CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — It was a phone call at about 1 a.m. that alerted Portland Police Department Chief Mark Cory to a situation on Escondido Street and Pacific Drive.
It was a call Cory said he and other officers expected to be a welfare check after suspect Roel Garza hung up the phone abruptly.
But it was anything but a welfare check after Cory and his officers discovered a gruesome scene. There were three dead bodies, those of a family: Roel Garza, Jennifer Phillips, and their 5-year-old son Eli Garza.
“Even if you knew you were responding to that type of call, it’s still difficult, but it’s more so if you’re not anticipating what you’re walking in on,” Cory said.
After those traumatic events Cory had another tough task: inform family members that their loved ones have died.
“It’s a difficult mission to be given to go deliver that message to somebody that they just lost a loved one,” he said.
Cory said he’s had a multitude of reactions from people when he’s told them the tragic news. He said people have slammed the door in his face, fainted and fallen to their knees.
Seeing tragic events, however, was not new to Cory when he joined law enforcement more than three decades ago. He was in the United States Army Infantry where he saw people die in war.
“Having been in the United States Army Infantry, where that is our main purpose, that’s our purpose, our sole purpose, is to eliminate and kill the enemy," Cory said. "In law enforcement, our job is to save lives and to help the community. It’s much more difficult to deal with and see that."
Cory said he’s had sleepless nights after the double homicide-suicide, but he said he still looks forward to going to work every single day.
“Those 1 percent of critical incidences that leaves a scar on you, but we look to those 99 percent of those good times and those good outcomes to overcome, to help us overcome those one percent of very critical incidences, difficult times that we have to deal with in this career,” Cory said.
However, officers don’t have to go through these tough times alone. The Portland Police Department is partnered with the Coastal Bend Regional Advisory Council’s Critical Instant Stress Management team to help them find ways to cope with seeing traumatic incidents.
“We discuss what occurred and we help to stabilize the situation and we want to acknowledge the crisis that occurred and then help everyone that’s in that process understand it,” said Patricia Arnold, the committee chair for the team.
The program also offers chaplain services and gives officers the chance to become an ordained minister.
The Portland Police Department’s detective sergeant, Terrell Elliott, is one of those ordained ministers and said he prays with families out on the scene.
“It’s more important to take care of everybody else when you’re a first responder but you generally don’t take care of self,” Elliott said.
During traumatic events, there is no time to prepare for the incident when going out on to the scene, Elliott said. And if an incident involves a child, like the double homicide-suicide in Portland, as a father, he feels for the family.
Elliott said one of the hardest parts about the job is that people don’t realize law enforcement also has feelings that they have to cope with.
“But at the end of the day there’s a person inside that uniform that has to deal with the emotional impact and psychological impact of the incident just like any other person would,” he said.