If police officers are on the job long enough, they are going to be called to a situation where a person is threatening to commit suicide. During my years as a Deputy Sheriff and County Sheriff, this happened to me three times, and each time the person was armed with a gun. This is something they didn't teach at the police academy as to what you should do. You are on your own. This is what happened to me the first time . . .
I had worked at the Darlington Library as usual from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. one summer day before starting my 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift as a Deputy Sheriff. As soon as I began my patrol, I was sent on a call to a residence in Darlington. I knew the family. The husband had been a student of mine when he was in junior high school.
The lady told me that she had informed her husband that she wanted a divorce. After a heated argument, the husband had left in his truck. He took a bottle of whiskey and a 12 gauge shotgun . . . definitely NOT a good combination. The lady told me that he might be headed to a local fishing pond "to end it all."
I had quit smoking for two days, hoping to end my nasty habit, but the first thing I did after leaving her house was buy a pack of cigarettes. Five minutes later I spotted the man's pickup truck parked near the pond on a dead end road off 47 North. I informed dispatch of the situation, and to send backup. As I approached the truck on foot, I said a little prayer and touched the cross hanging on the necklace beneath my duty shirt. My hand was on the grip of my Smith & Wesson revolver.
My former student was sitting behind the steering wheel. He had the shotgun between his legs, his thumb on the trigger, and the muzzle end in his mouth. The hammer was drawn back. The bottle of whiskey was on the seat . . . half empty. I knew it only took slight pressure for the gun to be fired. He saw me through the passenger window, removed the gun from his mouth, and stuck it under his chin. I called him by name and pleaded with him to not "do anything stupid" . . . and told him I was going to get in his truck and talk with him. He said I could . . . but I would have to place my revolver on the hood of his truck first, which I did . . . and then lit a cigarette and said another little prayer to myself.
Within minutes, the Sheriff and a few other officers arrived on the scene. I radioed them to stay back some distance, as the situation could become worse . . . the more he drank. Well, I talked . . . and I talked . . . and I smoked one cigarette after another . . . lighting the next cigarette with the preceeding one. I told the fellow how much I thought of him as my former student and as a father to his kids . . . and how much he had to live for even if his marriage did not work out. He took a couple more swigs as I talked, and then asked for a cigarette . . . taking his thumb off the trigger. We talked for a good hour until it was dark outside. A couple of times, he threatened to do himself in, and I told him I could not stop him, but that it was likely that I would be injured too . . . from flying 12 gauge buckshot inside the truck cab. I noticed that he was listening and agreeing more with what I was telling him, and he was starting to slur his speech. He was becoming drowsy. Twenty minutes later, he vomited . . . some of which landed on my duty pants. Ten minutes after that, my former student passed out. I grabbed the shotgun, lowered the hammer, and threw it out the passenger side window. I called for an ambulance and exited the truck, while my fellow officers removed the man, handcuffed him and laid him face down on the grass. He was unconscious.
I followed the ambulance to the hospital where he was admitted for alcohol poisoning . . . As I sat there, it finally sank in what I had been through . . . I went outside to have a smoke . . . I had none left. I had smoked an entire pack in an hour and a half. My former student did get divorced, but got his life back together. He was a good guy that just had a difficult stretch in his life. Several years later, he died tragically in a motorcycle accident.
I faced the same situation two more times later in my career. Each time, the person was armed with a gun with their finger on the trigger. And each time I sat by their side and talked them out of it . . . and each time I said a prayer . . . and each time I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes. I was lucky. I quit smoking after I retired from the Sheriff's Department. I thank God that I knew all three people ahead of time. I thank God that I had a gift for talking to people in those dire situations . . . and at the time I thanked God I had a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. I have been out of law enforcement for 22 years . . . and I have memories like these still floating around in my mind. I have dreams almost every week of police incidents I was involved in . . . Other police officers will tell you the same.

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.