My then nineteen-year-old son, Joshua, was found in the chain of a swing set in Amsler Park/McGregor, Texas on February 16, 2006. It was a Thursday morning.
This was a horrifying, shocking, numbing loss! Not my baby! Not my firstborn!
On Saturday, a thought hit me—they found him alone in the park in the dark!
On Monday, the day of his funeral, I was in a world I had never experienced before and never want to again. It was as if I wasn’t really there. People kept telling me to get ready, his funeral is at two, take a shower, hurry … why? I certainly didn’t want to attend a funeral for my son. Hey, if I didn’t go, it wouldn’t be real! Well, somehow, I made it. I viewed my son lying in the casket, thinking what a beautiful young man he is. Reality hit—he’s dead! I watched as the church filled up and beyond capacity for Joshua. I listened as Travis Tritt sang “Tell Me You Didn’t Say Goodbye.” (I knew it was more of a relationship song, but it was the right one for Josh.) I don’t remember hearing the gist of the sermon by the youth minister, I do remember hearing a lot of crying, sobbing, and sniffling. I remember hearing “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton and Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain.” I remember being present, but not. I remember trying to remain strong for Joshua’s brother, Michael and my sisters, one of which was terminally ill with metastatic cancer.
After the service, as our procession waited for a police escort that had been planned and paid for, I looked around to see car after car after car after car. We waited for about fifteen minutes. No officer showed up, so my friend and funeral director, Jerry Foss, decided to risk this move on his own. Off we went! On the corner of Main and Fifth Street, right up from the church, our procession almost collided with a patrol car! We weaved through traffic. I was amazed when I noticed cars were not pulling over to stop for a funeral procession! I also noticed the detective’s car parked behind the police station and two patrol cars at Subway. We did make it to the cemetery, weaving from side to side, as young people do. I remember Joshua’s girlfriend, Kayla, sitting in the car with me. I turned to look at her and I “saw” Joshua between us. I remember hearing “Dear Mama” by Tupac and “I Miss My Homey.” It never occurred to me that once the dirt was shoveled back over the gaping hole, I would never see my Joshua again!
On February 22, 2006, I called Interim Chief Chris Molina/McGregor PD to inquire into the progress of the investigation. He told me, “We don’t begin an investigation until something suspicious is found.” I told him the whole thing is suspicious. I asked him why no one showed to escort the procession, and he said, “We were unavailable.” I told him that I didn’t think my son killed himself, and he immediately said, “There’s no scuff marks in the gravel.” I said, “How would you know with five to six kids playing down there?” He said, “It would take two people to get him up there.”
At this time, I had no idea of how he died.
Approximately two weeks later, former Detective Kory Martin contacted me (or vice-versa) to tell me, “As of today, the investigation is over.” I ask, “What investigation? Molina said there wasn’t one.” He told me he talked to certain people, I knew he hadn’t, but to be sure, I told him I would call him right back. Michael and Kayla were at our house. I asked them both. Kayla said no one had spoken to her. Michael said former Detective Martin talked to him, but he was unable to recall the conversation, as he went into shock when he got to the park, as he recognized his brother from the clothes he had on. I called Mr. Bill Holt, father of Michael’s friend, Justin. Justin had called our house, telling Michael that someone was hanging in the park. He came to tell me and I inadvertently asked him to run to the park, see what was going on, and come right back. He didn’t. Mr. Bill Holt, a routine jogger of the perimeter of the park, told me he left his home at 5:15 a.m. ran west down Red Oak, turned left towards the AMA Hall, and as he cleared the house on the corner, he noticed flashing lights, spotlights, and two police cars in Amsler Park. I asked him if the police had talked to him. He told me, “No, as a matter of fact, I returned to the scene, after I checked on Justin and asked them why I wasn’t stopped running from the site. He said they told him, “Because we knew who you were, Mr. Holt.”
I called former Detective Martin back to tell him he hadn’t talked to anyone but my son, Michael. He said he found out all he needed to know from him. I told him, “No, it was Joshua and I arguing, had you talked to me, you may have gotten a different perspective!” (Josh and I argued on a daily basis. We had a very loving, but contentious relationship.) I asked him why no one had come to get me to positively identify my son, we only live a block away. He said, “Out of respect. Do you know how it made me feel to see your son hanging there?” I told him I couldn’t care less how HE felt!
I used the Open Records Act to get the documents from the city of McGregor, but even then, it was like pulling teeth! I recorded the statements of former Detective Martin and former Sgt. Freeman and a partial listing of the dispatch logs, with most of it blacked out. As no officer would divulge to me how Joshua died, I once again requested via the Open Records Act, the crime scene photos, the statements of the former on duty officers— Officers Walter Kirby and Jared Norris, the time of the 911 call, and the entire dispatch logs.
On April 24, 2006, Mrs. Paschall, the city secretary called to say the statements of Officers Kirby and Norris had not yet been generated. Of course, I didn’t learn until later that this in NOT Police Protocol. Finally, I got the crime scene photos, the dispatch logs, and the statements of the on duty officers on April 28, 2006. In the interim, I’d asked Mr. McDuffie/City Manager, to remove the swing that my son died on/in. He refused, however, the day I recieved the photos, the swing was taken down! Reviewing the photos, along with the statements of the four officers, along with the dispatch logs, I noted many inconsistencies and blatant lies. I noticed that the date on the statements of Officers Kirby and Norris was 2/16/2006, which was incorrect. I contacted Interim Chief Molina to advise him of this, and he wanted to know why it mattered. Quickly, I said, five years from now, these files may have to be pulled, and the date would be wrong. He promised to send me an amended copy. He didn’t.
On May 1, 2006, McGregor got a new chief, Mr. Ron Wadkins, coming with twenty-three years of law enforcement experience and he held a PhD in Forensics. I made an appointment with him for May 2, 2006. I told him of my theory, that my son, Joshua, would not kill himself, that I thought the police confronted him, it went too far, and the “accidental death” had to be covered by placing him in the chain. He assured me that if the autopsy came back with anything other than suicide, he would lead the investigation himself, admitting to a “shoddy investigation” by the former police officers. (Excuse me? They did not investigate at all!)
On May 8, 2006, with me being a recovering alcoholic and viewing these horrifying crime scene photos, I picked up a bottle of booze. I decided to walk to the park and write my deceased son a letter. On the way, someone gave me two joints of marijuana, telling me it would help. I wasn’t a stranger to this, but had abstained through this grieving process. I was stopped by police, arrested for public intoxication and possession of a controlled substance, and I went to jail. I spent twenty-eight days in jail before bonding. I called an attorney friend, as I had never been arrested in my life! She told me they are out to ruin my credibility if I decided to sue civilly.
On May 19, 2006, I receivedd the autopsy results. The report was typed up, describing his physical attributes—weight, height, color of hair, etc. It listed the body systems one by one. This report listed the systems as unremarkable, until the respiratory system which said, “red-purple parenchyma with pulmonary edema.” What?!
In June of 2006, four of the five officers on scene, were asked to resign for unknown reasons.
For the rest, go to realcrimes.com. The highlighted areas are excerpts from the files, including a crime scene photo, which is graphic!
Also, JusticeForUs.org, Internet Links, #558723957 (Petition/Comment)