Monday, August 13, 2012

Bryan/College Station

I'm sure by now you have read about the tragic murders that happened in College Station today.  Highly respected and well-liked Constable Brian Bachmann was shot and killed while serving an eviction notice.  Another innocent bystander, Chris Northcliff, was killed and several others were shot by a 35-year-old mentally disturbed man named Thomas Caffall.

Most of you know that I grew up in Bryan/College Station, and I love that town and the people of it very dearly.  Although this type of violence is horrifying regardless of where it happens, reading about it happening in the town where I grew up makes the tragedy more intense in my mind.

In my mind, Bryan/College Station will always be the small town where I grew up.  It was where my grandparents lived.  It was where I went to church.  It was where I learned to drive.  It was where I went to high school.

All of the small and simple things that I don't think about on a daily basis happened there, and they remain intrinsically part of my psychological DNA.

Things like this don't happen in Bryan/College Station, do they?

Members of law enforcement there are treated with the respect of members of the military.  I can't remember one ever being wounded in the Line of Duty -- let alone killed.

It is a Community that will rally around the wife and family of Constable Brian Bachmann, as well it should.  It will lend its condolences to the family of Mr. Northcliff, as well.

Bryan/College Station will come together and heal -- just like it did after the Bonfire Tragedy in 1999.

One person who won't be mourned or missed in the Community will be Thomas Caffall.  Apparently his erratic behavior had long since alienated his friends and family.

Mental illness can often do that.

But Thomas Caffall, who went by the name of Tres, was part of that Community, as well.

When I was a little kid, my aunt and uncle were headed out of town for an extended period of time.  They had a black and white cocker spaniel named Rex that they asked my family to find a home for.  I was  kind of hoping my folks would let us make Rex a full-time pet, but that was not to be.  Rex was adopted by a family from my church.

For whatever random reason, I remember the day they came to pick Rex up.  The family had two young children -- a little boy and a little girl.  The boy was about four years younger than me and his name was Tres Caffall.

I remember him telling me that he was going to rename the dog "Max," which I did not approve of at all, at the time.  For some reason, I remember that Tres had a pretty significant runny nose when they came to pick up Rex/Max.  I don't know why I remember that.

But most of all, I remember that Tres seemed very happy to have a new dog.

I never really spoke to him after that.  He was much younger than me.  I saw him and his family in church from time to time.  Every once in a while, I would get an update on how "Max" was doing in his new home.

In later years, I would hear more about the Caffall family, and their son, Tres.

No matter how big Bryan/College Station gets, the rumor mill of my hometown will always keep its small town roots.

Tres Caffall had a hard life.  A tragic life.  If one wasn't already genetically programmed to suffer from mental illness, the things that kid went through would have certainly been enough to induce it.  I'm not going to go into the things that I heard he went through in his later years.

I don't write any of this to excuse or even mitigate what Tres Caffall did today.  Mostly, I'm just thinking out loud.

When the first reports released the College Station shooter's name, it sounded familiar.  I looked him up on Facebook and confirmed what I suspected.  Although it has probably been thirty years since I had that brief conversation about a dog, it was definitely that same kid.

And for some reason, that made me terribly sad.

He didn't have a lot of photographs on his Facebook page.  As the media pointed out, many of the pictures were of assault rifles.

But in his profile picture, there is a picture of a smiling man, who is hugging his dog.  I can only hope that somewhere in his tortured existence, he found some comfort there.

I know I'm rambling, but I keep thinking about it.

Maybe it isn't the time to express anything other than outrage about what happened today in College Station.

Maybe the time for pity for Tres Caffall will come later.  Maybe it won't.

He wasn't my friend.  I have no personal stake in this.

I just can't shake the bizarre feeling of trying to reconcile the pictures on the news with that memory of the kid who was so happy to be getting a new dog.

Maybe I'm just sad about what happened today in the little town where I grew up.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Constable Bachmann and Mr. Northcliff, as well as all those injured today.

And, it may not be the most popular thing to say right now, but they are with that boy with the runny nose, too.


Anonymous said...

An excellent post. There is always another dimension to any story. My heart grieves for all parties in this tragedy.

Unknown said...

Murray, this was indeed a tragic day for College Station. I agree that it has always had that "small town" mentality. Not a place one would expect something like this to happen. However, mental illness has no qualms about who it attacks. Unfortunately, there are still many things we don't know; not just in this case, but mental illness in general.

Again, those of us in law enforcement who wear the uniform are reminded that incidents like this can happen any time of day, any kind of weather, no matter how old we are, how long we've been on the job we are always targets for someone. Unfortunately, Deputy Bachmann's time with us is up. He is now on to bigger and better things. Mr. Northcliff will also be missed greatly, I'm sure.

And believe it or not, I, like you, also pray for Caffall's family. For those that read your blog, hopefully they will at least try to understand that mental illness is a serious problem. We may never know all the answers to this particular tragedy. But, Thomas "Tres" Caffall is no longer suffering either.

For most of us, (cops anyway), our initial reaction is to say that although tragic, this incident has prevented a lengthy trial, housing this guy, etc. That was my initial reaction, anyway. However, now that I reflect, I realize that Mr. Caffall was simply ill. This does not excuse his actions today at all. But to me, this simply illustrates another example of how our mental health system is so frickin screwed up. I could rant for hours about this issue. However, I will spare you and your readers my soap box.

I will still always think of College Station as a small town. It's a great place to grow up.

My prayers to all who were affected by todays tragedy. Rest in peace Deputy Brian Bachmann, Mr. Chris Northcliff, and, yes, even Tres Caffall.

Anonymous said...

