We remember November 12, 2003…and November 13, 2003.
Ten years. We can’t just ignore it.
Many of us can’t think about one with out the other. I asked a few deputies to write their thoughts about how it all started. But no one could do it justice—even ten years later. It is still too raw. Ten years later.
For those who were not there, for those who were too young to remember, for those who can’t possibly understand what it was like, I will try to explain.
11-12-13…Two local teens, Adam Schreiber (age 16) and Jon Schultz (age 15), went out duck hunting on Lake Winnebago, near Streich’s Lane (also known as the Sea Plane Base, or Willow’s Harbor). They were experienced outdoorsmen, and knew the area well. They went out after school, telling family they would be hunting in the bay. Jon’s dog was with them. It was cold, about 30 degrees, and windy. It got much windier, very quickly. Based on the lay of the land, Willow’s Harbor is usually protected from the wind. When we were first standing out there looking for them, the water in the Harbor was flat, non-moving, peaceful even…but the wind was whipping. Reports said 45 mph gusts. And once a duck skiff left that Harbor, all bets were off. The wind was unimaginable out on the lake. Just horrible. Those kids were certainly taken by surprise.
The families called us when the boys didn’t come home. Sheriff boats were called for immediately, even before the first deputy arrived. When the first deputy got there, he found that the family dog had been hit by a car, and was deceased. That deputy knew it was bad from the outset. Very bad.
Both boys drowned that night. We recovered them the following spring.
Adam and Jon were kids. They were in trouble, and we were looking for them. We had deputies, firefighters with night vision, detectives, our three boats, the US Coast Guard helicopter from 100 miles away, adjacent agencies, and everything we could mobilize, out there looking. Hoping. All night. We had everything we could muster…of course we had to try. Of course we were not going to give up. Everyone was drained, exhausted, freezing and just hoping for the best. These were good kids. This wasn’t supposed to happen to them. The lingering thought that it would turn from a rescue to a recovery---something no one wanted to say aloud. The radio traffic was quiet county-wide that night. Everyone who had a radio was listening for word.
Third shift for us starts at 10:00pm. All the deputies were briefed on the ongoing search, and as many as we could send went down to that call to help. The clocked rolled over midnight, to 11-13-13. Other deputies still had the rest of the county to take care of. Third shift was out, doing their job. Deputy Richard Meyer (Rick) was assigned to the northern part of the county for his patrol area. It was cold and windy, and everyone was listening to the radio traffic about the search for the boys. It seemed like business as usual for the rest of the county. Later in the shift, there was a burglar alarm to a business in the southern part of the county. Rick said he would go assist at the alarm, since others were tied up on the rescue operation. It was a pretty far distance to cover, but we do what we have to. We still had a duty to the rest of the county.
Rick never made it.
A passerby found Rick’s crashed squad car. Rick attempted to take the shortest path to the alarm call. In doing so, he had to navigate a construction zone. Rick took evasive action to avoid a large gravel pile in the road, but ultimately collided with machinery in the road. After being removed from his patrol car with the jaws of life, Deputy Meyer was transported to Theda Clark Medical Center where he died from his injuries.
From the hospital, the phone calls started. This was before social media. For that, I am thankful. We had just a few members of the Sheriff's Office who did not get word at home...a few who showed up to work the next day, thinking it was just another day at the office. It was tragedy for a whole building full of people. It was brutal for other near-by agencies, who helped that us that night, who covered our calls for a few days, because few here could function.
The whole thing was surreal when it happened. How does a young man, a great guy, with a new family and a promising future, go to work, to do the job he loves, and just not come home? We accept that it's a dangerous profession. We understand intuitively that bad things can happen to us. Thankfully, line of duty deaths really are few and far between around here. And when it happens, it is not ok.
A word about Law Enforcement funerals....they are beautiful, vast tributes to how an officer lived. They are amazing, and powerful, and full of ceremony, and I hope I never have to go to another one in my life.
So it's been 10 years...most of it feels like a lifetime ago. Some of it is a blur, and still other parts feel like yesterday. Nearly half of our current employees did not work here 10 years ago. So we talk about Rick, learning what we can, and we try to teach the rookies.
We remember everyday when we walk in the employee entrance, see the pictures, and the shadow box. Rick will not be forgotten.
All of us
Winnebago County Sheriff's Office
November 13, 2013