Situation: Memorial Day 2012, 0830 hours, Logan County, Oklahoma, just north of the city of Guthrie, an Oklahoma State Trooper runs the license plate on an abandoned vehicle south bound on Interstate 35. The vehicle comes back to a homicide suspect from Renton, Washington who had fled that state after killing his 17-year-old girlfriend. Before abandoning his vehicle, the suspect writes a note and leaves it on the windshield stating that he was going to get gas. After receiving a call from our communications center about the situation, I quickly posted the Washington state wanted poster on our Oklahoma Highway Patrol Facebook page. Within minutes, people were calling to inform us that they had already given the suspect a ride to gas stations in Logan County and Oklahoma City. As nervous minutes ticked away, we waited to see where the suspect would surface next. Ground units searched the area where the suspect was last seen, while OHP Aircraft flew overhead. The suspected killer had traveled halfway across the US in an attempt to elude his captors; there was no way of telling what lengths he would go to, to stay free.
While law enforcement searched for the suspect, reporter Adam Mertz with KFOR, news channel 4, telephoned me to inquire about doing a story regarding our search for the suspect. Adam had seen our OHP Facebook page and was following a journalistic hunch that the murder suspect was still in the area. I agreed to meet with Adam and give him a sound bite concerning our efforts. As Adam Mertz and his photojournalist, Mark Paris, drove from Oklahoma City to Guthrie to meet me, they passed an individual on the Interstate service road at Wilshire walking north bound. Adam noticed as they passed that the person walking, matched the description of the murder suspect. Just to be safe, Adam asked Mark (who was driving), to turn around and go back. When the men circled back around, Adam could clearly see that the suspect was wearing the exact clothes that were shown on the wanted poster, to include a green Seattle baseball cap.
Adam called for help and the suspect was quickly arrested. Now, the newsman was part of the story. Adam and I began to record our interview that would play later that night to thousands of people across the state. Smiling, he said with a nervous laugh, “I guess that I was just lucky.”
I’m not sure why I said the exact words next that I did, but I wouldn’t take them back even if I could.
There are defining moments in life when we are outright, no question about it, presented with a situation where we can choose to acknowledge our belief in God and His ever present presence in our lives or we can remain silent. No one forced fancy theological words out of my mouth that day. I could not then, nor can I now, buy into some pre-scripted “company” line about how we just did our jobs. I refused to say how coincidental it was that Adam Mertz just happened to see our Facebook page and download the wanted poster, or how he just happened to desire to do a story, or how he just happened to be on the same interstate at the same time and just happen to see the homicide suspect from a moving vehicle traveling at highway speeds (70 mph or better) or how he just happened to recognize the suspect from the poster. I didn’t believe that to be true, so I didn’t say that.
What I did say was this, “I do not believe in luck. I believe it was Divine Providence that made everything work the way that it did today. We are so grateful that we could capture this dangerous person before he harmed or killed someone in his desperate attempt to escape.”
On camera and off, my interview with Adam lasted for over an hour as we stood in the sun, sweating from the heat and humidity. I would learn later that night which direct quote Adam had chosen to use in his story.
You guessed it, he used, “Divine Providence.” But I’m sure that was just dumb luck as well.