Archive for November, 2011

Are There Any Heroes Left?

When a person of iconic stature falls from grace, the reverberations often cause the foundations of societal beliefs to crack and shift. The swift departure of Penn State’s legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno, serves as a prime example.

Late last week, during a chance run-in with a Penn State alum, I gingerly inquired about the ongoing investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse leveled against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky that, in the end, ensnarled Paterno.

“Are there no heroes left in the world?” asked the alum.

Cleary taken aback by the allegations, as well as the former head football coach’s seemingly lack of compassion for those abused, the revelations shook this man to his core.

In reality, however, when another human being is placed-up on a pedestal his or her admirers are bound to be disappointed.

In his new book, It is Dangerous to be Right When the Government is Wrong, former Judge Andrew Napolitano notes that all human beings are “fallen” under the auspices of “original sin,” found, initially, in the tenants of Judaism. Human beings—each any every one of us—are dreadfully imperfect, which is why searching for heroes is a process that is sure to disappoint.

Cases of hero worship gone-bad abound: Barry Bonds and steroids; Edward Kennedy at Chappaquiddick; Richard Nixon and Watergate; Douglas MacArthur and the bonus marchers; the infidelities of Elijah Mohammed; and Peter’s betrayal of Christ.  

Having heard of this incident of hero worship run-amok third hand, I will refrain from attaching any names, although the story is quite revealing.

In the mid-1990s, a high-ranking former military general was set to make a personal appearance in Milwaukee. For such visits, a unit within the Milwaukee Police Department is responsible for providing a small security detail. 

One of the police officers assigned to this unit—a former Marine—served under this former high-ranking military commander during Operation Desert Strom. As such, the police officer sought and received permission to serve on this particular security detail.

On the day of the event, the former high-ranking military officer had finished his remarks and was waiting, backstage, for his ride to the airport. Standing only a few feet away, the police officer and former Marine approached his hero.

“Sir,” said the officer, as he introduced himself, indicated the branch of his service, and extended his right hand, “I had the pleasure to serve under your command during Operation Desert Storm.”

“That’s great,” said the steely-eyed former general, clearly agitated, “but where’s my damn limo!”

Heartbroken, the police officer walked away in disbelief.

Even our REAL heroes—the Americans throughout history that have put their lives on the line to protect us at home and abroad—sometimes stumble.

Just recently, I viewed Restrepo, a film that chronicles the tour of a U.S. Army airborne combat team in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.  Soon after their arrival, a medic assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Juan “Doc” Restrepo, was shot in the neck and killed. Out of respect for their fallen colleague, the troops lent his name to the observation post that they were assigned to defend.

Within the ranks of the Special Forces, the Korengal Valley is considered a virtual no-man’s land—an outpost in the center of a region heavily influenced by the Taliban.  The documentary portrays these young soldiers as courageous and, yet, often times scared—both of which are important conditions for self-preservation.

During one scene, a solider is gunned-down, and his friend in the unit—in the midst of an ensuing battle—openly weeps. “Don’t worry,” said another solider, seeking to get his distraught colleague’s head back into battle, “he went quickly.” 

In the Afghani Theater, the soldiers of Restrepo fought valiantly while losing several good men. Back home, however, they face a host of new problems primarily related to post traumatic stress, which could cause a few to stumble and fall.  

And having watched this riveting documentary, my advice to the Penn State alum was to view Restrepo. Regardless of what one thinks of the legacy of Joe Paterno, heroes do more than teach Xs and Os.  During the course of human events, real heroes quantify success not by wins or losses, but by life, death, and the ability to defeat those demons that might follow them home.

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Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, visit www.badgerwordsmith.com/the_psychology_of_homicide_presentation.html

 © Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011


Beating Back the ‘Bush’

To read this article, purchase the Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

 © Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011


Seattle Missing Child Case Like a Bad Episode of Law & Order

An ongoing investigation in the state of Washington rings similar to the infamous disappearance of Caylee Anthony. 

Police in a Seattle suburb are on the lookout for two-year-old Sky Metalwala. The boy’s mother, Julia Biryukova, 30, of nearby Redmond, told investigators that her son went missing on November 6 after her car stalled. As she left to get gas in nearby Bellevue, Biryukova told police she left the toddler inside her unlocked vehicle while her four-year-old-daughter and she walked to town for gas. When Biryukova allegedly returned an hour later, the child was gone. 

Detectives later conducted an examination of Biryukova’s vehicle and determined that the Acura Integra was not low on fuel.  Police believe the car could have driven significantly further with the amount of fuel in the tank. 

For just over a week now, searchers checked the area adjacent to Biryukova’s residence and the surrounding area where her vehicle supposedly stalled. 

Then, yesterday, based on tips generated by members of the public, investigators expanded the geographical nature of the search. 

One area investigators continue to scour is Watershed Park, located in the Houghton area of Kirkland—a secluded wooded-preserve complete with hiking trails. Mountain bikers and hikers frequent this 73-acre park, known for its natural green spaces and upland forest.   

“We believe there’s something suspicious afoot here,” Bellevue Police Major Mike Johnson told The Seattle Times. “The story doesn’t add up.”

Considering that Julia Biryukova and her “estranged husband” had just completed a heated custody battle involving their son just a week before he went missing, Maj. Johnson’s quote is probably an understatement. 

So where will investigators turn next?

Local police agencies will bring in trained cadaver dogs to search Watershed Park and other relevant areas. Besides tips from the public, information provided from a high-tech, smart-phone computer forensics device, known as The Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED 2.0), will likely be used to search Biryukova’s cellular telephone. This Big Brother technology will bypass a cellular telephone’s pass code and then retrieve geo-tagged photos, the owner’s list of contacts, deleted or undeleted text messages, GPS locations, and a list of all incoming and outgoing calls. 

Sadly, as each day passes, the likelihood that Sky Metalwala is still alive decreases exponentially. While the twists-and-turns of a high-profile investigation become fodder for the press, it is important to reflect on the plight of the victim. Children place the ultimate trust in their parents to care for their needs.  Even wild animals attend to and fiercely defend the lives of their young.  Each year in the U.S., though, this bond is broken about 1,000 times, as young child become homicide victims at the hands or a parent or guardian.

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Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, visit www.badgerwordsmith.com/the_psychology_of_homicide_presentation.html

 © Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011