NAVAJO COUNTY ‑ Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper Keith Anderson said Thursday, July 4, 2019 started out as a normal day for him.
He said he had a few of the typical calls and traffic stops, but nothing special until a call came in that afternoon about a man climbing in and out of trees, running in and out of traffic near Bison Ranch in Overgaard, then again near the Wild Women bar while yelling and screaming incoherently at people, climbing over a large statue of a horse, and then running into the woods.
The man was clearly distraught about something and needed help, thought Anderson.
He said he was given some minor idea of where the man ran into the woods by witnesses and followed their lead until he came to a residence where he found a suicidal man hanging by a belt from a tree that was right next to the porch of a rental cabin where he was staying with his girlfriend.
Anderson said the girlfriend was hysterical, screaming at her boyfriend not to kill himself and that he did not have to do this.
Anderson used a chair on the porch deck to reach high enough to cut the belt getting the man down.
“He was blue when I got there,” Anderson said. “I thought he had probably been up there for around five minutes or so. But I found out later that he could have been up there for perhaps as long as 15 minutes.”
“He wasn’t breathing and didn’t show signs of life, so I rolled him over and started CPR and he started breathing again,” Anderson said. “But he stopped breathing and had blood coming from his mouth, so I performed CPR on him again and he started breathing again.”
Thankfully, the man kept breathing.
“It really shook me up,” Anderson said.
Not that long afterward though, Anderson got another call and it was back to work as usual. No time to take it all in.
Anderson said that for days afterward he did not sleep well at night. Images of the man hanging from that tree filled his head.
Anderson said he was sure from all of his experience that the man he cut down from that tree would have cognition issues at best and perhaps even be brain dead at worst, if he even survived. He said that although he saved the man’s life, the idea that he may not have done it in time for him to fully recover, weighed heavy on him.
But he had a public to serve.
So on Saturday, July 6 he worked the parade and fireworks show for the Fourth of July celebration in Heber-Overgaard and then went home as usual.
“That Sunday was my birthday and I was working in my yard when my chief called me and asked if I was sitting down,” Anderson said adding that he prepared himself for the worst. “Then he told me the man was going to be released from the hospital with no problems. I was ecstatic.”
Both Trooper Anderson and his chief, DPS Sgt. Evan Larson, said they are like anyone else as far as suffering the same emotions and aftermath of traumatic event.
Larson agreed that the big difference is in the oath law enforcement takes to serve and protect the public. Members of law enforcement live by the oath they take and that helps them deal with things the average citizen would find unthinkable.
“We are human,” Larson said. ”We all have baggage. But as members of law enforcement we take it (their jobs) as it comes. But I think part of how we keep doing what we do is that in order to be a good law enforcement officer, you have to be a good person. You have to have a good heart.”
He said that good troopers, deputies, and officers, get back what they put into their jobs, just like people get back what they put into life.
Anderson noted one incident in particular in Show Low some time ago that he was involved in that ended up being what is known as suicide by cop. That is when someone commits a crime or crimes and puts police in the position of having to kill them, with that being their intent.
Anderson said he has taken a vow to try and keep any member of law enforcement from going through what he experienced by helping train them in how to handle calls involving mental health like the suicidal man he saved on July 4.
Larson and Anderson said they also, like most everyone else, rely on the strength of family, friends, and their community to get through it all. Larson made a point of how much the support of the local community means to them and how often they see it come genuinely from local residents.
So the next time it seems like a member of law enforcement might behave a little too official, or maybe they seem a little too unforgiving when someone has done something that might put their life or someone else’s in danger, just remember what they see and do on a daily basis and that their goal is to send everyone home, or even to jail, alive at the end of the day.