Timmy OShea loved cops so much, he tattoed his dads badge number on his back. He once dreamed of being a cop.
But on a sun-drenched Tuesday in July, 24-year-old Timmy warned his terrified mother:
If you call the police, theyre going to have to shoot me.
The day before, Marianne OShea had pleaded with Morristown Medical Center not to discharge her troubled son from a week-long psychiatric evaluation, one of many such trips during a painful odyssey that included three suicide attempts.
It killed me seeing my kid in the hospital. But that was the safe place for him, she said.
Around 4 pm on July 14, 2020, Marianne entered her Morris Township home to find her son bleeding from cuts to his wrists and neck.
When Timmy revealed a handgun, she fled the house. As Timmys golden retriever Bailey barked in confusion, Marianne took cover behind her truck on the street.
She had no idea the replica Beretta in Timmys right hand was an air-soft target pistol that shoots plastic ammo. Neither did police from three towns, who swiftly descended on quiet Fairchild Avenue with drawn handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles.
Please, dont let them shoot him! Marianne begged the 911 dispatcher.
The police begged, too.
Tim, dont. What are you doing? Put the handgun down right now. Put it down. Please, Im begging you, please, put the gun down.
Some of the officers knew Timmy, and knew of his struggles with mental illness, Marianne said. Kevin OShea, Timmys father, is a retired Morris Township lieutenant who still works for the department as an executive administrative assistant.
Police body- and dashcam videos released this week depict events that spiraled rapidly, following Timmys chilling script.
VIDEOS: Some images and sounds have been obscured by authorities, but content still may disturb some viewers. Discretion is advised. To toggle through playlist, click icon at top right:
Mariannes security camera captured Timmy, shirtless, in black shorts and sneakers, his hands bloody, shambling up the next-door neighbors gravel driveway, past Timmys fire-engine red Dodge Ram 1500 pickup that he loved tinkering on. An off-color meme adorned the windshield. Locally Hated, proclaimed another decala joke about the diesel motor that rattled his moms nerves when he warmed it up on cold winter mornings.
Timmys gun did not bear the orange blaze plug required by federal law to distinguish air-soft look-alike firearms from the real thing.
He glanced to his left, surveying the situation through black-rimmed glasses, and continued haltingly towards the street, where police trained their weapons on him from behind their vehicles. He paused beside the passenger door of his truck.
Tim, drop it, and well help you. TIMMY, DROP IT!
Two officers with assault rifles stood in the open. One of them had known Timmy since he was a baby, his mother said. Timmy raised his gun at that cop.
The officer fired four .223 caliber bullets from his M & P rifle. Timmys beefy 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame collapsed backwards onto the gravel. Marianne can be heard shrieking from behind a police car.
Goddamn, man, a Township officer said as he approached the driveway.
Who shot Timmy OShea? The videos are obscured and redacted to shield his identity. Authorities wont even say if the officer was from Morris Township, Morris Plains or Morristown.
Identifying the shooter will jeopardize the safety of the officer and the investigation. A particularized, actual threat was made against the officer involved, stated the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. The threat was not disclosed.
Timmys parents wont name the officer. Other knowledgeable sources tell Morristown Green the policeman is from Morris Plains. Borough Police Chief Michael Koroski and Mayor Jason Karr have declined to comment.
Police shootings are investigated by the state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, which presents the incidents to a grand jury for review.
No grand juries have been convened during the pandemic, so it may be awhile before any findings are released, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told MorristownGreen.com last month.
Kevin OShea will wait.
I wasnt there, I have never looked at the videos (nor will I ever) and I have not spoken to anyone who was there about it, he said via email. I put my trust in the AGs office to conduct an impartial investigation and make the determination.
Marianne, who has seen unredacted videos, wonders why the shooter did not remain safely behind a vehicle, like other officers, so they could talk Timmy down. Or why the officer did not use rubber bullets.
I dont understand why one officer fired four times, she said. One shot, (Timmy) might have survived one shot. But not four.
Nor can she comprehend why this officer driving from Morris Plains, and apparently the last to arrive, dashcam footage suggestswas doing the shooting.
The person that shot (Timmy) knew him the best of anyone in front of the house. He watched him grow up, Marianne said.
Its not clear from the videos who was in command. One of the policemen, Morris Township Officer John Burk, is a member of the Morris County Sheriffs Emergency Response Team (SERT), the elite of the elite, according to Sheriff James Gannon.
When the bell rings we simply need the best. You guys are the best. I trust my life with you, the sheriff said last year when Burk was sworn in.
Specially trained by the Secret Service, SERT members skills include expert marksmanship, hostage negotiation skillsextreme fitness and ability to quickly assess dangerous circumstances and de-escalate situations to peaceful resolutions, states the sheriffs office.
Burk is heard on video beseeching Timmy to put down the gun, after asking Marianne for her sons name and details about the weapon. His bodycam shows the officer aiming his handgun at Timmy from behind a vehicle. Authorities did not release any bodycam video from the officer who fired the rifle shots.
The state is investigating. One possible explanation for Timmys tragic death could be suicide by cop. The term refers to suicidal persons who provoke lethal confrontations with policeconfrontations that can haunt an officer.
Its estimated that of the nearly 1,000 fatal police shootings in the United States each year, about 100 are suicide by cop. A study in Los Angeles of people attempting suicide by cop found that 83 percent were male, and 67 percent had a confirmed or probable diagnosis of mental illness.
A training guide released last year by the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank, proposes protocols for de-escalating these situations. Establishing trust and empathy is vital. Shouting commandsand pointing a gun at an agitated person usually makes things worse.
