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 11:06 AM
Updated: May 29, 2018 11:06 AM

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.

Huntsville
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 57°
Florence
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Fayetteville
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 55°
Decatur
Clear
58° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 58°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
59° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 59°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18911337
Mobile13039289
Montgomery8628173
Madison750775
Tuscaloosa7180114
Lee570559
Shelby564550
Baldwin504749
Marshall382143
Etowah333447
Calhoun332039
Morgan318126
Houston269922
Elmore251947
DeKalb234619
St. Clair221335
Walker220780
Talladega205026
Limestone197319
Cullman183017
Franklin174128
Dallas173626
Russell17112
Autauga167324
Lauderdale164133
Colbert159326
Escambia155725
Blount154214
Jackson149411
Chilton147127
Dale132743
Covington130227
Coffee12708
Pike11519
Tallapoosa113183
Chambers112342
Clarke104917
Marion93728
Butler90838
Barbour8307
Marengo69919
Winston69912
Lowndes64527
Pickens63114
Bibb62810
Hale61228
Randolph60712
Bullock58514
Lawrence58220
Monroe5758
Geneva5634
Cherokee55516
Washington54413
Perry5376
Clay5367
Wilcox53011
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52231
Macon47620
Henry4674
Fayette4189
Sumter41819
Lamar3452
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3206
Greene30015
Coosa1613
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 181439

Reported Deaths: 2216
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby29800446
Davidson25840289
Hamilton903388
Rutherford890287
Knox880672
Williamson503036
Sumner462993
Wilson331841
Putnam301937
Montgomery292243
Bradley281816
Out of TN281123
Unassigned28036
Madison259656
Sevier250013
Blount242523
Maury218323
Robertson215133
Washington212332
Sullivan203831
Hamblen183125
Tipton171117
Trousdale16477
Hardeman151325
Gibson149219
Wayne14785
Bedford129516
Dyer125312
Dickson117612
Cumberland114317
Anderson111711
Fayette111118
Carter110827
Weakley110419
Henderson110119
Loudon10996
Greene107936
Coffee106912
Obion10669
Jefferson105114
McMinn104524
Macon100719
Warren9977
Monroe99416
Hardin95414
Lawrence93911
Lauderdale92815
Haywood90016
Franklin8757
Lake8712
Bledsoe8444
Roane8284
Carroll81617
Cheatham78410
McNairy78316
Rhea76611
White7639
Hawkins74716
Cocke7309
Marshall6985
Overton6734
Smith66910
Johnson6352
Henry5949
Chester5769
Lincoln5761
Giles54917
DeKalb54111
Hickman5154
Crockett49719
Marion4937
Decatur4556
Claiborne4234
Fentress4223
Campbell4153
Polk37511
Grainger3462
Benton3319
Union3311
Jackson3024
Morgan3023
Unicoi2741
Cannon2690
Grundy2305
Humphreys2243
Sequatchie2193
Meigs2163
Scott1972
Clay1825
Houston1780
Lewis1691
Stewart1672
Van Buren1490
Moore1451
Perry1400
Hancock1063
Pickett942

Community Events