My friend John Phillips passed away this summer. At 27 years old, he was president of Pursuit Watch, an organization dedicated to educating the public and the police about the dangers of high-speed police chases to third party civilians. John’s father had founded Pursuit Watch after a runaway felon struck and killed John’s older sister in 2001 during a high-speed pursuit. When John’s father died of a heart attack in 2007, John stepped in as president.
I had heard the news that John was in the hospital fighting for his life through a group on Facebook, "Stay Strong for John," but the page said little else. Needing to know why, I Googled “John Phillips” and “hospital” and found an article from Michigan that said 10 days earlier he had accidentally hit and killed a child chasing a ball into the street with his pickup. The child's mother's boyfriend had run out of the house with a large knife and, in a swell of anger, stabbed the driver. The boyfriend was now awaiting trial for attempted murder.
The article featured a mug shot of the boyfriend with pursed lips and hard, angry eyes. This man stabbed John, I thought. John must’ve been visiting his girlfriend’s family in Michigan. I imagined John in his truck when he struck the child. He must've jumped from the cab and ran to help the boy. When the boyfriend emerged from house wielding a knife, John must've shuffled backward, waved his hands in the air and shouted No. As the knife plunged in, he must've buckled over, holding the wound while emergency sirens grew louder, bearing down on the bloody melee.
I emailed the article to my mom with the note, ‘More tragedy for the Phillips.’” Two days later, the Facebook group announced that John had had a stroke. From the blood loss, I figured. And then, when John died, the stroke was all that was mentioned—nothing of the stabbing. My mom emailed me back that the John Phillips who got stabbed in Michigan was 34 years old, not 27. It was a different John Phillips altogether.
By the time I got home for the funeral, my embarrassment for spreading that false information was overshadowed by my sense of loss. I wrote a short elegy for John and kept it in my pocket during his service in case I felt compelled to speak. I didn’t get up and share it, but it touched on our elementary school years, our golf games, John’s passion for the Braves and the Magic.
The last paragraph read, “I came to consider John a personal hero. Never preachy or passing judgment, John led by example, always proceeding with strong moral character and conviction. He had been through so much and remained in good spirits, found the resolve to turn hardship into growth, setback into solution. Charitable, altruistic, he embodied the positive change he demanded of the world, touched the hearts of everyone he met, and the world is a better place for having had him in it. We’ll miss you, John.”