When you meet a person while in the middle of a personal tragedy, the relationship can go one of two ways. Either that person becomes a part of the blur in the tragedy and barely remembered, or they become a true friend.
June 17, 2014 started like any other day. I got up, kissed my then-girlfriend goodbye, and went to work. It was pouring rain that day, so much so that my boss sent us home because the woods were too wet.
When I got home, I put on dry clothes, grabbed my phone and noticed I had missed a call from my girlfriend. I called her back and Libby Police Sgt. Darren Short answered, saying I needed to come to her work. I remember the panic I felt as I drove there, fearing the absolute worst.
When I got to my girlfriend’s work, the sadness and panic was heavy in the air. I was lead into an office where my girlfriend was bawling in the arms of a friend. Darren told me to sit down, that he “had some hard news.” He said that my older stepson had been in an accident, and that he hadn’t made it. (We would later find out that Darren had been misinformed — that it had been my younger stepson, not my older stepson, who had passed away.)
The next few days were a living hell. I would never have believed it was possible. So many people called or came to see us. One of those calls was from Darren. I could hear the pain and sincerity in his voice as he apologized profusely for the mistake, even though it wasn’t his fault. The pain in his voice was as clear as the pain in my own voice those days.
Months later I saw Darren at a social event in town. I let him know that we didn’t blame him for the bad information and that we held no anger or hard feelings toward him. That, in a time of such pain, we were glad to have had someone so caring and concerned as he was. I could see the relief in his eyes and feel the sincerity in his apology over something he had no control over. I could see the incredibly difficult burden he had been carrying.
The following year, he coached my older stepson’s baseball team. At first, I could see lingering awkwardness between him and my wife, for that day was still fresh in their memories. Yet as the season went on, the awkwardness faded away, and we all became friends out of what had begun as a tremendous tragedy.
Since then, Darren has helped me with a few community events. He has always been more than willing to go above and beyond for our community and its youth.
I know that my relationship with Officer Short is different than most, but I have seen firsthand his sincerity and the kindness in his heart — not always the first things you think of with a police officer. He is a great man with a heart the size of Montana. He knows our children are important, and that we need to keep them safe. I know personally that he will go above and beyond for a friend and for our community.
As I sat to write this letter, I was compelled by this thought: When the person who delivered the worst news a person can ever get becomes your friend, that absolutely must say something about that person.
Law enforcement’s job isn’t just to put people in jail. They must also handle situations like mine. I am so very thankful that a man like Darren Short was there for us.
I’m damn proud to call him my friend.
Kyle O’Brien is a resident of Libby.