There are a few nights in my career that I’ll never forget. The night David Grove was killed is at the top of the list.
I was working for the Hanover Evening Sun and got the call at home to start driving because an officer had been shot. That’s all I knew as I grabbed a photographer and headed for Gettysburg.
That night, Nov. 11, 2010, was one of the toughest of my careers. And Tuesday, a jury found Christopher Johnson guilty of his murder. On Thursday, a jury sentenced him to death by lethal injection. Is that justice for David?
On my way out to the game lands last night, I had no idea who was dead. I was panicking, trying to explain to Clare what we should expect when we got there. In hindsight, I think I was begging that it wasn’t someone I knew.
We pulled up behind a line of police cars. The lights were blazing in the fog, and all of their doors were open but no one was in sight. It was one of the eeriest things I’ve ever seen.
As we turned the bend, I saw all of the police officers just standing there. Some were crying, others looked as though they were in prayer. And I was horrified until an officer I know turned around and saw me. He motioned at us to wait, and nodded.
I didn’t know Officer Grove that well. I think I met him once, and spoke to him on the phone a few times. And since then, I’d done several interviews with other officers saying that being a game warden is more dangerous than many other beats. Because the people they meet most often have guns, and know how to use them.
I interviewed the new WCO who took Grove’s place, shoes he said he couldn’t fill. I talked to him and his wife about how what happened to Grove plays a role in their lives.
I watched from the Daily Record for the past few weeks as the trial unfolded against Christopher Johnson. The arguments over if intoxication kept him from being able to know what he was doing ahead of time. And I read that he reloaded his weapon. I remember the holes in the side of the car. But most of all I remember that scene — the fog, the lights, the open car doors. Like the world had just stopped and no one had time to turn off their engines.
Was Johnson’s guilty verdict justice for Grove and his family? I don’t know. It doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t ease the pain of his family and friends.
In the days after Grove’s death, I interviewed an Aspers man who was a WCO for years in the same area. He was paying his respects, and told me that he, too, was 31 years old the day he was shot in the line of duty. He, too, loved the outdoors and hunting. But his story ended differently — the first two .243-caliber shots missed. The third hit his shoulder just below his ear leaving him with shrapnel that is still between his eyes, in his neck and his hand.
“All but an inch and the grace of God,” he told me. “It could have been me.”