Part 1 of 2 "The Night Two Cops Died" PTSD & Alcohol Often Claim Lives
Updated: Dec 24, 2022
By: Danny Klein - Contributor (Retired Police Sergeant)
Originally Published December 2015 when Officer John Messimer died way too early
APD Officer John Carrillo Killed on Duty February 22, 1987
The day before Christmas, 2015, I got a text from a retired Albuquerque Police officer,
“Had I heard? John had died.”
A flood of memories took me back to February 22, 1987. I was a divorced APD detective, one of the original Repeat Offender Project detectives and work consumed my life. I loved every minute of it.
Sometime after midnight I was awakened by my department issued beeper. The number was the APD dispatch supervisor. I shook the slumber off and called in, the dispatch supervisor could barely speak as she was sobbing. She told me Officer John
APD Officer John Messimer partner of Officer John Carrillo
Carrillo had been murdered. What I didn’t know that night was that Carrillo’s partner, Officer John Messimer, was also killed, it just took twenty-eight years for him to die.
Messimer was a rookie cop the night he and Carrillo responded to the domestic disturbance that took Carrillo’s life. After Carrillo was mortally wounded Messimer pulled his body to safety as the offender, Merrill Chamberlain, was shooting at him. Messimer placed himself over Carrillo’s body, protecting it, while he returned fire. Back then APD issued a piece of crap revolver, Smith & Wesson Model 10. After six shots it was empty, but Chamberlain was still shooting. Messimer was reloading when Chamberlain came at him, gun in hand, down the hallway. Reacting like a seasoned officer, not the rookie he was, Messimer closed the cylinder on his revolver and pointed the gun at Carrillo’s murderer. Chamberlain ran back into a bedroom, Messimer’s gun had been empty, he hadn’t had time to reload it.
On the night of Carrillo’s murder Messimer had been with APD barely one year, that included four months in the Academy. He was in his twenty’s and had just recently been allowed to patrol alone, a rookie cop in a squad of officers that had known each other for years. It was those fellow officers who arrived and arrested Chamberlain and then realized their friend was lying dead upstairs.
Immediately the slow death of John Messimer began. Questions that would cause pain and self-doubt for the rest of his life.
“Why didn’t you kill him?”
“How could you let him die?”
“Where were you when he was shot?”
“Why didn’t you follow procedure?”
Painful accusations from the officers Carrillo and Messimer served with, directed to a rookie cop who had tried to save his partner’s life. Just as gut wrenching was APD awarding Messimer the Medal of Valor. Messimer felt he didn’t deserve it, how could he, he hadn’t been able to save John.
I never worked in the same squad with Messimer. I soon became a patrol sergeant and Messimer went into the SWAT team, call sign 515. We worked around each other and spoke on occasion, I considered Messimer a friend, but not a close one. From a distance and over time, I realized that Messimer was his best when he was on a SWAT call out. He was a great SWAT officer.
His problems, doubts, pain, seemed to disappear when he was working and come storming back when he was off duty.
Messimer married an APD cop, but try as she might, the demons that haunted him from that February night could not be held at bay. Throughout his APD career he would ride a rollercoaster of highs and lows. He turned to alcohol, and it would be a deadly choice. In time they would divorce, a situation that happens all too frequently to police officers. When he was diagnosed with the illness that would kill him, it was his ex-wife who would care for him in his final days.
An expression of love and compassion worthy of her own Medal of Valor. Immediately following his death many officers posted public comments. Retired APD Homicide Detective Jack Tibbets, said of John Messimer,” I stood in awe of his courage that night and forever after.”
Messimer’s ex-wife posted, ” All these years of pain and doubt and forever fighting those demons that should never have happened to you. Foolish words spoken in grief. A rookie cop got a good cop killed. Why were you running down the stairs? Why didn’t you shoot him, even though he had given up? Those words have haunted you all these years. Your own doubt and guilt about that briefcase that John Carrillo may or may not have seen. Blaming yourself for all these years for doing something that wasn’t your fault has taken your life as surely as if you had taken that bullet all those years ago. I pray that .….. you see John Carrillo, and he will embrace you and tell you what happened that night was not your fault, that you should never have blamed yourself and that you will finally believe.”
Two very good men died on February 22, 1987.
Unit "515" go on home, your shift is done.
This column was originally posted in December of 2015 after APD Officer John Messimer had passed away. With ABQRAW permission I wanted to repost this now to remind everyone the sacrifice police officers make every day. To remind officers not to be too critical of themselves or of other officers. The words you speak can cut just as sharply as any knife, leaving wounds that may never heal. To tell everyone, especially police officers, to reach out to someone if you are having a difficult time coping with what you have seen and actions you have had to take.
Turn away from alcohol and drugs, self-medication is never the answer.
There are plenty of people who want to help you, all you have to do is ask.
If you are in crisis, please call 988, the suicide crisis line.
You are not alone.