Christmas:
Kearney 911 and Buffalo County Sheriff's Office, December 1979
It turns out that I’d never experienced a Christmas before or since where I felt so cold and alone…

By December 1979, I’d been working at the Kearney 911 Communications Center for a few months. Since I was the lowest on the seniority list, I anticipated, without objection, that I would be working over the Christmas Holiday. I was scheduled to work the 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM shift on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The shift as expected was predictably slow and uneventful on Christmas Eve. I had just turned 21 earlier during the month, and this was the first time in my life that I would be away from my family over Christmas. I really didn’t want to go home to an empty house after my shift ended, so in order to spend some time with friends, went down to the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office where Rinda, (later my work partner at GIEC,) was working the radio and Chuck, whom I’d known since I was a sophomore in high school was working at the jail. It wasn’t a big holiday party, but it was nice conversation while we listened to music, ate cookies, and drank punch. It was better than being alone on Christmas Eve!

Incoming calls received were few and far between. They consisted of requests for weather and road conditions, questions about office hours and the holiday schedule for the county, and co-workers and other law enforcement types wishing us a Merry Christmas. Around 4:00 AM the phone rang. I distinctly recalled saying, “I’ll bet that’s nothing!” as Rinda answered the phone…

Immediately, Rinda’s posture changed, and she started snapping her fingers and pointed to the other phone, indicating she wanted me to pick up the line! The female caller on the phone said, “Please send a deputy out to our farm right away… Someone’s breaking into our house!”

In the background, you could hear the steady THUD… THUD… THUD… as the intruders where attempting to break the door down. The rural areas did not have street addresses in those days, and locations were typically described as x miles north or south, and x miles east or west from a given landmark at the farm with whatever color house. Rinda was trying to get directions, but all the frightened caller could provide was that they were northeast of the Kearney Airport… Rinda dispatched the only County Officer on duty, Deputy 9095, Fred Best toward the general vicinity, and I alerted the Kearney Police Department that while details were still being collected, the Sheriff’s Office may need assistance regarding a burglary / home invasion, in progress.

Over the phone we hear, THUD… THUD… CRASH!

The woman shouts, “OH MY GOD!” and the phone drops!

There’s a male voice shouting in the background. “Get Back! I said GET BACK!!!!

Then, BANG! Followed by silence….

The woman picks up the phone… “We need an ambulance. My husband shot him. I think he’s dead!”

This recent development is broadcast on all relevant channels, but we still are not clear on where this farm is at. With the exception of a common last name, all we know is it’s somewhere beyond the airport! I ask the woman if she can provide us with the name and telephone number of their nearest neighbor. She does, and while Rinda stays on the phone with the caller, I get off the phone to call the neighbor.

I dial up the neighbor, waking him up. “Good morning Sir. I’m calling from the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office. My apologies for calling at this time of night on Christmas Morning. There’s been an incident at your neighbor’s farm home, and the caller is too upset to provide us with adequate directions to get to the farm. Can you help us?” The neighbor provides me with good directions, and I’m keeping him on the line while Sheriff, Police, and EMS are on the way, in case they have questions about the directions.

In the mean time, Rinda is learning from the caller that there were three intruders. One is now believed to be dead, and the husband is holding the other two at bay at the point of a gun… From time to time, the woman is shouting to her children to stay upstairs and that everything will be ok… (You could hear the kids cry and call out for their mother over the phone...)

Once the units started arriving on scene, I advised the neighbor he could hang up. He asked if he should go over to the scene. I suggested that after some time, his neighbors might likely need his support, but at the moment, the scene was not yet secured, and we can’t say if it’s safe to go over there. “For now, please sit tight!”

Soon, several law enforcement officers were on the scene, and the ambulance arrived soon after. One male subject was pronounced dead at the scene, and two males were in custody. The County Attorney / Coroner and a Criminal Investigators were requested to come to the scene. The neighbor was called back, and asked if he and his wife might come to the scene to watch over the children, while the man and woman were brought to the Sheriff’s Office to be interviewed and such. Rinda was asked if she could be present during the interview with the woman. I took over her position at the radio consol while she went to collect herself before their arrival.

The two males in custody were transported to the jail. While the first of these two was being processed, the other was placed in a holding cell to await his turn. From the radio consol, I turned to look through the windows of the holding cell, and was aghast to recognize a young man whom I’d known in high school. He was in my class. As I recalled, he was not a bad guy! He was a good student, and worked a part time job while attending school. He was never in any trouble as far as I knew. He was just one of the guys! Yet, here he was. About to be booked for burglary at the least, and was part of an incident where another young man lost his life.

Rinda and I were interviewed by the investigators for our perspectives. Everything we had been engaged in was substantiated by the tapes. All the phone lines and radio channels are recorded on multi track tape. We were both commended for our actions and involvement, but we both had a pretty hollow feeling.

It turns out that I’d never experienced a Christmas before or since where I felt so cold and alone… It was a cold gray morning when I got home at 8:00 AM. I bypassed breakfast, and went straight to bed. I didn’t get up until it was time to get ready for my next shift at work.

After all was said and done, we were told what had gone down, i.e. the Rest of the Story…

The farm family had been out of town on vacation to someplace warmer than Nebraska. Originally, they had not planned to return until after the New Year. Their home contained antiques, and many nice things.

The suspects had spent the evening partying and drinking, until the three were quite intoxicated. While it was never made clear to me how these three guys knew about the contents of the house, and that the family should have been away for another week, these three decided to break into the supposedly vacant home at 4:00 AM to steal antiques and such.

Upon gaining access to the house by breaking through the door, they were met by the man of the house who was armed with a .410 shotgun. Twice, he loudly ordered the subjects to get back, (as substantiated by the recordings from the phone,) when the lead subject moved forward and attempted to take the shotgun from the farmer by grabbing it by the barrel. The gun went off, striking the subject in the chest at close range.

Autopsy results indicated that the blood alcohol level of the fatal subject was near .20%, which is extremely intoxicated!

The Coroner’s Inquest was held a few weeks later. I was subpoenaed, but was not called to testify. The matter was ruled by the Court as Justifiable Homicide, in that the farmer had been reasonably protecting his home and family from unknown intruders.

A few months later, I was with a group of friends at a barbecue, when an acquaintance started mouthing off how so and so, (one of the subjects involved,) got a bum rap. I held my tongue until this idiot started going on that the farmer had committed out and out, premeditated murder, and that everyone needed to protest until justice was done!

At this point, I spoke up. “You called it murder. We’re you there?”

He replied no, but he had talked to someone, who knows this other person, and followed it up laughing with, “Hell no, I wasn’t there, were you?”

I evenly responded, “No, I wasn’t there, but I had the next best seat at the event. I was on the phone with the family when it happened, and heard their door being broke down. I heard the fear in their voices as they called for help. I heard their children crying in fear. I heard the farmer order them to get back twice, and I heard the fatal shot. “I was a lot closer to the event than you’ll ever want to be!”

My friends who knew me quietly nodded their heads in agreement, while the blow hard could only reply with, “That’s bullshit! You work for the Fu**in Pigs!”

Over the years since, I’ve gone out of my way to not associate with that blow hard ever again! Not out of fear, but because I simply did not like him. I always knew he could be an idiot, but this interaction settled my opinion once and for all, in case there was any question. As Will Rogers once said, “You can’t argue with an idiot!

This and a couple of other less dramatic incidents finally brought me to the conclusion that if I was going to stay in this line of work, I was going to have to move to a different community. This little city was the home town where I grew up and I was too close to these people.

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