WHITELY COUNTY — Indiana State Police troopers undergo much training. At the Law Enforcement Academy, they learn how to shoot guns, how to conduct traffic stops and how to arrest criminals.
But it wasn’t the law enforcement academy that prepared Master Trooper Joe McLaughlin for his experience last week — it was his experience as a father.
McLaughlin was conducting a traffic stop on U.S. 30 when an ambulance near the Whitley/Kosciusko county line called for emergency assistance. When he arrived at the scene, he saw two children outside the ambulance, “crying hysterically.”
The children were riding in the ambulance with their father, who was severely injured in a four-wheeling accident in North Webster. With no other relatives or family nearby, the children had to ride in the ambulance with their father.
“The paramedics had no choice other than to take the kids with them in the ambulance,” McLaughlin said. “But it was intense in there and traumatic for the kids.”
McLaughlin’s fatherly instincts kicked in, and he took in the 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl as his own until family arrived from Michigan City.
“I told them, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be with me. You won’t leave my side,” he said.
McLaughlin took the children in his squad car and followed the ambulance to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne. During the ride, the boy was talking about how afraid he was, worried that his father could die.
“It broke my heart,” McLaughlin said.
His older sister tried to console him.
“She kept telling him, ‘All we can do is pray,’” McLaughlin said. “As a man of faith myself, I said, ‘You are absolutely right.’ We prayed right there in side the car. We prayed for their dad, the medics, hospital staff, and that their family would get here safely.”
It was one of the most emotional moments of his nearly 20-year career in law enforcement.
“Most of the time I don’t get emotional, but that day I about lost it,” McLaughlin said.
Many people think of police officers as emotionless, but McLaughlin says that’s not the case.
“We’re husbands and wives, some of us have kids. We care about people and we do have emotions,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin has two children of his own, and said he was only doing what he hoped someone else would do if he were in a similar situation.
“I can’t imagine how traumatic that was. I felt so bad for them,” McLaughlin said.
Their father suffered a severe concussion that hospitalized him for several days.
While waiting for their family to arrive, McLaughlin took the children to their restaurant of choice, McDonald’s, and brought them back to the nearby Indiana State Police Post.
McLaughlin said he, like many other law enforcement officers, doesn’t want to be recognized for their work, but the situation gave him more meaning in his career.
“Sometimes in police work, you question if what you’re doing is really making a difference. Then something like this happens, and you’re put in a position to really, truly help someone. They had nobody to be their provider or protector. It’s a privilege to be in that situation to help them.”
“I am very proud of Joe for being compassionate and caring to some little children when they needed it most. I am also very proud of Master Trooper Tim Myers and Region II Dispatcher Darcey Goehring for helping with the children also” said Lt. Corey Culler, Fort Wayne District commander. “These are acts that our troopers perform that go above and beyond, and make a difference in the communities they serve.”
McLaughlin is a resident of Whitley County.