The ultimate tragedy in law enforcement might be when one officer accidentally kills a fellow officer in what has become known as a Blue on Blue Death.
I recently had a chance to speak with an officer who has survived one of these tragedies and his story is as inspiring as it is tragic.
How Would Your Agency Handle a Blue on Blue Death?
Gary Sommers has over 40 years service in law enforcement first with the Prince George’s Police Department and now with the Montgomery County Police Department both of which are in Maryland. It was while he was working on the Prince George’s County SWAT Team in 1988 that Gary was involved in a Blue on Blue shooting that resulted in the death of his best friend and partner, Sgt. Mark Murphy.
Gary and Mark were about to breech a door to serve a narcotics warrant when the suspect opened the door and engaged them. This was considered a high-risk warrant as the suspect(s) were believed to be armed with automatic weapons. Sgt. Murphy was the point man on the entry team and had assumed a low angle position to assist with the breech of the door while Gary working as his cover man was, right behind and, above him. When the suspect opened the door suddenly, Mark stood up to engage him and was right into the line of fire from Gary’s weapon. Mark was mortally wounded by Gary’s shots. Both Mark and Gary had 15 years on the force at the time of the shooting.
Sergeant Mark Kevin Murphy EOW 9-1-88 had served with the Prince George’s County Police Department, Maryland for approximately 10 years. He was survived by his wife and daughters.
Gary talked very candidly with me about his experiences following this shooting. Mark was his best friend and his partner on the SWAT Team and Mark’s death was devastating for Gary and his whole department. Gary said that he sunk very low but his wife and kids gave him reason to go on.
It Will Never Happen To Me!
Gary said that he and Mark had been through 350 doors together on SWAT operations and that nothing like this had ever happened before. He said that it’s easy to become too complacent and think that nothing like this will ever happen, to you but it did happen to him.
Gary acknowledged that you never really completely recover from something like this but you do find reasons to go on. He said he probably thinks of Mark every day and especially during the time of year of the anniversary of the shooting.
He also said that helping other officers in similar circumstances and training officers has given him a chance to take the tragedy and turn it into a way to help others.
When asked what made the difference for his recovery Gary said:
1. He was able to talk to someone who “had been there”.
He was able to talk to someone who “has been there” because an officer from the nearby U.S. Capitol Police had been involved in a blue on blue shooting a couple of years earlier. That officer was able to provide support and information that helped Gary work thorough his pain. The other officer encouraged Gary to attend the funeral and to be a pallbearer.
2. His teammates and department were very supportive.
His teammates and department were very supportive of him and they didn’t shut him out nor force him to retire. Instead they got him into treatment with the departmental psychologist and trusted the psychologists recommendations. One recommendation was that they move him to the training division where he could use his extensive knowledge and experience to help other officers and still feel like he had something to contribute to his profession.
3. His department had a staff psychologist.
He was able to work the the police department psychologist, who Gary trusted, and who had knowledge of the recent U.S. Capitol Police blue on blue shooting. Gary had be involved in a previous line of duty shooting with the SWAT Team and had worked with the departmental psychologist before and had learned to trust him and his recommendations.
4. His family was very supportive.
Gary said that his wife and kids were what kept him going and that even though side-effects of his shooting appeared many years later, they were able to work through them with love and faith.
5. He was able to get some comfort from the book: “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner.
The book is about Kushner’s experience as the parent of a 3 year old son who was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that would take his life at a young age. Like so many other people, who face death and tragedy, he had to ask God “Why?”. The book describes his experiences as a parent, a Rabbi and as a human being and is widely acclaimed as an excellent reference for those in the throes of tragic loss and grief.
Now as a firearms instructor for the Montgomery County Police Department, Maryland, Gary is able to share his story with other officers and coach them with the very best training in hopes that nothing like this will ever happen to them.
You can listen to our 38 minute interview here:
If you would like to listen to our 27 minute interview please click the replay button below or RIGHT CLICK HERE to download (that’s CONTROL CLICK if you use a Mac then SAVE LINK AS…) a copy of the 13 MB mp3 file.
IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS AND NEED HELP:
Call the first responder crisis hotline at Safe Call Now 1-206-459-3020
If you have been involved in a similar blue on blue situation and need to talk to someone Gary is willing to talk to you and can be reached by emailing or calling CopsAlive.com.
CLICK HERE to send an email to CopsAlive.com to be forwarded to Gary.
Gary and I met at the Concerns of Police Survivors Co-workers retreat and would highly recommend C.O.P.S. as well as the retreat for any officer who has lost a co-worker in the line of duty. Counselors from COPS are available each year at National Police Week as well as during the annual co-workers retreat held in the fall of each year. CLICK HERE to learn more about National Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.).
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I had the honor to meet Gary Sommers at the COPS Seminars during National Police Week in 1989 when he was honoring his best friend and partner for 1988 LOD.
I remember his story and as a co-worker survivor We can’t prevent what we can’t predict. Gary has been able to turn a negative into a positive. For the past 4 years he has attended the COPS “Friendly Fire” breakout session as a peer.
He also attended the COPS Co-Workers Retreat this year.
He has reached out to other officers that have gone through the horror of a Blue on Blue incident.
In order to go forward we have to look back at our incident and it helps to have a peer to companion you with your thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to go it alone. Also having Mental Health experts that can assist in the process.
I also want to thank John Marx for the professional way he conducted the audio interview. When we write or inteview an officer on a sensitive subject like the Blue on Blue incident its nice to know “Do no Harm”.