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December 26, 2007

A Christmas Tragedy

Kevin E. Dayhoff

We are all mourning this Christmas season after last Wednesday’s senseless death of Smithsburg police officer Christopher Shane Nicholson, 25.

He was shot once around 10 P.M. that evening, while he was in his police cruiser. Officer Nicholson was parked near the Welty Church Road home “of a Smithsburg man who was believed headed that way after allegedly stabbing his girlfriend, Alison Munson, 31, to death earlier that night,” according to numerous press accounts.

The small Washington County town of 2,900, Smithsburg is about eight miles east of Hagerstown and has an authorized force of three police officers.

News reports reveal the horrible details that at approximately 9:30 that night, police received a phone call that there was a “domestic situation” at Ms. Munson’s home in the small hamlet of Halfway.

It was learned that the person who may have committed the violence in Halfway was perhaps headed towards his home in the “Smithsburg area.” Officer Nicholson took up a position nearby – about two miles from the suspect’s home, and waited for backup.

National Police News picked up the story there, as retold by Smithsburg Mayor Mildred Myers. “He was shot in a place that his (bullet-proof) vest didn't cover… I understand they found a bullet hole in the windshield. He was ambushed, that's what it was.”

“When deputies and other officers arrived at the scene they found Nicholson on the ground in a field just off the road, and he was flown to the hospital. It was there that he died, according to the (Washington County) Sheriff's office.”

Mayor Myers said last Thursday: “You just don't think something like this is going to happen in a small town… I knew Chris very, very well. He was a member of the family here ... I feel like I've lost a child or a grandson. Last night we lost one of our own.”

Mayor Myers swore Officer Nicholson in on July 11, 2006, and said in National Police News that Officer Nicholson, “who was a native of Williamsport, MD, loved his job.”

“Before he applied for a position on the Smithsburg force, he worked at one of the prisons outside Hagerstown… Myers described Nicholson as a mild-mannered man who had earned the respect of townspeople.”

Unfortunately, 288 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty in Maryland’s history, according to the organization, “Maryland Fallen Police and Correctional Officers.” Published reports indicate that Officer Nicholson “is the only Smithsburg officer to die on duty.”

He leaves behind a girlfriend and his mother. Mayor Myers reported that Officer Nicholson was planning to ask his girlfriend, to marry him at Christmas.

To compound the tragedy of the senseless death of a police officer is the hideous crime of domestic violence that is alleged to have precipitated this crime.

Anyone who has been around law enforcement officers quickly understands that responding to a domestic dispute is one of the calls they hate the most.

“They are the scariest,” said a police officer who did not want to be named. “You just never know what will go down…”

Further research would be necessary as to the statistics regarding in what circumstances police officers get hurt most often, but folklore has it that incidents involving domestic violence hurt a large percentage of police officers.

The other tragic victim in this senseless night of violence is Ms. Munson, who had, “sometime during the chaotic night … been brutally stabbed to death.”

The suspect in the killing of Officer Nicholson, Douglas Wayne Pryor, 29, is alleged to have killed Ms. Munson.

According to The Frederick News-Post, Mr. Pryor was already under a court order issued in November, to avoid contact with Ms. Munson and was already facing earlier charges “of second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property stemming from incidents on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Ms. Munson had filed a petition against Mr. Pryor for child support Dec. 4, court documents state.”

“The couple's domestic problems and child-support issues dated to 2000, according to court records. She complained of domestic violence in 2002, when the couple lived together in the Smithsburg area, court documents state. Pryor has a police record dating to 1996 that includes a guilty plea in December 2002 to malicious destruction of property.”

The individual impact and direct costs of domestic violence are catastrophic to society. The Center for Disease Control “reported in 2003 that the cost of intimate partner violence against women exceeded an estimated $5.8 billion. This included direct costs of medical and mental health care of $4.1 billion and $1.8 billion in lost productivity.”

In the United States “one in 4 women has been abused at some point in her life…(and) acts of physical aggression between domestic partners occur in 1 in 6 US homes.”

“It just isn't supposed to happen this way,” said Mayor Myers.

No, Mayor Myers, it isn’t supposed to happen this way. The families of Ms. Munson and Officer Nicholson are facing a horrible Christmas and may we all keep them in our hearts and prayers.

How many more families have to be affected by domestic violence before we, as a society, come to grips with and collectively address this scourge and its horrific consequences?

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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