Local Crime Reporter Reflects on PTSD

I've been in close contact with more carnage on the streets of Houston than I ever saw in the Army - including my time leading a platoon of soldiers in combat in Iraq.

In more than 15 years covering crime in America's fourth-largest city, I've seen bodies shot to pieces, torn apart in high-speed crashes and charred in house fires. I've been with drowning victims who were pulled from backyard swimming pools and seen bodies discovered only after the decay caused neighbors to call police because of the stench.

Men and woman. Adults and children.

I've been at crime scenes that became international news events, such as the case of Andrea Yates who drowned her five children in the bathtub of her suburban home in June 2001. I've also been there when the victims were little more than a statistic in a homicide report.

I've been asked, more than once, how many dead bodies I've seen. My standard reply is that I stopped counting when it got to "hundreds and hundreds." (Mind you, I'm not talking about a beloved elder relative, lying in peaceful repose in a funeral casket. I'm talking about people who fling themselves off freeway overpasses or corpses left in the woods that became bloated and putrified over several weeks.)

If the person's death was the result of foul play or a motor vehicle crash, I was their witness. Maybe it would only be a couple of lines in the paper but it was important to me, in some sort of cosmic sense, to record their passing. They were here on this earth and I was with them.

At times, a week or more could pass without a homicide on my watch or I could spend the shift dashing from murder to murder to murder.

This "Butcher's Bill" kept adding up over the days and weeks and months and years.

It's not uncommon for people like cops and firefighters (and yes, even reporters) to build walls around themselves to keep the darkness at bay. Sometimes you have to add a second or third layer of stone.

Just over a year ago, it broke through the walls I had erected.

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