Counselor Helps Grieving Troopers Handle Loss



Mary Lee Lilly's first phone call came at 6 a.m., less than six hours after Larry G. Hacker, a Harrisville state trooper, died.

Would she go talk with the family? That was what Chester Wojcik, head of the state troopers association, asked.

The second call came less than two hours later, from Cpl. Roy McCalLister, a state trooper who oversees radio communications.

Would she go talk with state police telecommunicators?

Yes, Lilly said. Yes.

By 9 a.m. April 9, Lilly was in a car with McCallister, headed for Parkersburg and Harrisville.
They were to be gone 11 hours. During that time Lilly would talk with 35 people, from Hacker's widow and children, to the dispatchers who tried to get Hacker help, to the rookie who was with Hacker when he was shot while trying to help settle a dispute between neighbors.

Who is this woman police had on the born, in the patrol car, at the scene of the shooting?
Lilly, a nationally certified counselor, is a sign that troopers are changing from the stoic to those not afraid to show their feelings.

"Law enforcement has always had the John Wayne syndrome," said Maj. J.L. Davis, a 25-year state police veteran who is in charge of field operations.

The attitude used to be "suck it up, tomorrow's another day, let's go," Davis said.
But no more. Lilly has worked for about two years with state police through REACH, a South Charleston-based employee assistance program. BEACH counselors, like those in other similar programs, help employees and their families work through problems that affect job performance.

Often, troopers and others who take advantage of "employee assistance" come to the counselor. Last week, Lilly took the counseling to the troopers.

"It was a hard day," she said.

"Some of the fells, were feeling so guilty. Everybody was second-guessing maybe if I had done my job differently, if I had been the first car, a better shot, had better expertise."
The guilt was made worse, she said, because Hacker "was such a wonderful man on top of it."

Troopers are a family, Lilly said, but after Hacker's death they had to be a family that kept going.

"They were trying so bard to be totally professional," Lilly said. "At the same time, they were so hurt, trying not to get emotional."

Lilly's role was to help troopers and everybody else claim their emotions, so pent-up emotions won't cause physical, mental or emotional backlash later.

Mostly, she talked and gave out a lot of business cards. Nobody has called yet to schedule an appointment, but Lilly's not concerned.

"Things will happen in their own good time," she said. State police will absorb the cost of any counseling that employees schedule through Lilly as a result of Hacker's death, Davis said.

"It's Just good business sense to try to do everything you can to get a trooper back on his feet, back in the program," Davis said.

Times have certainly changed, Davis said.

"Before, you were given two or three days of f and then you came back to work." Before" was before the 1989 death of Trooper J.T. Brammer. The 42-year-old trooper was shot while serving a traffic warrant.

"I think that's when they began looking at some programs," Davis said.

Younger troopers, too, now encourage fellow officers to get counseling when they need it.
"People think of troopers as insensitive ... breathing fire," Lilly said. "They are not. They are very caring, sensitive."