Matt had the RIT and had just shaken my foot waking me up when I heard this howling. Not a coyote, not a wolf, I never heard a howling like that before. Then Brian comes running up while Matt is telling me to get up, there is some kind of problem, and they need me. Brian starts telling me something, making no sense, but I see tears coming down his cheeks. As I look past Brian Jim is running full on towards us.
I told Matt to get all Ops and get them in position. I held my hand up to quiet Brian, I couldn’t understand him anyways. The howling is still going on and I am hoping that Jim can make some sense of it all. I remember thinking that I wish I had an ice-cold Pepsi to help jolt me awake.
The only thing Jim is saying is “Hurry, come quick!” All Ops folks sleep fully dressed. So all I had to do was jump up and start moving. Brian is tugging at me still mumbling and crying. I broke off his grip and hollered for the Medical Unit to stand-by. Kim and Daniel had already heard the commotion and were pulling on boots. Susie was already headed over to watch their kids.
We crossed the distance to Jones’ area of camp and there is Bear howling, sitting right next to one of the kids who was laying on the ground. His wife was doing CPR on the kid. As I got there I saw it was the 8yo girl. As soon as I saw her face, that color, that stillness, I knew she was dead. A couple seconds later Kim and Daniel were there and pushed the mom aside. Beth and Lisa showed up right behind them, no boots on, and ushered all the other kids and Nancy away.
I knew what the outcome was going to be and a look from Kim confirmed it. Daniel continued to examine her and Kim motioned me to step away to the side with her. Kim said the kid had only been dead for an hour, maybe less. She pulled out this oversized pocket notebook and started turning the pages until she got to a page that had a rough drawing of a person the on the left side and numbered notes on the right side of the page. I tried to look at it but she partially closed it and told me I really didn’t want to see it.
I grabbed it from her and opened the book. I was in no mood for games and to tell the truth I was amped up and grouchy. It was then I noticed that Jim was standing beside me and whispered to calm down. I was raging inside as I looked over the notes…this uncontrollable rage was building up inside. I had never been so irate in my entire life. I had tears rolling down my cheeks, my hands were shaking, I was ready to kill. I stared at the drawing and there were these penciled in marks all over. Then I started to read the notes again. Kim was still standing there.
With no emotion I told her to explain, in detail, all this to me. She told me that each of the marks was a bruise, cut, burn, or tear to her body. The notes to the right explained each. The marks spoke of incredible cruelty that no person, let alone a child, should ever have to endure. I asked Kim why she died. Kim told me bluntly that she really didn’t know. She guessed it had to be some internal damage that she had no way of knowing about. She thought Daniel might find something but doubted it. Kim lowered her eyes and said she thinks the girl just gave up and died. None of the injuries that she could see were life-threatening, not even when combined. But, she said when she had talked to the child she had sounded as if she just didn’t want to be here anymore. Kim said again…she just gave up.
I called Annie over (my team had been standing-by a close distance off) and asked her if they would please find a decent place to bury her. She just nodded and walked off. She was crying. We just can’t handle this kind of crap. It is horrific, something none of us are used to. I mean I’ve seen my share as a firefighter over the years…but nothing like this…and day in and day out.
I turned to Jim and tilted my head telling him I wanted to talk to him away from the crowd. He and I talked briefing that this could have a devastating effect on the group. As bad it was that the child was dead, it could make it far worse for the rest of the group…maybe even deadly. He agreed and we had to figure out what to do next. Jim volunteered to turn the church service into a memorial service. And asked if afterwards it would be a good idea to have a Command Staff meeting. I agreed. Then he grabbed both of my hands with his. Standing there he said a prayer. Something touched me at that point. I felt a physical change come over me. I still felt sadness and a sense of loss. But, the rage and anger was gone. I thank him and walked away. We had a child to bury.
I don’t remember the last time I had a Pepsi…cold or otherwise. I need a Pepsi. I want to find a Pepsi somewhere. Where would someone hide a Pepsi nowadays?
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