It was a story that, quite frankly, no reporter ever wants to cover.
A young man was reportedly wielding a gun in the parking lot at the Pierre School District’s administration building on South Poplar Avenue. He told police officers responding to the report that he had a gun and was willing to use it. Between 15 and 25 officers and agents from local, county, state and federal agencies were at the scene in short order, all of them armed and ready to defend themselves, if needed.
That particular parking lot is next to a hotel. There are homes not far away to the north and up a hill. Two restaurants also are nearby, though in the early morning hours when this incident took place, both were likely empty. Still, if shots had been fired, there was a danger that bystanders could have been hit by stray bullets. It’s unlikely but a very real possibility.
For 45 minutes, this young man engaged in a standoff with police, encouraging the officers and agents to shoot him before he shot them. Those officers very well could have done just that. They didn’t, though, and thankfully this story didn’t end in tragedy but with hope.
As it turns out, the young man in question had reported himself and did not actually have a gun. He was subdued by the use of less-lethal ammunition and came away from the incident bruised but otherwise, physically okay. The officers at the scene of this incident deserve high praise for their dedication to saving lives.
Make no mistake: the police saved this man’s life. He was suffering from a mental health crisis and, as we learned in court Nov. 27, he had tried to take his own life twice the day before attempting to convince police officers to kill him.
Now, months later, the young man who came so close to dying, is doing better. He’s been seeing counselors both locally and in Sioux Falls and they’ve helped him get through his crisis and start to heal. He’s got a long, bumpy road ahead of him but with help and support, he will get better.
The key here is that this young man got help and while that help didn’t come under the best of circumstances, he’s better for it. His story should be a lesson for us all. If you’re feeling like there’s no way the world can be bright again, and that there’s no hope for the future, ask for help. If you know someone who is struggling with a mental health issue, be there for them even if it’s just a shoulder on which to cry. Help them when they ask for it. Ask if they need help. Look out for your friends, family and co-workers; you could save their lives.
Also, as a community, we need to see this story and others like it as another sign that we need to do more to support those among us suffering from diseases of the mind. We need to support efforts to provide more resources for people looking for help with addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression and all other mental health issues. Capital Area Counseling Services is raising money even now to build a new, modern facility and they could probably use some help. This winter, the state legislature likely will be debating bills aimed at providing more funding and for mental health services in the state. Our legislators need to know that those resources are necessary.