ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Cheryl Toenjes brought flowers for her friend and neighbor Pam Kirk.
"Just to let her know what I'm thinking of her," she said, tying the flowers to a post by her front chain-link gate.
The 53-year-old died at the hands of St. Pete Police on Sunday night after a neighbor called, worried for Pam's well-being.
"Most times, we have a happy ending there," said St. Petersburg Police spokesman Bill Proffitt. "Most times the officers are able to help the people there, maybe take them under the Baker Act, or get their family involved, or counselors or whatever."
But Sunday, for the first time in over a half-dozen calls that didn't result in Bakler-Acting or weapons removal from this neat-as-a-pin place over the past few years, veteran Officer Christopher Dolch saw Pam pointing a silver .38 special at him through that window next to her patio door. He fired three times.
Pam died less than an hour later at the hospital.
Dolch is now on leave as Police Internal Affairs and the Pinellas/Pasco State's Attorney's Office investigates:
"All of that is just normal when we have a shooting that involves a death," he said
But this life-or-death decision in the midst of mental matters is becoming a little too normal.
"If there is a fear for life or limb by the officer, the response has to be the same regardless of the mental health issue," said Dr. George Northrup -- a psychiatrist based in Tampa -- whose expertise in forensic psychiatry and the criminal mind has been buttressed by conversations with law enforcement professionals who have had to deal with varying levels of emotional trauma, mental disorders and their own shoot/don't shoot decisions.
"Not one has ever appeared to want to brandish or pull their weapon or to shoot anyone," he said.
And even those who knew and loved Pam admitted it was out of his hands:
"Cop has no choice," said Cheryl Toenjes in front of the house that her neighbor Pam had just painstakingly painted only a few weeks ago. "Because you know they don't know what she was going to do. She wouldn't put down the pistol so, ..."
At that, her voice trailed off, and all she could do was shake her head.
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