Nearly all of the Pleasantonians whom Garry Senna visits to announce that their next of kin have been killed blurt out the exact same thing: "You're kidding!"
"As if that's what I love to do: knock on strangers' doors at three in the morning and tell them, 'Your daughter's dead.'" But they say it "because they've gone into immediate shock," said Senna, a Harvest Valley Christian Church pastor who has been a volunteer chaplain with the Pleasanton Police Department for twenty years. Chaplains augment most police forces, usually on a volunteer basis.
"We're telling them news that will forever change their lives," Senna told Apprehension. "News that's going to rock their worlds." Wearing a chaplain's uniform and badge, he accompanies cops to those doorsteps. "As soon as they see me, they freak. They lose it." He asks to be let in, "and if they haven't already fainted or fallen into my arms, they'll let us in." Then he relays the basics, careful to say "dead" and not "passed" or "gone," because he feels obliged to be specific. A father of four himself, Senna makes a point of viewing victims' bodies at their death scenes before visiting the next of kin: "When I see the person who's really dead, it becomes real for me. This is not just information I'm delivering." At a Foothill Boulevard accident scene last month, he saw the body of nineteen-year-old Laurel Williams, whose friend Katie McKewon was later arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and gross vehicular manslaughter. Williams' lethal injuries did not mar her face, he said: "She was picture-perfect." Then he and a cop drove to her mother's house.
During notifications — that's what they're called — time crawls and fast-forwards all at once. Recipients of Senna's bad news "have no opportunity to put up a posture or defense, so you see the rawest of human emotions — so raw that you see right into who that person really is." Some people curse — at him, at fate. "Some ask, 'How could God allow this to happen? I'm not rich, I'm not famous. I'm just trying to make a living and God took my son.'" He always stays until other loved ones — a support group — arrives. "All I do is put a Band-Aid on a mortal wound," he sighed. "But at least I have a Band-Aid."
Yuletide peril: Criminals are doing their holiday "shopping" too. Rockridge alone sustained eleven vehicle thefts and four burglaries between November 5 and November 7. Throughout Oakland, 28 vehicles were reported stolen between November 5 and November 11. Between November 16 and November 17, six rooms on the third floor of UC Berkeley's Mulford Hall were burgled, with both personal and university property taken, according to UC Police. On November 18, a youth who looked about fifteen snatched a handheld video game from a passenger aboard a Fremont-bound BART train, escaping at the Hayward station. BART police classify it as grand theft, which means the game was worth over $400. Hoping to stem the tide, the Oakland Police Department has released a Holiday Crime Prevention Tips list. It recommends keeping homes, offices, and cars locked as tight as the Little Drummer Boy's drum. Also: Shop with friends, not alone. Hide purchases in nondescript bags, because "crooks look for the 'high dollar' shopping bags," the list advises. Hungry? "Watch purchases while eating in mall food courts," where the phrase "sticky fingers" has two different meanings.
You better not cry: On November 11, a stubborn solicitor sporting "white hair, white beard, large build" refused to vacate the doorstep of a Walnut Creek homeowner, who called the police and, according to the report, "said he looks like Santa." The North Pole is that way.
War on drugstores: A man telephoned Walgreens in downtown Berkeley around 1:15 p.m. on November 9 to announce that a bomb had been planted inside the store's restroom and that "he might set it off," according to Berkeley Police Lieutenant Wesley Hester. Officers arrived within a few minutes, evacuating the store and closing off the surrounding block to traffic. "That's a major hassle, especially in front of a BART station," Hester said. Around 2:30 p.m., the store reopened. No explosive device was found.
Fake five: Was this tryouts month for weird yet sinister stunts, or what? In the ongoing UC Berkeley Oak Grove dispute, a dark-haired twentysomething man "wearing a skirt with no underwear" brandished bolt cutters at a UCPD officer on November 14, according to the log. A scofflaw passed a counterfeit $5 bill at Berkeley's Cafe Intermezzo on November 19. "Balloon" was spray-painted in orange on a Walnut Creek building on November 11. Thankfully, three preteen girls escaped an oddly garbed man after he told them to enter his car in a Union City church parking lot on November 17, according to police. Based on the girls' descriptions, the Hayward Daily Review titled its article on the incident, "Nude man wearing nun's habit sought in Union City kidnap attempt" — a contradiction in terms, since habits are all-body affairs. SFGate.com titled its story, "Naked man with nun's habit on head tried to lure girls, police say." Was a whole habit folded atop his head? Or are we talking wimples here?
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