A life saver's fall from grace
I was shocked and saddened earlier this week when I learned that Trooper George Duncan of the Wayland post of the Michigan State Police had died at the age of 44.
I was shocked and saddened when I learned later in the week that his death was the result of a suicide.
I was shocked and saddened when I learned Mr. Duncan would not receive the same kind of public honors and pageantry afforded other police officers who die — simply because he took his own life.
This unpleasant story that authorities didn’t want to tell brings to light the differences between how we deal with those the media so often extols as “heroes” and those who are flawed enough to have died in a politically incorrect manner.
I have no idea what personal demons Mr. Duncan faced that finally caused him to take his own life. None of us walked in his shoes. None of us felt his pain.
I never personally knew Mr. Duncan. All I ever learned about him was after reporting that he and an Otsego firefighter only last month saved the life of a man in cardiac arrest, almost in the same way it’s shown heroically on television. Mr. Duncan also was credited in March with pulling a 350-pound man from danger in a car to save his life as well.
So Trooper George Duncan was a life saver. But not for his own.
I hear tell he was skilled enough to be an advanced accident investigator, a commercial vehicle carrier enforcement officer and a firearms instructor. I hear tell he also was involved with the Explorers program, sponsored by the Michigan State Police, which helps young people learn about careers in law enforcement.
I should have known something was amiss when I learned Tuesday morning of Mr. Duncan’s death. I was told that if I wanted more information to call the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, which was handling the press release, but the officer did not respond to my inquiry.
They didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps they thought it was a tragic private matter, so the public didn’t need to know. After all, how can a police officer take his own life? Isn’t he above the rest of us, just as the media portrays so many of them?
I hear tell that recent statistics show more of our troops in Afghanistan die of their own hands than by enemy action. Perhaps when these troubled soldiers’ bodies come home they don’t get all that gaudy media spectacle that was performed for other soldiers or Kalamazoo officer Eric Zapata and Grand Rapids officer Trevor Slot, both of whom died in the line of duty. Indeed, they were heroes, but the local media really overdid the whole affair, turning tragedies into spectacles.
But officers don’t even have to die in the line of duty to get this media hype. Andrew Rusticus of Dorr died of cardiac arrest while jogging and Sgt. Scott Tatrow tragically was taken by an e. coli infection. Both of their funerals were very public spectacles that were marred by the media feeding frenzy, exploiting the grief the officers’ family, friends and colleagues must have felt.
The media, while doing this, elevates soldiers, police officers and firefighters into an unrealistic stratosphere. All of these fine men willingly decided to take on the challenge of protecting and serving the public. I don’t think they did so because they wanted all the attention they might get when they die. They did so because they wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives, they wanted to do something that matters.
I have had good friends who have committed suicide, and I have been left with questions as to why. While some may call the act cowardice, or wrongly choosing a permanent solution to a temporary problem, I don’t condemn them, I only miss them and wish they hadn’t taken such drastic measures to end their pain.
Neither do I condemn fallen Michigan State Police Trooper George Duncan, a life saver, and from some accounts, a conscientious public servant.
If the only difference between Trooper George Duncan and officers Rusticus, Tatrow, Slot and Zapata is the manner in which they died, then I believe deeply that there is an injustice in not somehow honoring this police officer who demonstrably saved lives. Isn’t that exactly what a hero is?
We could say solemnly in the public square that we condemn his final act, but we appreciate his good deeds and service to the public while he walked on this planet.