Neil Trugman grasped his wife’s hand and tears formed in his eyes as a local police chief began recounting the death of an officer.
Trugman, the Amtrak deputy police chief, didn’t know the young man killed last year by an impaired driver. Instead he was remembering the loss of two colleagues from D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, Jason E. White and Henry “Hank” Daly. And he was thinking about the legacy of those losses: A loving marriage and a bright and caring 20-year-old daughter, Emma.
Trugman, 63, and his wife, Kristan Trugman, 52, the director of internal communications for the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, met in 1994 because White was killed on Capitol Hill. They sealed their bond after another deadly shooting later that year, this one killing Daly and two FBI officers at police headquarters.
This week, as law enforcement officers stream into Washington for National Police Week memorial events, Neil and Kristan Trugman are facing a complicated set of emotions. They understand — and embrace — the fact that two terrible tragedies led to their rich life together.
“Police Week is a special time,” Neil said. “I do think of Hank and Jason almost every day, but this is a time to reflect and think about where they are today and to assure they are never forgotten. Part of my reflection is to realize how these tragedies gave birth to such a wonderful family.”
“I do think about Jason a lot even though I never knew him,” Kristan said. “But because of him, I have an amazing family and life. I think during Police Week when surrounded by survivors that it brings home again the huge impact on so many lives that occurs from a police officer losing his or her life in the line of duty. It takes a very special person to be willing every day to go to work to put their lives at risk for people they don’t even know — us.”
A courthouse meeting
Neil and Kristan first spotted each other in U.S. District Court in Washington in January 1994.
Both were in a courtroom for a pre-trial hearing for the man accused of killing White. Neil, then a D.C. detective, thought Kristan was cute. Kristan Strother, then a reporter for The Washington Times, thought Neil looked like the epitome of a detective.
The hearing was one of the first court proceedings in the government’s case against Donzell M. McCauley, who was accused of gunning down White on Dec. 30, 1993.
White had been on patrol on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill with his partner when he tried to question McCauley.
McCauley put up his palms, declaring “I’m “tired of y’all (bleeping) with me,” and walking onto the small porch of a row house, Trugman said. White followed.
McCauley suddenly pivoted, pulled a handgun and fired a shot into White’s bullet-resistant vest, knocking the officer down the steps head-first. He then stood over White and fired several shots into his head.
White’s partner was able to provide a detailed description of the gunman, and police later captured McCauley. Detectives found 13 packets of crack in his underwear. McCauley pleaded guilty to killing White in July 1995, and was sentenced to life in prison.
After the initial hearing in federal court, Kristan returned to the nearby D.C. Superior Court, where she had a small office across the hall from the police liaison office. She left her door open.
Neil saw her in the office, walked in to introduce himself, and chatted her up. “He talked a lot about his kids,” Kristan recalled. Neil was divorced, and spent a lot of time with his children.
Neil spotted a photo on Kristan’s desk — “My husband,” she said. “He seemed a bit deflated by that,” Kristan recalls. Neil left his business card. The two remained cordial whenever they saw each other in the courthouse.
Months later, Kristan, who’d separated from her husband by then, called up Neil to ask him out for a drink. “I don’t drink,” Neil told her before he hung up.
Neil’s partner of 17 years, Detective Greg Peterson, looked at Neil, slack-jawed. “You eat, don’t you?” Peterson said. “Call her back.” Neil did. He met Kristan at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, and they went to a nearby Greek restaurant for dinner. They hit it off. “We talked about non-work things,” Kristan said.
Other dates followed. They saw “The Shawshank Redemption” at the Uptown Theater, then hit an ice cream parlor. They went to a sports bar in Alexandria, where Neil — a Brooklyn native — rooted for the New York Giants as they squared off against Kristan’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.
A Second Shooting
The nascent romance was proceeding slowly. Then a gangster shot up the cold case office of MPD’s homicide division in November 1994.
At her office at D.C. Superior Court that afternoon, Kristan saw dozens of D.C. police officers suddenly race out of the building, their hand-held radios squawking. Neil was in front of MPD headquarters, walking to his car after working an early shift, when he heard a lieutenant’s voice on his hand-held radio cry out, “Shots fired on the third floor!” The homicide office.
Neil ran into the building, up a stairwell to the third floor, and smelled gun smoke coming from the cold case office. Neil joined two fellow MPD officers at a heavy wooden door leading into the office, where he listened as FBI Agent John David Kuchta, who was gravely wounded, identified himself and asked for help. Neil knew that the door was too sturdy to break without a battering ram. “Reach up and slide the bolt!” he told the agent.
Kuchta was able to open the door and eventually survived. Hank Daly and two FBI agents were killed.
A few hours later, Neil and a team of D.C. officers and FBI agents conducted a raid at the Northeast Washington home where the gunman, Bennie Lawson Jr., 22, lived with his father. Inside the home, Neil found a notebook in which Lawson had written rap-like lyrics, some of which said, “Captain Hennessy must die!” Captain William “Lou” Hennessy, the homicide commander, had interrogated Lawson a few weeks earlier about a triple homicide.
Kristan had pitched in covering the headquarters attack and was unwinding at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove with colleagues when she saw a TV news report about the raid at the Lawson home. She saw Neil coming out of the house.
When Neil called her that night to ask if he could see her, Kristan responded — not quite jokingly: “Only if you tell me what y’all found.”
Neil responded with silence. The question struck a nerve; Daly, who died in the attack, had been a friend and a mentor. Neil respected the job journalists did, but had never been a source for one, and had kept his work life separate from Kristan’s.
They didn’t see each other that night, and Neil decided he would break up with Kristan. “I didn’t want to have to fend off questions from a reporter who was also my girlfriend,” he said.
But the next time he saw Kristan, she apologized. “I didn’t take into account that you were friends with [Daly],” she said. “That was insensitive. That’s not the person I want to be. You’re more important than this job.”
The following month, Neil’s father, Morris “Moe” Trugman, became gravely ill with a heart ailment and was hospitalized. He died in March 1995. Kristan accompanied Neil to the funeral.
“She understood me,” Neil said. “She was with me in the worst of times, and the best of times.”
Their daughter Emma was born in March 1996, and Neil and Kristan married the following October.
A Life Together
In the mid-1990s, a group of Capitol Hill residents raised money for a plaque honoring White in the children’s playground at Marion Park, which is across the street from the 1st district police substation at 4th and D Streets SE. Kristan’s parents, who lived nearby, would often take the toddler Emma to the playground.
Neil’s and Kristan’s career paths eventually brought both of them to Capitol Hill. Having retired from the MPD, Neil joined the Capitol Police as an intelligence research specialist in 2004. Amtrak hired him in January 2006. As deputy chief, Neil is responsible for counter-terrorism intelligence, the canine unit, and special operations.
Kristan left her newspaper job in 2000, and has worked as a senior policy analyst for the police department, chief of staff for the U.S. Capitol Police and a special assistant to former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer, whom she considers a mentor. She was appointed director of the office of internal communications for the Senate in 2012.
For years, Neil wouldn’t celebrate his April 29 birthday, because it was the same birthday as White’s. Kristan’s tag number on her personal car — 3887 — is White’s badge number. On Sunday, as she has since 1998, Kristan will volunteer on behalf of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), helping to provide day care for family members of officers killed in the line of duty while they participate in Police Week activities.
This summer, their daughter Emma, a student at the University of Delaware who rides horses competitively, will have a chance to learn about the city crime that brought her parents together. She will work as an intern with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Ruben Castaneda is a freelance journalist and author of S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in DC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @RCastanedaWP.
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