinching the cell phone between my shoulder and ear so I could use both hands. I talked the 911 dispatch through everything I was doing.

Time to start chest compressions. I lift his black shirt up to find his sternum and get my hand in the correct position for CPR. That's when I finally saw the hole. A tiny, perfectly round hole about one inch below the sternum. If you gave me a magic marker and five minutes I couldn't draw a hole any more in the center of his chest.

Final thought/realization -- "This boy's been shot. It's over. He's gone."

I tell the dispatcher that there's a bullet hole in chest. No blood. I can see right down into his chest, but no blood came out. And there's a pool of blood in his belly button, but no trail down from the chest wound. Where'd the belly blood come from? No matter, I start chest compressions anyway. After about 5 seconds, the fire truck arrived and they immediately told me and everyone else to back away from the body. This pissed me off because they didn't even start CPR for another few minutes. Not that it would have made a difference anyway.

The whole story I recounted took approximately two minutes to live. I was at the crime scene for nearly three hours more. The next section will be some memory flashes from those three hours.

Part 2 -- Randon memory flashes from the rest of the morning

  1. Julian is holding an iPod in his hand, wires and earbuds splayed out on the ground. One of the other boys takes it from him and gives it to another boy. There's nothing sinister or selfish about the act -- it looks more like, "here, this is a piece of our friend and we should have it before they take him away." It wouldn't surprise me if the boy keeps it his whole life but never turns it on.
  2. The EMTs put on gloves and start CPR, but it's just for show. I'm no expert but this is obvious even to me.
  3. I call Jamie and tell her what happened. I hold it together OK, but need to keep the call short. As long as I stay in the moment I seem perfectly composed and objective. My mom has always been the same way in crises, and this is a trait I'm certainly grateful to inherit.
  4. A huge black guy shows up on the scene. Black pants, tan shirt, tie, and a linebacker body. This guy is in. Charge. No doubt about it. He tells all the bystanders to get out of there, and go to school/home/wherever. Except the few witnesses and me. I never do figure out this guy's title/authority.
  5. The high school principal shows up, looking sharp in a tie and shiny shoes. He looks sorta like Tommy Davidson, the comedian. I can't imagine what he's going to go through today. What a challenge -- this high school has over 2,000 students. He is constantly talking on a Blackberry/phone combo that is leap years beyond my technology understanding.
  6. The ambulance arrives and the emergency team discusses which hospital to take Julian to. It's clear that they're only selecting the hospital that will call the official time of deaath. "Official" time of death... what a weird concept. I saw Julian at 8:40, and I'm guessing that his time of death was around 8:39:30. Note: Ben Taub Hospital pronounced Julian Ruiz dead at 9:10 a.m.
  7. Julian is finally driven away. Weird... not a drop of blood on the street. That makes sense, though, because the bullet hole was so small it had to be a .22. And that caliber wouldn't penetrate all the way through and leave an exit wound.
  8. One of the girls/witnesses, a friend of Julian's, comes up to me to thank me for what I did. I try to reply with something perfect but just blurt out, "You're welcome... I'm so sorry." For the first and only time all day, I get really choked up. Julian isn't sad to me because he's gone, and there's no pain there. But his friends are in terrible pain, and this gets to me.
  9. I've been told to stay until the homicide detectives can ask me some questions. They won't be there for another hour or so. When people get stressed they go to their comfort zone. My comfort zone is "intellectual curiosity", so I naturally start watching the building swarm of officers, emergency personnel and media to see how these things get processed and handled.
  10. My father-in-law calls to tell me he will be there soon (he's a chaplain and lives three doors down from us). It will be nice to have a familiar face there. Well, some of the news reporters are familiar faces, but that doesn't exactly give me comfort. I'm not going anywhere near them.
  11. A street-clothed cop comes onto the scene. He walks up near the former location of the body and says, "It wasn't Julian, was it?". He looks at me and I nod yes. He gets angry/frustrated and starts talking to the other officers for more information. It becomes evident that this guy spends a lot of time with these high school kids and knows them all by name. He's even given Julian a lot of advice on life and gangs. Julian didn't listen. I find it very encouraging to see a semi-undercover cop so involved with these kids.
  12. I look at the girls' faces. They're listening now -- this is changing them. The boys seem detached, maybe angry? Not a vengeful anger, though. They look too weak for that (this isn't a slam on them, just the truth).
  13. I overhear one of the boys tell an officer that there were two shots fired. That explains the pool of blood in his belly button... that's where the other bullet hit.
  14. An officer is talking to the Houston school district superintendent, and pulls out an awesome flash card with a gang symbol index. They start comparing the pictures to some of the graffiti in the area.
  15. My father-in-law arrives and stands outside the yellow police tape. I talk to him for a minute, but the reporters and cameramen start coming over to me, so I walk back to the other side of the crime scene.
  16. Eight kids get escorted out of school and brought over to the crime scene. All of them are alleged witnesses to the shooting, but went to class anyway. I also find out that my 911 call was the only one placed. WHAT?!?!? At least 12 witnesses, most of them on cell phones, but none of them call it in? I know they're just kids, but get a freakin' clue. Nobody should be allowed to use a cell phone unless they take an oath to use it to help people in a crisis by calling 911. If they can use the cell in a car while driving, eating and applying makeup, they can use it to save a life.
  17. I can hear that the witnesses have some good info. I see the suspect's name, his car's description and a drawing of his wheel rims in an officer's notepad.
  18. BBICG (Big Black In Charge Guy) yells at an officer who was talking on his radio about the scene. "Gimme fuckin' radio silence!", he says. They comply. Heck, I don't even have a radio but I almost said, "Yessir!".
  19. The homicide detectives show up on the scene, and everything changes. Everbody turns it up a notch, and I hear one officer say, "Now the real work starts." I realize that the past hour was a preparation to give these two detectives all the info they need to capture the suspect and build a case.
  20. It is HOT out here! The day ends up setting a record high of 84 degrees.
  21. The detectives hilariously fit the Hollywood sterotype. Seriously, they look like a 1980s version of a detective. Really bad suits, dumb haircuts, one guy wearing sunglasses. I'm hoping looks are deceiving and that these guys are actually sharp investigators.
  22. I've given my story to a couple of the officers on scene, and made some friends in the process. I ask about the "no blood" chest wound and they say that is rare. Mostly they see head wounds, though, which always bleed a lot. My father-in-law guesses that the chest shot clipped some artery and Julian bled out internally while laying on his back.
  23. After talking to one of the detectives, he decides that I don't need to go downtown for processing since I didn't witness anything. I'm glad to finally leave.
  24. My father-in-law and I walk to my car; we're gonna get some coffee and talk. Neither of us drinks coffee, but that is a seemingly insignificant detail. A few of the camermen follow me and ask me to talk to them, but I say, "No thanks".
  25. In the car, he asks me how this fits into all my recent wrestlings with faith and God. I explain for a few minutes that it all fits perfectly, and my faith is stronger than ever, although dramatically changed from any other time in my life. Another topic for a future blog post.