Police should gather as many details as they can from the individuals family or the dispatcher, say these recommendations, which emphasize that an experienced sergeant or natural leader should take control at the scene.
The most effective tool that officers have is their communication skills, the PERF guide asserts.
Less-lethal weaponselectronic control devices, beanbag shotguns, pepper spray, police dogs, hands-on use of forcesometimes help. They were used in 17 percent of more than 400 incidents defused by Los Angeles police, according to a 2019 study. But other studies show weapons such as stun guns fail about 40 percent of the time, making them risky, PERF cautions.
All of these suggested protocols come with one enormous exception: When the agitated person has a gun.
This high-risk situation should be handled like other situations involving a subject with a firearm. Options are limited. Immediately take cover, use extreme caution, and warn arriving units, PERF advises.
Marianne OShea also is angry at the hospital.
Doctors there were dismissive to her, and unresponsive to calls from Timmys psychiatrist, she said. She tried to convince a hospital social worker that her son was not ready to come home.
I just knew he wasnt right, Marianne said.
Through a spokeswoman, Morristown Medical Center declined to comment.
Depression and bipolar issues stalked Timmy from his late teens, punctuating his life with medications and rehab stays three times at Morristown, three times at Summit Oaks Hospital, once at the Carrier Clinic, by Mariannes count.
Three times he attempted suicide, she said.
Police prevented her from accompanying her dying son to the hospital, she said, because they considered her a witness.
They took my chance to say something to him.
Instead, Timmys mother had to sit on a sidewalk down the street, and later in an ambulance, past 1 a.m., while investigators combed through her home. Her older son and her best friend both were not allowed to sit with her; Marianne said she wasnt even allowed to tend to her dogs.
A pair of Morris County detectives relayed news from the hospital that her son didnt make it.
When authorities finally cleared out, it fell to her to remove first aid detritus from her neighbors driveway and clean the bloody bathroom where Timmy slashed himself.
Marianne suspects Timmys troubles had origins at a hockey rink. He was upended by a cross-check, landing on his head and sustaining temporary paralysis of his limbs, as a 12-year-old scrimmaging against older boys, she said.
Although they divorced when Timmy was an adolescent, his parents share the same appraisal of him, treasuring sunny memories of a kind-hearted boy.
On Timmys good days, they said, he was a charmer, an endearing goofball with an abiding willingness to lend anyone a hand.
He would do anything to help anybody, Marianne said.
Tim had his issues but he would do anything for anyone at anytime, no questions asked, echoed Kevin OShea.
Timmy was the kind of kid who shoveled snow off sidewalks for elderly neighbors. When he drove his truck past cars that had spun off the road, he pulled over and offered to tow them out.
Remembering Timmy OShea. Slideshow photos courtesy of the family. Click/hover images for captions:
He confided to his high school theology teacher that he wanted to follow his familys example. Alongside the tattoo of his dads police badge, Timmy had tats of his brothers firemans badge and a stethoscope and a heart for his sister, a nurse.
For his mother, a retired nurse, he inscribed on his arm: Everything I am or ever will be I owe to my loving mom.
He really wanted to help people, to be a first responder to people in need of help, said John Ward, who taught Timmy and his twin siblings, who are four years older, at Morris Catholic High School.
When college didnt work out, Timmy became a mechanic, with a welding certification for better pay.
This boy could fix anything, Marianne said. Timmy lavished countless hours on his truck, his pride and joy. Off-roading, dirt bikes, jet-skiingif it had a motor, he was enthralled.
He had a flair for graphic arts, exhibiting a piece at a show in Morristowns Atrium Gallery. And he loved his 7-year-old pal, Bailey, who had the canine gift for consoling him during bleak moments.
Timmys goofy side came out at his senior prom, where he donned a camouflage vest and baseball cap. A Thanksgiving photo shows him sporting a turkey hat.
When classroom conversations grew a little too serious, Timmy could re-calibrate things with a light-hearted comment. It was always at the proper time, never to sabotage the class, said Ward.
He loved to laugh, and had a smile on his face more often than not, the theology teacher said. He was a very polite, good-natured, good-hearted kid.
Timmys dad sees that smile, and the mischievous twinkle in his sons eye, in a digital picture frame on his desk. Some photos make him smile. Some make him cry.
I cant begin to imagine the demons that he faced every day, but I hope that he is at peace now. He had a lot of bumps in his life but I will always remember him as my little guy who did a lot of good things in his life.
On family houseboat vacations in the Thousand Islands, Timmy always wanted to drive the boat even though he could hardly see over the wheel, Kevin OShea remembered.
Timmy and his siblings joined their father and his wife and three step-siblings in 2013 for a hectic holiday in the United Kingdom. Timmy had a blast being the class clown and center of attention, his dad said.
Father and son bicycled together this June. But July started badly. Timmy checked himself into the psych unit at Morristown Medical Center on July 6.
He knew he was in bad shape, Marianne said.
Timmy asked his father to drive him to the hospital. A week later, he called his dad for a lift back to his moms house.
During the short ride, he went from sedate to slightly agitated back to sedate. He said he was on new medication the hospital prescribed so I chalked it up to new meds, Kevin OShea said.
As Timmy got out of the car, I told him I was there for him and I loved him. He told me he loved me and went in the house.
That was the last I saw him. Twenty-four hours later he was dead, in that same spot.
In lieu of flowers, the OShea family has asked that donations in Timmys memory be made to the American Society for Suicide Prevention or St. Huberts Animal Welfare Center. Anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide is urged to call the Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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