These people have the toughest job in law enforcement

The first thing I noticed upon entering the room were the boxes of tissues strategically placed under dozens of chair...

Posted: May 29, 2018 12:06 PM
Updated: May 29, 2018 12:06 PM

The first thing I noticed upon entering the room were the boxes of tissues strategically placed under dozens of chairs arranged for the mourners.

It was December 2015 in San Bernardino, California, and the room would soon fill with heartbroken families who were to receive a briefing on the details surrounding the terrorist attack that had just claimed the lives of their loved ones. It was a somber scene similar to those that would soon play out in the aftermath of tragedies in Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, and most recently in Santa Fe, Texas, this month.

Although the main speakers were law enforcement officials leading the investigation, navigating the room that day were a group of frequently unseen heroes: the victim specialists whose sole mission is to advocate for and comfort those impacted by crime. It is this group that has the solemn task of caring for the needs of victims and their families long after major tragedies recede from the headlines.

Once the briefing had concluded that day in San Bernardino, those who wished to visit and reflect outside the building where the tragedy had taken place were escorted by police motorcade to the crime scene.

After the lead FBI forensics agent on the case sympathetically outlined how the attack had unfolded, a bereaved man turned to the victim advocate standing next to me and asked if she would place a memento on the location where his loved one had died, which was roped off to the families. The victim advocate agreed, and, returning past the police tape, embraced the man, providing a shoulder to cry on for what seemed like an eternity.

As I watched, a woman farther away slowly went to her knees and began sobbing. One of the FBI's crisis response canines -- an English Labrador retriever whose job in part is to help victims cope with tragedies -- walked up to the woman and licked her face. Startled, she looked up, her crying quickly turning to laughter, and she pulled the dog in for a hug.

As this was all happening, several news helicopters suddenly appeared above us, unknowingly interrupting a solemn moment for the victims' families. "Make them go away," an FBI victim specialist whispered, shooting me a look indicating this was not a request. I quickly made a couple of calls to the nearby law enforcement public information officers, and, incredibly, within minutes the helicopters seemed to bank at once and disappear into the horizon.

While I had previously heard of victim advocates, I never truly appreciated their vital role until working alongside them as a special agent with the FBI. Although my job that day in San Bernardino was to help coordinate the flow of information between the field and FBI headquarters in Washington, I had previously worked countless cases around the world with victim specialists who served as critical members of our investigative teams.

Although victim advocates are known for their compassion, they are far from shrinking violets. I can recall one instance in particular when a victim specialist called me in the middle of the night, asking if I had any information we could relay to the daughter of a victim injured in a bombing overseas. When I demurred, citing the need to protect the integrity of the investigation, she replied in very forceful terms, "Remember that providing updates to those impacted by crime is not simply something we do when convenient, it is the law!"

Ask any law enforcement officer who has the toughest job, and you'll hear from most that this unceremonious title goes not to the officer on the street, nor the first responder approaching danger, but to the specialists who must look victim family members in the eyes day in and day out after a tragedy and help them somehow make sense of it.

It has now been over a week since most of my CNN colleagues and I returned from reporting on the recent school shooting in Santa Fe. Although the law enforcement tactical teams and news vans have since departed, let us not forget the ongoing, behind-the-scenes efforts of the victim specialists who continue to help those grieving from this tragedy and countless others, and whose work may sadly never be over.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1097128

Reported Deaths: 17438
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1437882222
Lake712531225
Allen65537867
Hamilton50147482
St. Joseph48760639
Elkhart39461538
Vanderburgh34221495
Tippecanoe30237271
Johnson27179463
Hendricks25845379
Porter25014381
Madison20656444
Clark19898275
Vigo18764308
LaPorte16857260
Delaware16425291
Howard16408311
Monroe16379217
Kosciusko13936163
Hancock12841185
Bartholomew12686188
Warrick11995189
Wayne11879265
Floyd11869225
Grant11701235
Morgan10252188
Boone9675120
Noble9069121
Henry9002165
Marshall8907146
Dearborn881799
Dubois8710139
Shelby8054128
Cass8014127
Lawrence7922182
DeKalb7591106
Huntington7448108
Jackson743893
Gibson7002118
Montgomery6910123
Harrison685296
Knox6827113
Steuben654186
Miami6477107
Whitley642260
Putnam631982
Clinton618976
Wabash6060108
Jasper601791
Jefferson5689103
Ripley549192
Adams532381
Daviess5003116
Scott480378
Wells471799
White468767
Greene461799
Clay457462
Decatur4529109
Jennings439666
Fayette435694
LaGrange419290
Posey403244
Washington384154
Randolph3818107
Fountain368362
Spencer355846
Fulton355572
Starke348772
Owen346276
Sullivan344954
Orange324470
Jay318650
Rush298332
Carroll289438
Franklin286744
Perry283253
Vermillion280458
Tipton247365
Parke246330
Pike244144
Blackford218044
Pulaski205658
Newton179052
Brown171850
Crawford167929
Benton163217
Martin150819
Switzerland145112
Warren132216
Union117816
Ohio91413
Unassigned0585

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1683472

Reported Deaths: 26483
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1766331826
Cuyahoga1641462636
Hamilton1122641528
Montgomery794721387
Summit702171199
Lucas618431017
Butler55878803
Stark525841170
Lorain41058639
Warren35404412
Mahoning35095769
Lake31445493
Clermont30711362
Delaware26682182
Trumbull26664611
Licking26200335
Medina25291351
Fairfield24173287
Greene24051369
Clark21653387
Portage20709280
Richland20587336
Wood19626246
Allen18542320
Miami17031348
Columbiana16502331
Muskingum16416206
Wayne15432304
Tuscarawas14086357
Marion13054194
Erie12423198
Ashtabula12314225
Scioto12235182
Pickaway12070151
Ross11487223
Hancock11256173
Geauga10666174
Lawrence10504171
Belmont10259231
Huron9588155
Jefferson9462225
Union939175
Sandusky9068166
Seneca8692156
Knox8618169
Washington8613156
Athens827396
Darke8270179
Ashland7840147
Auglaize7741115
Shelby7337132
Defiance7210114
Crawford7082150
Brown7052115
Fulton7016111
Logan6857108
Mercer681697
Guernsey680283
Highland6615117
Madison641389
Clinton6388106
Williams628798
Preble6171139
Putnam6089120
Jackson572396
Champaign568286
Perry558879
Coshocton5552103
Ottawa553599
Morrow506464
Fayette483170
Hardin477899
Gallia462978
Pike459076
Van Wert454691
Adams4514109
Henry424976
Hocking401493
Holmes3939137
Wyandot367973
Carroll351578
Paulding319349
Meigs302457
Monroe231860
Noble216447
Morgan210138
Harrison205152
Vinton183937
Unassigned05
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