It was a beautiful fall evening in Old Town. The sky held a pink afterglow cast in the patterns of swirled clouds. Vividly hued autumn leaves shuddered in the light breeze, some falling to the ground, silhouetted against the silver, darkening sky — where the moon had begun its journey across the heavens. People were in that in-between time when work was over and dinner was on their minds. We had just left Hannaford ourselves and were turning the corner between Stillwater Avenue and Main Street in Old Town when the wailing of law enforcement sirens stopped traffic.
Orono, Old Town and Maine State Police, along with county sheriffs, were converging on a block on Main Street. Something serious had to be unfolding, and we made a left, instead of right turn, to try to see what it could be.
We did not yet know that amid all the peaceful normality preceding the sirens, a woman — April Haskell — her two babies, and her unborn child were in trouble. Another case of domestic violence in Maine was unfolding in a second story apartment above Main Street.
I walked over to where a Maine game warden had just parked. Standing nearby, I observed him methodically checking his firearm. As I looked around, I saw scores of law enforcement from many agencies, some in their civilian clothes, some clad in uniform. All had that look of calm, grim determination that accompanies the knowledge we civilians did not yet have: an unspeakable horror was unfolding beyond our eyesight and without any noise.
A young woman suddenly approached the game warden. She said her mother lived up there and asked if he could tell her what was going on. He quietly replied that there had been a stabbing. A woman was unresponsive, and two kids were still up there with the man.The woman crumpled, screaming, “Why did he have to do that to her? She was pregnant! She was a wonderful mother!”
Suddenly the separation between “us” and “them” was lessened. The woman’s life changed before our eyes. And there were babies up there — still at risk of being harmed by a madman, their own father.
When an announcement went out from law enforcement for people to “stand back,” we never heard the shots. Perhaps they did not sound out until a little later, after we drove away. But what happened next still replays in my memory: Two small children were whisked from the building and brought to the sidewalk where the woman who had spoken to the game warden was awaiting them.
They were wrapped in white blankets to ward off the evening chill. A little girl looking about 2, with a tiny, tidy ponytail caught up in an elastic atop her head — possibly the last act her loving mother had done for her. And a boy about 4, looking far older than his years. Their faces bore the shock of the unspeakable, and neither made a sound.
It was just an ordinary day. People came and went about their business, while one woman and an unborn baby died at the hands of her partner, and two children lost both their mother and father. As they always valiantly do, law enforcement stepped into the cauldron, ready to lay down their lives to save those in need. They handled the situation — a word so inadequate to convey what unfolded — with all of the grace and a professionalism that could not allow them to feel the emotions that might impede their call of duty.
As I watched the bundled children being carried away from the scene, into a brand new life — where loving kin will now care for them — I thought of the long night ahead for the law enforcement who must deal with this horrific story’s aftermath. I said a prayer — of thanks that there are people willing to do what they barely can speak of afterwards, and for their safety, health and peace.
Seeing what they saw that night cannot be flushed away from memory, and yet they have to transition right back to being family members, parents themselves in many cases, as well as conspicuous members of their communities. They carry an invisible burden on our behalf — and on behalf of all the victims and perpetrators they encounter — deceased or alive. I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of them for their sacrifices.
And for those of us who are aware of domestic situations where someone may be at risk of violence, either on the giving or receiving end, please don’t “mind your own business.” Speak up! If people hear something that does not sound like it should, better to call the police and ask them to check on the situation than to do nothing, hoping and assuming it will dissipate.
Let’s not be so busy with our own lives that we forget to look out for one another. Let’s not forget that even on the most peaceful and ordinary of days, the unspeakable could be unfolding behind closed doors on another Main Street or in our own neighborhoods.
Kathy Pollard resides in Orono. She is an artist, basket maker and writer with an educational background in wildlife management, research and nursing. She worked for the Maine Caribou Reintroduction Project and, more recently, for many years in primary care medicine before becoming self-employed.