Today in Alpharetta, Georgia, a man suspected of multiple armed bank robberies in Michigan was being pursued by police. As he tried to evade the police, he turned into a strip mall. Traffic prevented him from exiting the parking lot, and police surrounded him. Rather than surrender, he pulled out his handgun and shot himself in the head.
This man was my uncle.
I got a message on facebook from one of my aunts at 10 p.m. Sunday night, 11 p.m. where my family lives. The question was simple enough - had I seen the stuff about my uncle on facebook?
I hadn't. And I wish I never did.
Because what I saw was a picture of my uncle. Four of them, actually, each one taken during a different bank robbery - the most recent one happening just one day before, along with the header "WANTED FOR ARMED ROBBERY". Even though I hadn't seen him in several years, I knew immediately that it was him. My heart sank.
I asked her if she had told my mother. She was unable to reach her.
I picked up my cell phone and dialed my mother. I'm not much of a fan of phone conversations, let alone late at night. My mother answered the phone, and I had to tell her that her baby brother was wanted for armed robbery.
Our family spent the next few hours playing phone tag with one another, letting each other know what had happened and trying to make sense of it all. Most of us hadn't seen him in quite some time. We worried about him, but it seemed that there was an artificial distance between him and the rest of us. I don't know if it could be chalked up to depression or something else. It seemed like it, but I'm a PR guy, not a psychologist.
Nobody was sure of his whereabouts. We didn't know who he'd turn to in a desperate moment. We had no idea of what his next move would be.
According to media reports, he fled the state of Michigan and headed south. At some point he turned on his cell phone and was tracked into Georgia. He ended his life, surrounded by the police, at about 4 p.m. EST today.
I got the call a couple of hours later from my mother.
I cried for a man who had apparently robbed four banks in the last few weeks. I cried for my uncle, who is gone at a too-young age.
I cried for my family, who has lost a brother and an uncle.
I cried for the people who may have been traumatized when he robbed their place of employment.
I cried for the people who had to witness a man take his own life.
And in the few short hours since, I've tried to make sense of the overwhelming emotions that I've been feeling. It's not at all easy.
I don't know if I'll ever be able to reconcile the lovable smartass of an uncle who was always the funniest guy in the room, able to crack the right joke to break a glum mood with the desperate man who was caught on surveillance cameras committing armed robberies. Maybe I don't want to.
But I do know that I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and grief for someone who certainly isn't a sympathetic figure in light of his actions in the last few weeks. Because despite what he did - and to this moment we do not believe that he ever physically harmed anyone until ending his own life - he's still my uncle. He'll always be my uncle, and I'll always love him.
After seeing the photos online this weekend, I knew that the best-case scenario would have him arrested before he could hurt himself or anyone else.
Even in this time of loss, I'm incredibly thankful that nobody else was physically harmed. I'm thankful for the professionalism of our law enforcement officers who I believe made every effort to bring him in without incident.
I may not ever be able to make sense of what happened. I certainly won't be able to tonight.
At this point, the only thing that does make sense is that I love my uncle and I'm going to miss him. Nothing else does.