NEW ORLEANS, La. (BP)–Watching as rooftops peeled off adjacent buildings and debris tumbled down the street, Sgt. Don McCoy of the New Orleans-area Gretna Police Department, relied on his faith while waiting patiently for Hurricane Katrina to die down enough to get back on the streets to protect his city.
“The wind sounded almost like a train,” McCoy said. “I’ve never heard wind howl like that before…. Telephone poles were going back and forth. Then the power went out.”
McCoy, along with his wife and son, watched the destruction through the plate-glass windows in the lobby of the Gretna courthouse as if they were at home watching a catastrophe on the evening news. Instead, they were living it.
McCoy’s first faith challenge came when people needed food and water after the storm. “It was heartbreaking to a lot of these people to tell them we had no idea when food and water were coming,” he said.
The next challenge came when looters started to take advantage of evacuated businesses and homes. “We were so limited with officers,” McCoy recounted. “We would try to send officers to one area to protect the businesses and while we were taking care of that [the looters] would be breaking into something else. It was just non-stop for a while there.”
One practice started by Deputy Chief Charles Whitmer to encourage the officers was a role call prayer.
“The prayers got us going,” said McCoy, a Royal Ambassadors boys’ leader at Calvary Baptist Church in New Orleans. “It got us lifted up and we started looking forward to the hope of the future for the community. I’ve seen people, that I don’t know if they had a lot of religious belief or not, actually sitting there talking to the Lord. They were saying, ‘Lord, help us to get through this time.’”
Because of the lack of utilities, food and drinkable water, McCoy’s family went to Dallas after the storm. “The biggest thing I learned was to rely on [God],” McCoy reflected. “The hardest thing I had to do was to say goodbye [to my family] because at the time we had no idea when they could come back. All I could do was pray that they would be safe and get to Dallas with no problems. In about 30 minutes, a calmness came over me and I knew they would be fine.”
During the period after the storm, tragedy struck the Gretna Police Department. Sgt. Sue Laughlin died accidentally as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust of a generator.
Before the storm McCoy had applied for a sergeant position, but he has struggled with the way the opening became available. “I felt so bad, because I ended up getting the position because of her untimely death. Every day I hear people talk about how they miss her. She was really one of the sweetest ladies. She would go out of her way to do things for you. She went out of her way to take care of [my wife and son] … when I first went to the streets to start patrolling.
“It’s been pretty hard,” he continued, in reflecting on Laughlin’s death. “I mean, I wanted sergeant pretty bad, but I didn’t want sergeant any way by this means.”
To honor the life of Laughlin and to help his team at the courthouse heal, McCoy designed a ribbon for the officers to wear. The idea, stemming from McCoy’s military background, has a hurricane symbol, a blue line representing the police force, and Laughlin’s badge number, 38, emblazoned on it.
Opportunities to plant the seed of salvation and to share what Jesus means to him came to McCoy as officers from around the nation came to help his department.
And he was able to do tangible things for people in his community who were hurting. The third time he took food and water to a handicapped woman, he felt led to pray for her. Together, they prayed for her needs and for braces for her legs that the storm destroyed.
“Sure enough, one of the girls we work with, her husband is a doctor, he managed to get her new braces,” McCoy said.