You don’t expect to run into much trouble at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. The Saturday night drunks, fights and domestic disturbances have been dealt with, accidents investigated and any OUI arrests either bailed or sleeping it off in a holding cell. No, for a midnight shift officer, the minutes are winding down to when he or she can sign off, punch out and go home to see the family and catch a few hours sleep. But policing is often unpredictable and occasionally very dangerous work. This seems to hold true no matter the locale of the job; a big city, a small town, or anywhere in between.
Perhaps these thoughts were foremost in the mind of Weymouth Police Officer Michael Chesna as he responded to his last call on Sunday July 15th. In those moments following a report of an erratic operator near a local hospital and Officer Chesna’s encounter with a savage murderer whose name will never appear in this space, there was certainly time for both to consider their actions and prepare themselves as best they could for what would come next. That’s the thing. Action precedes reaction. The bad guy’s get to act, but the police can only react to what is happening in front of them. The bad guy knows what he wants to do, no matter how brutal and depraved his decision may be. The police officer can only guess and then respond in an instant. In many circumstances, an instant is just not enough time.
Officer Chesna must have known that he was in for trouble. Observing his murderer vandalize a home after crashing a car he was diving, Officer Chesna drew his pistol to defend himself and control the threat in front of him. The encounter could not have ended more tragically. The murderer somehow managed to strike Michael Chesna in the head with a rock. While Michael Chesna lay disabled on the ground, his murderer took possession of his pistol and fired ten rounds into his head and torso. Another responding officer then shot and wounded the murderer as he tried to run away. The murderer then fired an additional three rounds at a nearby home, striking and killing Mrs. Vera Adams, a widow who was sitting in her sun room, simply enjoying another Sunday morning.
Allowed to live, the murderer was taken into custody and transported to the hospital for life-saving treatment. Michael Chesna and Vera Adams were transported to the Medical Examiner for forensic autopsies. Michael Chesna, a veteran, a husband and a father, leaves behind his wife and two children. Mrs. Adams leaves behind a community of friends and family. They both leave behind a vanguard of decent, caring, law-abiding citizenry who today are shocked by this savage act of depravity.
I don’t wish to speculate on what motivated this murderer. Society has debated cause and effect since the dawning of criminal law, and we continue to do so to this day. Guns, drugs, poverty, mental illness, a breakdown in civil behavior, judicial leniency, parental neglect, violence in media and entertainment, etc., etc., ad nauseam. I am sure there are reasons aplenty for what happened; but none in my mind which justify, mitigate or excuse these acts. Sometimes things are simply as they appear to be. Murder is murder, evil, just evil.
I do know that Michael Chesna is the second Massachusetts Police Officer murdered in the line of duty this year, and the third in the last two years. Ronald Tarantino of Auburn and Sean Gannon of Yarmouth preceded him; all killed with a firearm wielded by another angry, explosive monster with a criminal record. This disturbing cluster of violence against Massachusetts Police Officers, to my experience, runs far above the norm for our state.
Our nation sees a good deal of deadly violence every day. Mass shootings, random killings and many other depraved acts fill the news. We grow weary and immune at times, preferring to look the other way as we whistle past the graveyard. It’s understandable. We are good people. Violence disturbs us. We seek certainty and meaning in our own lives, security and safety for our loved ones. Yet the truth is that two good people are dead for no good reason, and their loss robs us of our belief in a just and fair world.
Most of the cops I know and worked with have never had to fire their weapons at another person. A few close calls during their careers, perhaps, but nothing approaching what befell Ronald Tarantino, Sean Gannon or Michael Chesna. As cops, you think about this stuff constantly, and contemplate on how to avoid it happening to you. Or you just put it out of your mind and think about something else. An officer’s spouse, family and loved ones think about it too. But their fear is different as they can only guess at what their loved one might experience and encounter during an eight hour tour. It adds an odd sort of tension to a marriage and a family. It’s mostly unspoken, but as real as the elephant in the living room that no one dares mention.
Good people know that the best society is one in which the citizens can mostly police themselves. Yet wise folks also know that barbarity and inhumanity bubble just beneath the surface of our civilized world. They empower their police with the necessary authority and responsibility to act as the guard rails of lawful behavior. It is a complex task carried out by fallible human beings who do their best to fulfill their duty. Sometimes that’s hard, but bad people only seem larger when good people pull back and retreat into their own selves. The act of a good person is a thousand times greater than that of a coward. And although the guard rail of decency may have been damaged on July 15th, it was not destroyed. It’s the duty of good people everywhere to ally when tragedies like this enter our lives and remember that we are all in this together, and there are more of us than there are of them.