Kirby: How the forgiving hearts of a slain cop’s parents helped me move past the rage and hate

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Robert Kirby.

Sixteen years ago, while driving to the office, I heard the radio news announce the killing of an unidentified West Jordan police officer.

My heart seized. My youngest brother, Chuck, was a West Jordan detective. The first images that flashed through my mind were of his wife, kids and our parents.

Although I had managed to get out of law enforcement relatively unscathed, my brothers still were targets. The possibility of one of us getting killed was an unspoken fear our parents shouldered. If it was Chuck, I had no idea how we would break the news to them.

A few minutes later, I learned that the officer was Ron Wood, a guy I knew through my brother. He had been gunned down by a 17-year-old armed robber, who then killed himself.

Relief was replaced by grief and rage, a dangerous cocktail of human emotions that can lead to destructive inclinations. I wanted to lash out, returning pain for pain.

If an effort to process my fury, I tried to apportion the blame accurately for what happened Nov. 18, 2002. It didn’t help much.

My anger deepened as the investigation revealed that the teenager had a troubled past.

His dad, it turns out, had little use for cops. “Police are only good for documenting things like traffic accidents,” the father said. “Cops only make things worse.”

Ironically, it would be the father who called police on his son. And it wasn’t for something like a traffic accident. It was because the boy had threatened to shoot him with a handgun.

A few minutes later, while trying to help the father locate his son, Ron was shot dead in Jordan Meadows Park. He was 39 years old.

I wrestled with hate for weeks. I still might be doing that but for a visit with Ron’s parents, Blair and Birgitta Wood, in their home.

Although it had been several months since his death, Ron’s dad and mom weren’t lost in their grief. Despite having far more reason to hate than I did, they focused on forgiveness.

“There’s no point in hating anyone,” Blair said. “It would only ruin more lives. Ron wouldn’t want that. And we don’t want that for our family.”

Birgitta made it clear that she didn’t hate the boy’s family. “It was a terrible thing for them. They lost a son, too.”

From that visit, I came away with my own need to at least temper my feelings about what happened. Constantly revisiting the source of my pain wasn’t going to help make it better.

I wrote a column about that as well. It actually helped. Birgitta occasionally would call to talk about Ron and her grandchildren. Over time, I put things in a perspective that was more beneficial to myself and those around me.

Not everyone can do that. We stand in common water, and the ripples we cause affect others differently. My brother Chuck never got over Ron’s death. He became withdrawn, avoiding family and friends.

Chuck retired from the West Jordan force and became a grim recluse. Maybe it was his way of avoiding the ripples from what happened that terrible day in Jordan Meadows Park.

If it was, it didn’t work. Seven years after Ron’s death, my brother killed himself with a drug overdose.

How to get help<br>Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts is asked to call the 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Utah also has crisis lines statewide, and the SafeUT app offers immediate intervention services for youths and a confidential tip program.