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Aftershock: The Ticking Time Bomb of Soldiers' Traumatic Brain Injuries

Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are a generation of warriors whose fight has shifted from external combat zones to invisible internal battlefields.

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Back home, Angie and Bruce had told a friend from the local police department about Brock's past, that he was a veteran suffering from PTSD, and heavily armed. The friend relayed the information to the police chasing Savelkoul. As the chase progressed, the friend would call Angie and Bruce to give updates. In the background, they could hear the dispatchers talk as more and more police officers were called in to stop Savelkoul.

Bruce Savelkoul realized that his son was driving toward the same area where they had stood together 15 years earlier, to shoot his prized deer. "I don't know that anybody can say why somebody wants to kill themselves," Bruce said. "But that was one of the favorite places he'd been in his life. Maybe a person wants to go to a favorite place to die. That's what I think. I think his mission that night was to die."

The chase, captured on video cameras mounted on Highway Patrol cruisers, unfolded like a movie. When a patrol car attempted to block Savelkoul's route, he pulled off the highway, bouncing through high grass, blasting through a barbed-wire fence. A few minutes later, he roared back on the highway. Finally, out of gas, he pulled over on a farm road about 15 miles from the hunting grounds where he shot the deer. Within seconds, he was surrounded by sheriff's deputies, police officers and highway patrol troopers. They began yelling: "Drop the gun, drop the gun!"

The standoff was just beginning. Over the next two hours, Savelkoul paced, smoked, brandished weapons and even shot a round into the back of his pickup. On several occasions, Savelkoul disappeared from view behind his truck. Officers worried that he was attempting to sneak through the darkness to get behind them. At perhaps the most tense moment of the standoff, he came within feet of one of the patrol cars. Raising his 9-mm handgun to his side, he begged someone to shoot. "Go ahead, shoot me!" he yelled. As the officers held their fire, he reassured them he would not shoot first. "You already ... know that I won't ... hurt, I will not ever shoot, a law enforcement agent," he said. "This gun will go to my head before it will go to you. I guarantee it."

Through it all, one officer, Megan Christopher, talked to Savelkoul nonstop, working feverishly to save his life. Christopher had joined the North Dakota Highway patrol only two years earlier. With high cheekbones and bright blue eyes, she had already made her mark, helping chase down four fugitives featured on an episode of "America's Most Wanted." In her brown trooper's hat and carefully pressed uniform, she could pass for a real life version of the cop Frances McDormand played in the movie "Fargo."

On the evening of Sept. 21, she had been sitting down to dinner when the call came in. She and her commander raced to join the chase. When Savelkoul finally ran out of gas, Christopher was one of the first on the scene.

Although she was a junior officer with no real training or experience in crisis negotiation, she was the first officer to use her patrol car megaphone to talk with Savelkoul. Savelkoul seemed to respond to Christopher, the only woman on the scene. "I tried to put myself in his shoes and empathize," she said. "I think my voice was softer and not expected."

Christopher tried anything she could think of to convince Savelkoul to surrender. When she learned his first name, she introduced herself. "Brock," she said. "My name is Megan." When Savelkoul took out a tube of Chapstick, Christopher needled him. "What kind of Chapstick was that? I need some," she said. "My lips are really dry now. I've been talking a lot." When he turned up the radio, Christopher tried to sing along. "La, la, la. It's time for Karaoke," she joked. She appealed to his past. "You sound like you're pretty proud of the medal that you have," she said, referring to his Purple Heart. "I appreciate everything that you've done for your country, for me and my country." She urged him to think of his future. "You have a lot of people who want to help you," she said. "What you're doing is not fair to anybody. And especially not to you."

 
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