Saturday, September 6, 2008

Isabel's Sacrifice

There is no way that I can get into the life and mind of Isabel Nazario last night, but let me paint you a picture of a normal night that would lead up to what happened to her that might bring it more closely home for you.

First let's start with the fact that Isabel is a 40-year old mom and also a Philadelphia police officer, working for the Narcotics Strike Force.

This unit is an active, on-the-streets, in-the-face-of-the-drug-dealers group that works every day to keep the city and its residents safe from the scourge of the illegal narcotics that are at the root cause of most other crime.

Isabel and her unit are the people that 'hit the houses' of the dealers, that actively patrol the streets of the neighborhoods that are the worst infected. They chase down, get directly into the faces of, put their hands and cuffs on, and sometimes get into armed confrontations with drug dealers at all hours of the day and night.

They also have a tremendous camaraderie within their group that comes from the both the respect that their day-to-day job enjoins and from the sharing of their personal lives and family stories.

Isabel Nazario is the mother of a teenage daughter who was herself likely enjoying her first Friday night of the school year, perhaps anticipating shopping or some other activity with her mom over the weekend.

I am absolutely certain that Isabel had her daughter on her mind any number of times while patrolling the streets of Southwest Philly last night.


Maybe thinking about clothes that she wanted to pickup for her for the new school year. Maybe about getting some shopping done the next day for lunch or dinner. Maybe hoping that she was making good decisions on this Friday night, should she be hanging out with friends, especially the boys that become so much of the concern to those of us who are or have been parents of teenage girls.

There is every chance that Isabel and her partner, Terry Tull, had stopped for some dinner during the evening. They likely strolled into some local eatery and grabbed a sandwich or a platter, sat down, and enjoyed a meal while talking about their families, maybe about a job that they had responded to earlier, perhaps about some situation involving a co-worker.

Even if they just stopped for a cup of coffee, there is one thing that is absolutely certain. Neither one of them was considering that this would be the final hours of their life.

Shortly before ten o'clock on Friday night, a call came over police radio that another unit was in pursuit of a vehicle. This vehicle was a white SUV, and it was traveling through the streets at a high rate of speed. What the information was unable to supply at that point was that the driver was a 16-year old who didn't have a license and who was under the influence of some substance, be it alcohol or drugs or both.

Terry was driving, Isabel was the passenger, and they proceeded southbound on 39th Street towards Wallace Street, trying to maneuver into the area where they believed the SUV would be going. They were hoping that, if they were able to get into a position to help, that perhaps they could pull the vehicle over and take a dangerous driver off the streets.

Like most rowhouse neighborhoods of Philly, the intersection of 39th and Wallace is difficult to see down one street from another. You would have to completely stop and look down the block to see any possible oncoming traffic.

It is likely that Terry did just this as he got to the intersection. He pulled up at the stop sign and stopped their patrol vehicle, they both glanced at Wallace Street and saw that traffic was clear, and Terry then pulled their cruiser out to cross the intersection.

What they were unable to see in the dark, in that short distance, in that short space of time, was the SUV that they were trying to find. It was heading eastbound on Wallace Street at an extremely high rate of speed, with the driver having no intention of stopping at the intersection.

As he barrelled towards the intersection, Tull and Nazario had just pulled out into it, and the SUV was on them in a split-second, likely without them even knowing it was coming. If Nazario had any knowledge that it was coming directly at her, it was only in that one sudden instant of time. She had no time to react in any way, no time for one final prayer, no time to think of her daughter one last time, no time left in her life.

The SUV slammed directly into the side of the patrol car at full speed, likely killing officer Isabel Nazario instantaneously. Tully was also seriously injured, suffering broken ribs and eventually also fighting for his life at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Fellow officers and rescue workers responded to the scene and while some took off in foot pursuit of Nazario's killer, successfully catching him a short distance away, others responded to try and save the lives of the officers.

The 'Jaws of Life' were needed to cut them free of the demolished squad car. Local news media caught the dramatic scene as fire rescue workers attempted CPR on Isabel as they loaded her into the EMT for transport to the hospital where she was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The Philadelphia Police Department had lost our second officer this year in the line-of-duty, the third within a calendar year, the fourth within the past two years.

Perhaps even worse, a young teenage girl has lost her mother. We have one another to lean on, we have other officers to help handle our grief. This girl lost her only mother, and it is a loss that she will have a very difficult time in overcoming.

We need to remember Isabel Nazario and the sacrifice that she made for her city. We need to remember it as being just as sacrificial, just as important, just as relevant as the loss of our other recent brothers who died while responding to armed robberies. We need to remember it as representative of what we all do every day, or have done on many days and nights, and as what could happen to any of us on any shift that we work.

And we all need to remember this young girl, Isabel's daughter, and make sure that we let her know that she is not as alone as she feels. We need to let her know that she has a vast family in blue, and we need to make sure that she never forgets that fact.

God bless the soul of Isabel Nazario. God bless Terry Tully at HUP as he continues his attempts to recover from his physical injuries and the likely emotional trauma still to come. And God bless Isabel Nazario's young daughter, that she may somehow one day overcome this devastating loss, and live a life that proudly reflects the sacrifice made by her mother.

To all of my fellow Philly Cops, and to law enforcement officers everywhere, be safe, and may God bless you all for the sacrifices that you and your families make every single day and night.

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