Notable incidents in Sgt. Christopher’s career

MIDDLEBURY — Retiring Middlebury Police Sgt. Mike Christopher discussed a couple sad or tragic incidents he dealt with over 35 years on the force.

Among them:

•  The 2008 disappearance of Middlebury College student Nick Garza, whose body was eventually recovered from below the Otter Creek Falls after an intensive, four-month search. Authorities ultimately concluded that Garza, after having consumed alcohol, fell into the Otter Creek while walking off campus during a frigid winter evening.

“We tried every option we could think of, with all sorts of outside agencies that had expertise in various (search and recovery) fields — from water and air searches, to ground searching,” Christopher recounted.

“We searched every nook and cranny in every building on campus, and the grounds,” he said. “We assigned someone to remove all the snow banks (on campus), which was filtered to make sure (Garza) was not on the scene.

He recalled the sadness in the community when the search ended with a parent’s worst nightmare, the death of their child. Searchers were able to narrow down the location of Garza’s body based on innovative aerial photography.

“It was so unfortunate,” Christopher said, gently shaking his head.

•  An Oct. 12, 2012, investigation in which officers made the difficult decision to use deadly force in order to prevent an armed man from potentially harming others after he’d holed up in a wooded area off Route 116. Subsequent investigation revealed George Demarais, 57, had been treated for several years for depression, had made suicidal and threatening statements in the past, and was facing the imminent forced tax sale of his home. Demarais went out behind his house and started shooting, after leaving several notes indicating his intention to provoke the police into shooting him, according to authorities.

“It was certainly not an ending that we wanted,” Christopher said.

•  A double-murder-suicide at the Pine Meadows apartments around 25 years ago.

•  A 2008 car collision near the intersection of Route 7 and Exchange Street that killed three people.

•  A particularly memorable call to a reported family dispute at a North Pleasant Street home several years ago.

Christopher and former Det. Kris Bowdish were dispatched to the home on a report of yelling and banging sounds. When they arrived, they found a man slamming the butt of a 243-caliber hunting rifle on his dining room table while yelling into his phone. Fortunately, the man’s partner and children had left the premises.

The two officers announced themselves and ordered the man repeatedly to “drop the rifle.”

But he didn’t. He kept his finger in the trigger guard, slowly training his eyes from the rifle to the person in his line of fire: Mike Christopher.

This was a man who had already fired once through the ceiling of his apartment, Christopher noted. The weapon was loaded and the safety was off.

Showing great composure, Christopher kept his service gun pointed at the man, repeated his “drop the rifle” command, but didn’t fire his own weapon.

Eventually, the man put the rifle on the table and backed away to a point where Christopher grabbed it and tossed it aside.

“A ‘deadly force’ response certainly would have been justified, but I just didn’t pull the trigger … and I’m glad I didn’t,” he said.

Christopher later learned the man was a veteran and father of three who was dealing with many problems — including alcoholism. He ultimately got his life back on the right track.

Both the man and his aunt — with whom the armed individual was speaking by phone when Middlebury police appeared on scene — called Christopher later to thank him for not firing his weapon.

“I would have lived with that for the rest of my life,” Christopher concluded, his voice cracking with emotion.

“It turned out OK.”

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