Union seven six”
The call came from the
central emergency dispatch center for Skagit County, located 60 miles
north of Seattle and bordering along the Puget Sound. It is a call
that would not be answered. Union seven six; aka Deputy Ann Jackson or AJ to her friends
lay dead, cut down in cold blood by a man she had often tried to
help. No one knows exactly what happened there, but it is safe to
say that her assassin had set his mind to ambush and murder and before the day
was over five civilians also lay dead, their lives randomly,
unexpectedly, and senselessly ended.
I met Ann a couple of
times at the local Starbucks. She worked with my wife at the
Sheriff’s Office, her as a patrol deputy and my wife in
records. A nice girl, gifted with charisma, driven to excellence,
filled with compassion.
Death is a tragedy, but
it is also a part of the human experience. Not knowing her well I
was surprised at the depth of my sorrow over her untimely departure. Others I have known better have died, some even
younger, and yet the mourning in my soul went deeper than I ever
expected. In the days following I would often find my mind trying to
build an image of her last moments. Seemingly against my will my mind would construct a video image of her final struggle. It was not a picture I really
wanted to see, and I would brace myself to shaking the thoughts clear of my
I had spent several years in pastoral ministry in Skagit County. Since the pain of the incident was so far reaching I chose to make myself available to as
many people as needed. I spent several days listening to the grief
poured out by community that had been shaken to its core. I held my
wife as she cried and asked the unanswerable why? As others were falling apart I held together as an act of will. My own feelings were
pressed to the back of my mind for the right time and place.
Her hero’s sendoff was spectacular and poignant. It was attended by police of all branches from all 50 states and several provinces of Canada. It was proud but sad, but there was a sense of closure. At the end I knew that it was time for me to process, and I knew the right place.
I cast off the lines to my older Islander 32 sailboat early the following morning, the diesel making all of its predictable noise, the marina looking sleepy, its waters like
glass. I backed out of my slip, and headed for the entrance marker.
Green markers on the right, red on the left. I work my way toward
open water. Passing Saddlebag Island I raise the main sail and Genoa
to a light wind, my busy hands keeping my feelings in check. As the
sails fill I give my engine a rest, turning off the key and pulling
the shutoff switch. Passing Eliza Island and into the Straights of
Juan de Fuca I set the autopilot and check my trim as the wind picks
My boat is doing all the work now, the winds picking up and the waves lifting the boat and
dropping it in a steady and satisfying rhythm. There is nothing left
for me to do but ride and think. I find my way to the bow, my safety
harness clipped to the makeshift jack lines leading forward. I set
there on the bow and watch the horizon rise and fall over the pulpit.
I brace my right foot against the toe rail as the boat heels over
and charges windward. My face is wet. Is it tears or is it spray?
The boat rises high and plummets downward bringing a baptism of
saltwater down on me. Its cold, but my cheeks are hot. There are
It is a strange thing
how many of us are drawn to the sea during the times of our agonies
as well as our ecstasies. I go to sea to reconnect with myself, with
nature, and with God. I come and I go, having never really heard
answers to my many questions, but I do come back with peace. Having
been here before I instinctively know that healing awaits out here.
How people who do not sail deal with their pain I cannot imagine.
How did I before I was given this wonderful gift of sailing? I
shudder to think. There was nothing spoken; not softly to my spirit
nor out loud to my ears to help me deal, no tangible message of “its
going to be ok”. There is only the constant of the sea and the wind, the
action of the boat limited as well as lifted by the laws created by
The Creator, laws that are far beyond my comprehension.
We will all miss Ann
and the others. We all grieve the shattering of the illusion of
peace in our little valley in the Northwest. And life will go on and
time will heal, and the sea will be there awaiting those who go there
for solace and healing.
The sun was setting as
I tied my boat back in her slip, and walked away into the cool fall
evening to get to my car. I am somber, but better. There is no
understanding, only acceptance. I break and cry once more as in my
mind I hear the sound of the Cascade dispatch radio call sent out
over the loudspeaker at Ann’s memorial;
“Cascade dispatch, Union seventy six.”
“Union seventy six out of service;
but not forgotten”