Kirk Lawless was fired from his job on the force after shooting and killing a robbery suspect. He now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress and says he ‘relives the shooting every day.’ Lawless was awarded the Crusade Against Crimes Medal of Valor, the highest honor in St. Louis law enforcement. This is his story.
A Letter To The Man I Killed
Some people know this about me; others do not. I have killed a man. This is not a confession; it is just fact. I have nothing to hide about it. I am not ashamed of the fact. I have no regrets about doing it. I was doing my job. At the time of your death, I was a police officer. And, you tried your best to kill me…
I am the police officer that killed you.
I hope you were not long in your suffering, but as I am aware, during the short time I spent with you listening to your cries of agony and for mercy; the curses you spat at me, I endured as you bled to death. I endured.
I hope you had a chance to reconcile with our Creator before you went, and that angels bore you away to a better place. I would have prayed with you had there been time, but there was not, so I could only pray for you. Occasionally I still do.
People who choose a path like the one you chose, probably don’t weigh into the equation the most dreadful consequences of their actions. I weighed it into my own equation every day as a police officer.
I have experience with death. In fact, death and I are quite intimate with each other. You have your death. I died a physical death once, albeit briefly, but I was brought back. I wondered for what, a specific event? Your death?
I never really feared a physical death. When I came back, that lack of fear was reaffirmed. I suppose that made me infinitely more dangerous as an adversary, more so than someone merely chest thumping with a “nothing to lose” attitude, at the risk of sounding cliché.
I took your life; I get that. But still, you took something from me. You changed me forever.
I have been a hunter for most of my life, including a hunter of armed men. What Hemingway said about the hunting of armed men and liking it, is true. You never really care for anything else thereafter. I hunt animals still, but often do not pull the trigger. Perhaps in time this will change.
Killing a man is nothing to take lightly. It changes you. It changes what people think about you. You aren’t the same person anymore. Yet still, I love life. I revel in the beauty of it, both the simplicities and intricacies of it. I appreciate life. This solitary act does not define me; it doesn’t even scratch the surface.
People, who do not “know,” talk about it as though it was no big deal, but I will tell you it is a “huge” deal.
“Get over it!”
“Put it behind you!”
“Try to not think about it!”
All great thoughts. Were it that easy, who wouldn’t? It does not work that way.
Perhaps people would begin to understand the gravity of it, were they to see a police officer choking on the barrel of their own gun, trying to turn “it” off. Or writing about it, with the muzzle of a gun pressed against their temple. Some succumb to the haunting despair. I will not.
To the contrary, I consider “it” a visit from an old enemy. I sometimes welcome the nightmares, the gore, and the violence, to let “it” know, “it” will never get the best of me. The outcome is the same at its base. I live. Whatever attacks me does not. They fail; I survive. When I awaken from my sleep (if you can call it that) dripping slick with sweat, heart pounding, I am still alive!
I get to relive “our” event everyday since it happened, not because I want to; I have no choice, it just comes calling whenever it feels like it, no warning; it intrudes, multiple times a day. What triggers it? Everything and nothing at all.
I’m always expecting the unexpected, always aware. I have a heightened tactical plan to kill everyone I meet. Only a police officer or soldier would understand that. It is not paranoia. I am “situationally aware,” even in my dreams. Realistically there is always a target on my back, but that’s what I signed up for when I pinned on the badge. This is just part of what it is like to be a police officer.
Walt Whitman said, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” But, if you haven’t done it, the things I have done; your opinion, armchair quarterbacking, and constant shuffling of the “What if?” deck, really doesn’t mean s#*t to me.
Still, my adversary, I admire your tenacity. It was a fair fight for the most part, well you cheated a little, but still, it was a fight to the death, your death. But I don’t hate you, truth be told, I just feel sorry for you.
Oddly, I have not shed one tear for you, and I have cried many times during my career. My lamentation over the loss of my favorite bird dog was loud, tearful, and long lasting. Maybe because he was a true friend, and you, you were just what you were, my enemy, and that changes everything.
You made fatal mistakes, young and invincible, tough guy full of bravado whether false or real. You had choices; you made poor ones. I was already committed when I climbed out of my patrol car and stood on the asphalt. Perhaps you just hesitated, or maybe, were just too slow? The latter is obvious fact. Everything else is mere speculation.
I would like to thank you for some things, like looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life, and for cutting my career thirteen years short.
Thanks for helping me see that my department was totally incapable of handling the shooting investigation and subsequent homicide investigation. It perfectly illustrated the creed “A false friend is more dangerous than a known enemy.” It was a real eye opener, after many years on the job to realize that incompetent supervisors and politicians have no hesitation to hang a target on the back of a good police officer for doing his job and doing it well.
I wonder how many other officers have had their civil rights violated by their own departments during post-shooting investigation fiascos? Police officers have rights too. Please keep that in mind.
While my career was cut short, I am thankful I would never again (at that agency) have to endure shoddy procedures and listen about my “other options” in a justified deadly-force scenario, from cowards and idiots. Nor will I have to worry about being returned to the front lines as soon as possible without a chance to decompress, nor worry that a modicum of protection would be afforded my family, who has suffered greatly at their hands.
I remember visiting the scene of the shooting on the first anniversary of your death, not knowing what I would find there. What I found there was absolutely nothing to mark the occasion. There was however, a small token of remembrance there when I left. That struck me as very sad; the only one who bothered to pay their respects was the one who put you in the ground.
Were I able, I would sit down and share a drink with you and a fine meal, I would do so before I broke bread with some of my so called “brothers” or the “politicians” from my town, who are so quick to feed us to the wolves. I mean that with the very fiber of my soul. You were a worthy adversary.
I thank you for bringing a “real” gun to a “real” gunfight. I thank you for turning your attention to me and leaving the younger officer alone. I thank you for the baggage that keeps me in a perpetual state of being physically and mentally worn out.
Perhaps I’ll see you on the other side. That is, if you reconciled, and the angels came to take you away to Heaven that early summer morning. If so, maybe we can have that drink and share a meal?
If not, you made another bad choice, infinitely worse than the first, and I will never see you again.
The police officer that killed you
Jay Wiley from the Law Enforcement Today Radio Show also had the pleasure of interviewing Kirk. You can listen to the podcast here.