My Grief This Day

by Robert Cubby

Police Officer Melvin Santiago
Police Officer Melvin Santiago

This past week, I received word that a member of my former police department was murdered in an ambush while responding to a robbery in progress at a Walgreen’s store. This was hard and devastating news to hear. I always like to think that these sad events touch others, but they somehow miss our police department.

But it is the sad truth of our times and our profession and should be something we should expect. It seems easy to say those things when you are not involved or the officer, although a member of your former department, was hired after my retirement so I never got a chance to meet him or know him.

I was personally trying to keep other matters under control or deal with them as they arose. I was approaching my 5 year anniversary of the shooting I was involved in where 5 officers were wounded and one later died of his wounds. When I deal with those thoughts, dreading the flashbacks and horrible thoughts and visions that will probably rear their ugly head, the last thing I wanted or needed was any additional bad news. I had enough to deal with, I  thought. I thought if I distance myself from any bad news and give myself excuses for not being involved, I  could, somehow, get through this tragedy. I was wrong.

As the news spread and the messages flooded in, I learned more about Officer Melvin Santiago. What a great person he was and how much he loved being an officer. But I had my own grief to deal with, so I continued to try to distance myself. But how could I, I thought. I’m a member of the CISM team with the chaplain. Now, I was overwhelmed with an officer needing assistance. I can’t abandon him now. I tried calling him, but he couldn’t come to the phone. Text messages and PMs on Facebook went unanswered. It was only at the end of the first day that he could get back to me, and I promised to be there for him if he needed the backup.

My dealings with this tragedy still kept me at a distance. Not because of any willful thinking that way, but simply, I’ve been retired for 3 years and many new officers don’t know me. I didn’t know Officer Santiago so there would be some distance of familiarity, but I strove to know him as best I could.

As they say, be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.  For example, I learned Officer Santiago was the nephew of a police officer I worked with and respected. His uncle served with me the day of the shooting 5 years earlier and witnessed the officers in front of him in the tactical stack during the entry in the apartment,  go down, seriously wounded right in front of him. We, who served together that day, had a special bond from that experience and now to know that a member of that team lost a loved one in yet another tragedy, it really struck home with me. The distance now shortened and the pain I tried to keep at bay, increased. I didn’t need, now, to know Melvin. I knew his uncle and knew what a good family he came from. I hurt for his uncle Frank and wondered how he was taking this loss.

They say we travel in tight circles and cross paths because of those circles we travel in. As news still came in, my father tells me that a girl who is a friend of the family, is taking the death of Officer Santiago very badly and that I should talk to her. It turns out she is a cousin of Melvin’s. She is also the childhood friend of my sister-in-law, Tanya, and knew my brother’s family well. She knew who I was in relation to my brother, but she had no idea I was a retired Jersey City Police Captain. 

She needed gaps filled in as to what had happened as she was only getting bits and pieces from relatives and from the news. It’s devastating when you know you lost a cousin, but it’s worse when you cannot understand how this happened. Without jeopardizing an ongoing investigation, I gave her what was already released locally, but didn’t make the national news or reach her in Florida. In the end, she said I was a blessing to her family. Knowing the bond we had, I told her we’re all family, blood or blue. We take care of our own.

In the end, after all is settled and Julie is on her way to relatives in New Jersey for the funeral, I reflected on what happened. Battling what I thought were insurmountable odds with my thoughts about 5 years ago, suddenly, that didn’t cloud my thinking or kidnap my every thought.  They were pushed to the side and on the back burner and helping a family friend and my brother officers became paramount. Funny, what appeared to be the loss of a stranger turned out to be the loss of a friend. His loss touched not only me and my family, but my friends as well. On this sad occasion then, a farewell to my friend, Melvin Santiago.

Robert Cubby
Robert Cubby

About the Author: Robert Cubby was born January 4, 1950. He attended Montclair State College (University) earning a BA degree in psychology. Shortly after graduation, Robert was sworn in as a police officer for the Jersey City Police Department. After attending the Police Academy, he was assigned to the patrol division. After seven years of working in two patrol districts, he was transferred to the Emergency Services Bureau where he was an instructor for the Police Academy. After 8 1/2 years, Robert was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Property Unit. This was followed by assignments back in patrol as a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. As a lieutenant, Robert was deployed to assist in the efforts during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. As a captain, he was assigned out of title 50% of the time as an acting inspector/city commander. Captain Cubby retired from the Jersey City police Department in 2011 after 38 years, 4 months of service. As the result of his service to the department, he was diagnosed with PTSD and continues to struggle with it on a recurring basis. Robert also appeared in the film, Code9 Officer Needs Assistance.

Other articles by Robert Cubby:
A Piece of Cloth

Project Blue Light: Remember How They Lived, Not How They Died

Friday, the Thirteenth

Willies Story

911: My Story