GREENFIELD — The Rev. Frank Klauder got the call around 10 a.m. It was a bright Wednesday morning at the end of May; a day in the middle of a warm, sunny week that hinted at the approaching summer.
The message relayed to Klauder, however, was one that darkened the day: A child had been found dead in a Greenfield home, the victim of an apparent homicide.
Klauder’s phone often rings in situations like these. The deacon at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Fortville is one of several county clergymen who serve local police departments, caring for those whose jobs are to take care of others.
Chaplains often are called to the scene of a serious incident for a quick talk, a prayer or to just generally provide support to first responders. In the days that follow that first visit, as officers hustle to complete their investigation, as they gather evidence and conduct interviews, as they further delve into tragedies, the chaplains provide counseling as stress and emotions set in.
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And with 1-year-old Zoey Wagoner dead and her parents charged with murder, emotions ran high.
There is no set procedure to deal with these instances. A chaplain just has to be ready to provide whatever is needed, Klauder said.
As a retired police officer, Klauder felt an automatic rapport with the officers when he came on board, which helped him know how to respond in difficult situations.
“If someone has a problem, the chaplain’s job is to listen,” Klauder said. “Every call is different; every officer takes things differently. Nothing is normal. You just let them talk and tell you how they feel.
“Sometimes it’s helpful just reiterating what they have been through. … Sometimes just being there is the help that’s needed.”
Police chaplains have always been part of local police and fire departments, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said, whether theirs was an appointed position or an informal post held by a police officer with strong religious convictions who lent an ear to other members of the force.
Each of the county’s law enforcement agencies also provides its employees access to medical-based therapy if issues stretch beyond what chaplains can offer, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.
When Jester took control of the Greenfield Police Department in 2008, he approached local ministers about forming a more organized group.
Now, under the direction of one lead chaplain, local faith leaders work closely with each law enforcement agency in Hancock County.
Roger Kinion, the county’s lead police chaplain, is the head pastor at Calvary Baptist Church and has worked with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for several years. Greenfield firefighters have turned to Steve Richwine, an assistant pastor at By His Grace Ministry, for support since he became the Greenfield Fire Department chaplain in 2008.
First responders know chaplains are only a phone call away to help them deal with any personal issues, Richwine said. And their job isn’t all reactive. They also bless equipment, including fire trucks and ambulances, and Richwine sends out weekly sermons to firefighters.
Chaplains typically are called to scenes where someone has died, Kinion said. Just like the first responders who handle the case, chaplains are called to a crime scene by emergency dispatchers. Those calls come in about three times a month.
Chaplains also are called upon to travel with police officers to inform family members of a loved one’s death and are there with the family as they begin to grieve, Kinion said.
Far more often, especially in the hours and days following a particularly demanding investigation, chaplains make themselves available to officers at the department’s headquarters to help them process what they have witnessed.
First-responder chaplaincy is a different kind of public ministry from what most pastors are used to, Kinion said; it’s more conversational than religious; it has less to do with philosophy and more to do with human experience.
Some situations stick with chaplains just as they do with officers.
Kinion recalled being on the scene after a 4-year-old Greenfield boy died in his sleep from a medical issue that was unknown to his parents. The image of the boy’s body floats into Kinion’s mind from time to time.
Those experiences help chaplains develop stronger bonds with officers because they gain a deeper understanding of the emotions that come with police work, Kinion said.
The death of Zoey Wagoner, who according to medical reports died of blunt-force trauma, has been one of the more trying events in recent memory, Klauder and Kinion agreed.
Four chaplains were at the crime scene after the girl was found. Klauder was one of the first and spent some time talking with the Greenfield Police Department officer who had attempted to revive the child. That afternoon, the chaplains and department leaders had a short meeting with those investigating to help them deal with any immediate needs.
“It takes on a whole new meaning when it’s a child. You don’t expect to see a child die, and it’s very emotional,” Kinion said. “While they focus on the black and white, the paperwork … we say things to them, like, ‘This is not a normal situation, but you’re handling it the best you can; you did what you were supposed to; you did your job; you did good.’”
Jester said he encourages officers to seek help when needed.
“These guys are human,” Jester said. “This stuff is going to affect them. Letting it bottle up isn’t good for you.”
If further counseling is needed, the chaplains will be on hand.
“Just because they are back to a normal day doesn’t mean the emotions go away,” Kinion said.
“Just because (officers) are back to a normal day doesn’t mean the emotions go away.”
The Rev. Roger Kinion, lead police chaplain for Hancock County
“These guys are human. This stuff is going to affect them. Letting it bottle up isn’t good for you.”
John Jester, Greenfield police chief