You have a good heart, Murray. We can't know what forces, from inside or outside, warped that little boy's mind or twisted his soul. But we can pray for him. It is a tragedy for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

Please don't forget the warriors that were forced into a situation in which they handle themselves professionally and tactically as they were trained to do. One of them had to step over the fallen body of a brother to suppress the violence that was occurring.

Thoughts and Prayers as well for those brave souls who step into the line of fire and did the job they swore an oath to do.

When the shooting stopped, they started cpr on Constable Bachmann because they had to try.

Lon Craft

Anonymous said...

This, and the story of your friend who thought he had a camera in his eye, are important aspects of these events. Until Texas starts taking mental illness seriously, these things will continue to happen. They always have, but that's not a reason not to try to prevent it in the future.

Christianity teaches us that every person has a soul, and every loss is to be mourned. Even a man who murdered on behalf of the Roman Empire can become an Apostle. Even a man who was mentally ill and killed others has a side that we should hope finds some peace. The comments to follow this will demonstrably show that we as humans are nowhere close to having the perfection that Jesus showed others, or that God will hopefully show us all. Nobody should be glad another is dead, for any reason.

Caffill's enntire life led to what happened yesterday. The killings were a tragedy. Wearing a uniform makes it no more or less so that the innocent bystander. People are people, and our faith, if practiced honestly, should mourn all of those killed, and hope to prevent it in the future.


Tom said...

Without wantint to sound too preachy, this tragedy is yet another example of how our society is failing in its handling of the mentally ill. Any of us who frequents the Harris County Courthouse sees the number of defendants with significant mental health problems.
The problem is that outside the criminal justice system, there are too few resources to treat the mentally ill poor. Instead, society just shoves them into a criminal justice system that is ill prepared to deal with them, a system whose only option is to incarcerate them or place them on probation until they mess up and get incarcerated.
In the 1960s, Gov. Reagan in California saw that state mental hospitals were both too expensive and degrading to the patients. Maybe he saw "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" one too many times. In any case, he thought that with the then-new drugs, many patients could be released to community care, treated there, become productive citizens and save the government money all at the same time.
The problem is we've never had that strong support system for the mentally ill, especially the poor. Many won't take their medications because of truly horrible side effects (which are lessening now with new drugs). We don't have halfway homes or group homes for them.
Too many wander the streets self medicating with illegal drugs and end up in the criminal justice system. HPD calls them "frequent fliers" and that's correct.
Society needs to do better in treating our brothers and sisters with mental problems. I don't have a solution but simply turning the Harris County Jail into the largest mental health treatment facility in Texas isn't the answer.

Anonymous said...

I hope many people read this piece. VERY well done.
The "ripples" of this event will be many. The name CAFFALL will be recognized in a way it has never been before. It is part of my family history. Even though I did not know the man (and am VERY distantly related to him) I will grieve for him as well as for those lives he took so needlessly. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The thing is that there are thousands of people like this guy. Most do not kill people. It "makes sense" to look back after and see the warning signs and know what "should have been done.". The hard part is seeing these signs and doing something about it ahead of time.

Many of us work in the business of trying to prevent this type of thing. It is complicated and involves systems, gun control, and individual choice.

Most of us probably know at least one person like this. Maybe we tried to talk with him? Maybe we encouraged him to get help or got mad at him, perhaps gave up? How do we know the one we know won't do something like this? One day any of us may be like the family of this shooter. We'll wish we did "something more.". But, the reality is that "something more" is often undefinable ahead of time.

Anonymous said...

% Bart decides to do a different kind of a news story in Kent's style of
% anchoring.
% The "Bart's People" logo appears behind the two anchor siblings, and we
% go to Bart's taped footage. He stands before a man, sitting on a bench,
% throwing bread into the water.

Joe Banks, eighty-two years young, has come to this pond every day
for the past seventeen years, to feed the ducks. But last month, Joe
made a discovery. The ducks...were gone. Some say the ducks went
to Canada. Others say, Toronto. And some people think, that Joe
used to sit down there, [camera moves to another nearby pond] near
those ducks. But it could be, that there's just no room in this
modern world, for an old man...and his ducks.
-- Bart, "Girly Edition"

% "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" brings the scene to a close. At
% the nuclear plant, Mr. Burns and Mr. Smithers sit, watching the report
% on television, struck by the emotion.

Burns: think maybe my power plant killed those ducks?
Smithers: There's no 'maybe' about it, sir.
Burns: [sniffles] Excellent.
-- "Girly Edition"

% Back on the couch, Homer watches the report, eating pizza with the
% monkey.

Homer: Marge, can I get a duck?
Marge: You already have a monkey!
Homer: Can he get a duck?
Marge: No!
-- "Girly Edition"

% The monkey hits Homer with the pizza box and screams. Meanwhile, Bart
% wraps up his story. The show ends.

% The show's staff breaks into applause for Bart. Lisa takes him aside.

Lisa: That wasn't news. That was sappy, manipulative drivel!
Bart: Well, I'm sorry you couldn't feel for old Joe. [puts his hands on her
Lisa: [slaps them away] You didn't feel for him either, you big fat phony!
Lady: Bart, look up here! This is where the tears would be if I could cry!
But I can't. Botched facelift. You could learn a lot from him, Mary
Lisa: It's Lisa.
Lady: Mary Anne's better!
-- "Girly Edition"

Murray Newman said...

Anon 3:18 p.m.,

I appreciate your clever use of the Simpson's episode.

You have no idea how off-base you are, however.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this. The Tres Caffall I knew was a sweet, kind person who NEVER showed any violent tendencies. I have no idea what happened to cause him to do what he did. It really doesn't surprise me that, as he was dying, he asked those who were giving him medical attention to tell the officer he had shot that he was sorry. Like you, I am not trying to lessen Tres' culpability. What he did was horrible, and I'm sure he would have gotten the death penalty had he lived. But I mourn for the young man I knew who was sweet and kind.