Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
A tribute to Todd Bahr EOW 6/6/2008
In the five years that have passed since June 6, 2008, I have told and retold the official account of the terrible events of that night so many times that the details surrounding the incident have become a permanent part of my own history. Even though I wasn’t there. Like most everybody else whose job does not entail responding to emergencies and protecting the lives of others, I was at home safely in my bed when Todd Bahr lost his life and while Joe Young and other officers faced Todd’s murderer in a gun battle.
This five year anniversary marks a turning point for many in the Fredericksburg Police Department, as there is finally a sense of readiness to move beyond our shared tragedy. We will never forget Todd. Tonight, his co-workers, friends, and loved ones plan to gather together in Todd’s honor and say goodbye. In our goodbyes, we will not be leaving Todd behind. But many of us hope that the memories of that night can be left behind, in some other lifetime, in someone else’s dreams.
This is my attempt to let go of some of those memories.
Around 11:15 p.m. on June 6, 2008, I was awakened by the ringing of my cell phone. It was Chief Nye, calling to tell me that our officers had been involved in a shooting with a violent suspect in a domestic incident, and that the suspect was not expected to live. The Chief told me to be prepared for inquiries from the media, and that I was probably going to have to come in to work. From what little information I was given at that moment, the case seemed very straightforward: an armed man had threatened his ex-girlfriend with a gun and fired shots at officers on the scene. He had then been shot and killed. I spent a few minutes debating whether or not I needed to drive back to work (at that time, I lived almost an hour away) or if the story could wait until the morning.
Five years ago, without the immediacy of Facebook and other social media that is so pervasive today, there was much less urgency to provide information to the press as soon as an incident occurred. I thought I might have the luxury of at least a few hours more sleep.
While I was mulling over these options, my husband Mark, who was then the Division Chief of the Fredericksburg Fire Department, received a call from a Battalion Chief who was on the scene of the shooting. Firefighters and personnel from Fredericksburg Rescue Squad were at that moment working to save the life of the gunman, Gregory Berryman. Due to the trauma on Berryman’s body from multiple gunshots, his prospects for survival were grim. As I listened to Mark getting information from the on-scene EMS providers, I decided to call the on-duty police sergeant to get a more detailed assessment of the incident and make a decision about the need for my own response.
I called then-Sergeant Bill Hallam on his cell phone. He answered the phone with stress in his voice, and I quickly told him that I knew about the shooting of the domestic violence suspect and I asked him if he needed me to come out and handle any media. I will never forget his response. “What are you talking about!!?? Todd is dead! Todd has been shot and he’s dead!!”
During the fifteen minutes following the gun battle involving Berryman and Officer Joe Young, and while the medics were trying to save Berryman’s life, Hallam walked the route that he knew the gunman must have taken from the parking lot where he abandoned his pickup to the spot where he started shooting at Joe. Hallam was searching for evidence in the darkness, but instead he found the body of his officer, Todd Bahr. He immediately called in on his radio “officer down” and knelt beside his friend.
Hallam told me later that he knew at once that Todd was dead.
When I called him on the phone that night just moments after his awful discovery, Bill was on the ground talking to Todd and waiting for help to come.
At home, I hung up my phone and shouted at my husband, who was still getting updates from his personnel at the scene. The Battalion Chief on the other end of Mark’s phone had not yet received the relayed transmission about the downed officer. I almost grabbed the phone out of Mark’s hand: “WE NEED TO GO! NOW.”
Bless him and his ingrained immediate response to emergencies after 28 years in the Fire Department, Mark had me out the door and in his Division Chief truck heading down the road with lights and siren in less than a minute. As we drove in on Route 3, we passed more than one Sheriff’s Department patrol car and each one blinked their lights at us as we barreled by. Word travels fast, and they knew where we were going.
When we pulled in to the police department, every parking space was filled and cruisers from Spotsylvania, Stafford, State Police, and many others lined the driveway. Inside the building, every face was drawn and devastated. There is something particularly earth-shattering about seeing tears on the faces of tough men in uniform.
We all did the best job we could that night. Some of us, my colleagues, performed exceptionally.
One of us sacrificed everything.
When Berryman bailed out of his truck and ran into the shadows toward his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, Officer Todd Bahr ran after him. Without hesitating, Todd ran into the darkness after a dangerous man whose clear intent was to kill. There are no words to express an adequate tribute to this act of service.
A couple hours after the shooting, I was in my office when the dispatchers who were working during the incident walked by headed to a conference room for their debriefing. They were all in tears and supporting each other. During the chaos, and for a long time after they’d heard Hallam’s “officer down” and sent responders to his aid, the dispatchers stayed at their posts and continued answering the phones and radios and keeping a critical log of the events. It must have felt like a lifetime of hell before they were finally relieved from duty.
I talked to as many people as I could throughout the night, trying to put together an accurate timeline of the events that led up to Todd’s death. I knew that the public needed to know and understand how it happened. I can only imagine what it must have cost in misery for those officers to give me their raw memories, so jagged and fresh in the early morning hours of June 7, 2008. For that I will forever be sorry.
Five years ago, my department lived through a tragedy and we mourned the loss of our friend, Todd Bahr. While we are not better for the experience, we are stronger. As Todd might say: “Right on, right on.”