DALLAS – The city's new police chief faces one of the worst tragedies that could befall a law enforcement officer: living with the knowledge that his dead son was a cop killer.
Just seven weeks after being sworn in as leader of the Dallas police force, David Brown learned on Father's Day that his 27-year-old son gunned down a suburban officer in a weekend shootout with police.
Investigators say 37-year-old Lancaster officer Craig Shaw was killed Sunday just minutes after Brown's son fatally shot a stranger in what authorities say was a random attack.
"This, in my opinion, is the worst possible personal tragedy any chief of police could have," said William Rathburn, who served as Dallas police chief from 1991 to 1993.
Brown, described by friends and colleagues as a hard-charging, private man, sent a message to the police department Tuesday acknowledging that the past few days had been "troubling and emotional." He offered condolences to the families of the two men his son killed.
"My family has not only lost a son, but a fellow police officer and a private citizen lost their lives at the hands of our son," Brown said in the statement. "That hurts so deeply I cannot adequately express the sadness I feel inside my heart."
His son, named David Brown Jr., had a minor criminal record, pleading no contest to misdemeanor delivery of marijuana in 2004 after originally being charged with a felony.
The younger Brown's live-in girlfriend, Misty Conaway, called Lancaster police to their apartment Sunday morning, seven hours before the shootings, according to 911 tapes released to local media outlets. She said Brown was having "a psychotic breakdown" and had hit her, local media reported. Conaway didn't file a formal complaint, but she and her children were taken to the police station.
Even before the shootings, the elder Brown was well acquainted with tragic loss. In 1988, his former partner and police academy classmate Walter Williams was fatally shot in the line of duty. His younger brother, Kelvin Brown, was killed three years later by drug dealers in Arizona.
Now the 49-year-old Brown confronts this latest tragedy less than two months after being promoted to the job he pursued for his entire career.
Sally Lannom, a Dallas police lieutenant who was a police academy classmate of Brown's, said recent events surpass even the other personal tragedies the police chief has known.
"As much as he's faced in his life, nothing prepares you for anything like this," Lannom said. "Quite honestly, I don't know that anybody's ever faced anything like this."
Shortly before the shootout with officers, Brown's son is believed to have killed a 23-year-old man named Jeremy McMillian.
McMillian's girlfriend, LaQuita Spence, told The Dallas Morning News that a glassy-eyed Brown walked up to the couple's car, pointed his gun through the window and opened fire. The two men did not know each other. McMillian died at the scene.
The elder Brown replaced David Kunkle as police chief on May 4 after serving as his top deputy for five years. Kunkle said Tuesday that he did not feel comfortable discussing the weekend deaths.
A website called the Officer Down Memorial Page lists just three slayings of police officers by children of other officers or prosecutors.
In 1994, a sheriff's lieutenant in Bernalillo County, N.M., was killed by the son of a state's attorney. In 1975, a Boston police officer was killed by the son of another officer. And in 1939, a Pensacola, Fla., police officer was killed by the son of a fellow officer who used his father's service revolver.
"The first reaction is to be mad at the killer and even the killer's family for the upbringing," said Chris Cosgriff, chairman of the website. "You want to point fingers, but you really can't in this situation."
Suzie Sawyer, who runs a Missouri-based organization that helps families and agencies cope with the death of an officer, called the shootings a "horrible family tragedy."
"The brotherhood and sisterhood in law enforcement is extremely tight," said Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors. "There will be hundreds of questions about this forever. You never expect another cop's child to take the life of an officer."
Rathburn, who served as deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department before coming to Dallas, cited the experience of the late Daryl Gates, who guided the LAPD while his son faced multiple drug-related arrests. Because of his son's struggles, Gates founded DARE, an organization aimed at educating children about dangers of drugs.
"My point is, personal tragedy can be turned around over time," said Rathburn, who also served as director of security for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. "So I hold out hope for Chief Brown. Based on what I know of him, he'll work his way through this."