The officer who called
from Savannah that night did a better
job of telling me than I did of telling others. The officer was
a woman with a southern accent. She said, “there was an accident,
and your son did not survive.” Words lik e “killed” and
“died” are sharper bullets than “did not survive.” She didn’t
But I did use those words when I told Jeanne, Nate and Laura.
Because if I hadn’t, I would have had to shoot them twice.
First, I’d say, “he didn’t survive,” and their hearts would jump
to their throats. Then they’d say, “What are you telling me?”
And I’d have to say, “He was ki lled,” or “he died in a wreck.” And
that would have been the delivery of shattering news with
the added torture they would have suffered before I could
make myself as clear as possible.
The call began with the phone ringing in the night, followed
by the automated Caller ID voice announcing that the caller
was Chatham County Police Department. Chatham County
means Savannah, Georgia, where Alex was a student at the Savannah
College of Art and Design. Upon hearing those words,
I jumped out of bed in a confused, semi-sleep panic, and answered.
The officer started the call saying, “Is this Tom Townsend?”
Yes it is.
“Are you the father of Alex Townsend?”
Yes I am.
“Are you alone?”
“I have news for you. Would you lik e to get somebody to be
“There’s been an accident. He did not survive (I don’t remember
whether she said “He,” “Alexander,” “Alex,” or “your son.”)
She went on.
“I am here, and will be here for you, for as long as you need.
Take your time. I’m right here.”
I sat in silence with her on the other end.
“Just take your time.”
“God,” I said aloud. “God. God. God. Oh, God. Oh, God.”
I said it again, and again, punctuated by a few seconds
pause between each.
Then, “tell me what happened,” I said.
“It was a single car accident, no other vehicle or person was
involved. We know high speed was involved, but that is all we
know right now.”
Okay, so this is between just our nuclear family and Alex, not
another family, another death, somebody’s permanent disability,
or even Alex’s permanent disability. I need to go then, I need to get
down there. God. God.
She went on.
“I’d like to give you two phone numbers you will need over the
next 24 hours. Do you have something to write with?”
“Here they are. The Chatham County Coroner’s Office, and the
other, this organization that will be contacting you regarding
Also, take my cell if you need it.”