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When you have PTSD you're likely to have strong feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness and guilt among others. In the beginning I had all of these but especially guilt.
On the eve of August 15th, 2018 I was in my office writing a search warrant & affidavit for the CERVI 3:19 tank site, based on the evidence discovered there earlier, when I received a text message to return to the "war room" where the Watts interview was being monitored by the investigation team via CCTV. By the time I got there it was too late and the ball was in motion to solicit some kind of confessional statement from Watts. Or was it too late? We certainly didn't need anything outside of the truth so why didn't I stop it? Could I have stopped it? Was I too focused on the search warrant? For many months after this case closed I asked myself these questions. I had overwhelming feelings of guilt and regret for not stopping the interview before Watts blamed Shannan for the murders of Bella and Celeste (CeCe). As the lead, I felt responsible that Shanann was vilified and felt compelled to gather the information the Rzucek family needed to clear her name.These feelings of responsibility, guilt and regret compounded my PTSD and depression for nearly a year but through therapy I've accepted that I did the best I could at that moment and trying to control every aspect of the case would have been impossible for anyone.
Prior to Chris Watts pleading guilty on November 6th, 2018 I was on full speed working nearly 60 hours a week preparing for a potential capital punishment case. The Chief opened another detective position after learning I would likely be working a five year assignment. I had since released the CBI and FBI agents with the exception of some mop up so I could concentrate on what needed to be done and not on what every other (outside agency) investigator was doing. When Watts plead guilty I felt like I ran into a brick wall. It was over and I wasn't done! Although I knew he was solely responsible, I didn't know why or specifically how he commited his crimes and a several week closing process after his plea didn't reveal anything. I hoped it would, but didn't expect it to.
February 18th, 2019. I was in a computer training room located in the depths of the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. Accompanying me were two of the many agents who assisted me in the murder(s) investigation. I can't speak for the agents who were with me that day but my reason for being there was to gain closure for myself and more importantly, the Rzucek family. By this time I had grown to know the Rzuceks and consider them an extension of my family. After Watts' quasi confession on August 15th, 2018 I needed to know the truth about what really happened and I needed to hear it from Watts himself.
I also needed to know why and to connect all the little puzzle pieces floating around in my head. Pieces formed by collecting as many details as I could over a four month period and dissecting my observations while at the house numerous times, searching the vehicles & CERVI 3:19, and reviewing video footage & dozens of reports . I've never been the type of person to settle with "it just happened that way" or "that's the way it is" with anything. Whether it's a mechanical device of some kind, or even how a hurricane forms. I'm a detailed person and I have to know the details of how something works or why something happened to fully understand it.
When Watts described what he did, the missing puzzle pieces came together in my head but I didn’t feel the relief I expected. I felt shock and horror as I knew the majority of what he said was true. Later that evening in my hotel room I learned what happens when the glass tips and your brain has had enough. I experienced extreme anxiety and panic, strong emotions of anger, sadness, disbelief, and feeling completely out of control. I had flashbacks so severe I thought I was at the recovery scene. When I came back to earth I knew I needed some type of distraction to stop the images and thoughts running through my head so I turned my headphones to the max volume while playing music. Shortly thereafter my wife (Lori) called. I knew she was calling to see how my day and the interview went but I told her I couldn't talk to her and hung up. It was a shitty thing to do and I know it frightened her immensely but I just couldn't talk about it.
When the sun came up I headed for the Milwaukee airport. It was a difficult drive as I was looking around for anything I could find joy in to distract me, but because it was February in Wisconsin there weren't many options. Just frigid cold, wind and snow. I arrived at the airport several hours before my flight and began surfing the web for anything related to classic cars as I knew it would put me in a better place, or at least I thought. Images and uncontrollable emotions took over again and I made several trips to bathroom stalls to pull myself together. I moved around the waiting area in an attempt to avoid people but eventually it became impossible. I requested (via text) to take the following day off to clear my mind. I was convinced if I took a day off I'd be back to normal and could return to work. When I finally made it onto the plane I was so exhausted I fell asleep and didn't wake until we were landing. After a short nap I felt the energy to keep it together long enough to get home. Lori didn't ask me what was said in the interview and I didn't offer information either. I don't recall much of that day after I got home but Lori described me as being in an emotional yet zombie like state until I went to bed. I didn't sleep much that night as I continued to experience flashbacks and thought about what and how I was going to tell Sandie, Frank and Frankie what I had learned in the interview.
The following morning I changed my mind about taking the day off as I felt it was important to call the Rzuceks immediately for two reasons. First, they knew why I was going to Wisconsin because we discussed it prior to me leaving. Second, but more importantly, I wanted them to hear it from me and not some social media outlet. As I sat at the dining table and thought about how I was going to tell them Lori asked why I was going into work. At that point I lost control again and broke down sobbing. It was the first time she saw me cry which actually brought her some relief. I couldn't keep my emotions in check any longer as I thought about what I was going to say to Frank and Sandie. I wasn't in the right state of mind to speak with them but I had to. When we arrested Watts the Rzuceks found out through a social media site and I was not going to take the chance of that happening again.
Not long after the Wisconsin interview I realized PTSD is real and why people who suffer from it choose suicide. For the first few months I was in a very dark place but thankfully I sought treatment. I’ve learned the Watts case wasn’t the cause of my PTSD but rather the final straw, as it were. Looking back I believe my glass was at about 80% full prior to this case. I also learned I had symptoms shortly after the sentencing but didn’t recognize them as symptoms of PTS. I wasn’t able to sleep through the night, experienced weight and hair loss and was easily agitated by anyone around me. My wife continually asked me what was wrong and I answered her with the usual “Nothing, I’m fine!”
My tenure in LE extends 20 years and includes areas of detentions, patrol, gang intelligence and investigations. As with all people who repeatedly deal with trauma, I experienced many traumatic events which silently chipped away at my psyche. At first I felt things emotionally but learned over and over to choke it down and move on. After a while I became numb and somewhat uncaring. I mentally categorized people as evidence in an attempt to remove human element. If you've been in this type of profession (not just LE) for any length of time you can probably relate.
I remain on medical leave from my position as Detective for the Frederick, CO Police Department. My leave officially started last Spring when I was diagnosed with both acute PTSD and mild depression. I didn't have a choice as the Workman's Comp status went into effect very quickly. I now know it was the right decision as I was in no condition to continue working. For nearly a year now I’ve stayed mostly isolated from the public to avoid triggers. I’ve also been in intensive EMDR and exposure therapy to help rewire my brain and cope with these triggers. I’m happy to report that the process is working and I’m beginning to gain control of my life again. It’s a long road and I have my limitations but I know it will be worth it in the end.
My point of sharing this first post (and this blog) is to help break the stigma surrounding mental health wellness and to advise against letting things go too far. My career is likely over but it didn't have to be. If you’re a 1st responder or exposed to repeated trauma you need to take care of YOU as you experience traumatic events. Choking it down or laughing it off does NOT work and could be a career ender. Or far worse, you could lose your family or your life. There are numerous anonymous outlets where you can get help or just unload.Take advantage of them. I wish I would have.
In loving memory of Shanann, Bella, Celeste (CeCe) & Nico