Final note: The story so far is that Julian was shot because he refused to join a gang.

Part 3 -- Picture time

Below are two pictures. The first is an untouched one from a local news station. The second one has my notes.

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  1. A civilian lady who seemed to work in some type of security role on campus. She tried to comfort the kids several times but was very emotional herself.
  2. Very close friend of Julian. I'm guessing she was his girlfriend. There from the moment I arrived.
  3. Another friend, also there the whole time. She's the one who thanked me.
  4. Friend of Julian. Had the most detailed information for police. He's the one who grabbed the iPod and handed it to another guy.
  5. Principal of Westbury High School, mentioned in point #5 above.
  6. The street-clothed cop mentioned in point # 11 above.
  7. Me.
  8. Where Julian died.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

And now for something really different

We ate dinner at Jamie's parents' house tonight. It was delicious, and salad was served with the meal.

"Wow", you say. "Great story, Michael." But wait, it gets better.

Served with the salad was Newman's own salad dressing, Light Honey Mustard flavor. I happened to look at the back of the bottle to check out how "light" it really was. What I found, just above the nutritional breakdown, was this beautiful little blurb of marketing genius. This is what it said, word-for-word:

The Great Salad Dressing Baloon Race Across The Boot of Italy. An armada of baloons loaded with Light Honey Mustard. The starters gun -
Bazoombah! They all rise majestically into the air. Newman's Own Balloon, with fewer calories, more taste, and secretly propelled by charity, flies faster than Kraft and further than Wishbone. First across. First on the ground. El Piloto quaffs much quaffs of Newman's Own Light Honey Mustard in victory. A medium light starlet, daughter of Butch Cassidini, named Bitch Cassidini, leaps into the balloon basket, kisses Piloto, her lips smeared with Newman's Own Light, she murmers, "You taste of Sicily, of Vesuvius, of Naples, baby," and patting his fanny she whispers, "and no fat".

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

An introspective sojourn

Been away for quite a while. I'm not really sure if I'll ever share details of what has transpired over the past few months, but here's a summary:

There were some things in me that needed to die. Not just get squashed down to fester, nor ignored until a later date... these things needed to be assasinated. Things like legalism and pride. Spiritual precariousness and self-righteousness, somehow feeding each other in a vicious cycle. All needed to go. And for now they have, at least at some level.

These things can of course rise again, like an evil phoenix, and that's OK. I'm a flawed human being and will do my best to fight the battles laid out for me, all the while knowing that the love of God does not depend on me winning such battles.

All this to say -- I'm back and feeling fantastic! Life is good!

I have no idea what to do with this blog right now. There are always humorous family anecdotes to share, so that's an option for a weekly write-up. And of course I may have the odd ravings about funny movies or people who spit. Yet my heart is really set on the issues of faith and religion that I've been working through. And although I'm excited about that, it's not something I feel wholly comfortable sharing here, which is why the last few months have been so quiet on my end.

Bottom line: My family is healthy, our crises have cleared and I plan to get this blog going again. Nice to be back!