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Crime

Cop Shares His Heartbreak over Another Murdered Child

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Huy Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris; Courtesy Johnson Family

Watching a fellow police officer enter the hospital holding a 6-year-old boy who’d been fatally struck in the chest during an unsolved shooting in a St. Louis park, Don Re thought of his own 6-year-old son.

“For that split second, the officer looked like any dad grabbing his sleeping boy from the car and putting the boy’s head on his shoulder to carry him inside to sleep comfortably in his own bed,” Re, a 16-year veteran of the city’s police department, wrote on his personal blog.

“For that split second, it was a sweet moment.”

When violence breaks out, the stories of the victims take center stage. And so Marcus Johnson’s death is conveyed with heartbreaking detail: A verbal altercation after an apparent traffic dispute led to gunfire that hit Marcus inside the family’s minivan, on an otherwise happy outing just one week after he had undergone surgery for a congenital heart condition.

But there is also the perspective of those who’ve witnessed much, and whose voices are less often heard – the officers who, as Re put it, see “another child lost to violence.”

Re, a 42-year-old father of three, does not always write about work on his blog. But after the hospital scene last Wednesday, and spotting the large bloodstain on his fellow officer’s shirt, and the quickly extinguished dream that young Marcus Johnson would survive his wounds, he felt compelled to share the story.

“I was shaken by it, and it was hard for me not to cry in the emergency room,” he tells PEOPLE.

When his shift ended, he went home and kissed his sleeping kids and wife, drank a few beers, wrestled with his dogs, and then sat down at his computer.

“The truth, and I think we all knew it, was that this boy would never fall asleep in his own bed again,” he wrote. “When the officer laid the boy down on the gurney and stood back upright, any wind that may have been in my sails quickly faded to nothing.

“Where the boy’s little heart had lain, so close to the officer’s own heart, was a mess that told us things would not end well.”

Says Re: “We’re touched by something we see or read, and then we log off or we put the newspaper down. We go about our lives and nothing changes.”

CrimeStoppers is seeking tips from anyone with information about the black SUV that pulled alongside the Johnson family’s minivan and opened fire, KSDK.com reports.

“Somebody out there knows something, but people are afraid to talk,” Re says. “I guess my hope is that there’s more trust between the police and the community, that people see, ‘Hey, they want to help our sons and our daughters.’ Somewhere in there is my goal.”

“It almost feels like everyone is on one side or the other, and it shouldn’t be like that,” he adds. “We’re not on different teams.”

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