October 30, 1990: One life begins, another ends

Syracuse police officers salute during Friday's ceremony honoring slain officer Wallie Howard Jr. on the 25th anniversary of his death.

Syracuse police officers salute during Friday’s ceremony honoring slain officer Wallie Howard Jr. on the 25th anniversary of his death.

October 30, 1990.

The date has such significance that even the numbers carry extra weight in their mathematical symmetry: 10-30-90.

It is a date inextricably linked to life, and to death.

It was the day my second son was born, around 11 in the morning. A baby brother to the 2-year-old at home. Double trouble of the best kind.

A few hours later, on that beautiful crisp autumn afternoon, I drove home from the hospital to relieve my sister-in-law who was watching my older son. I looked down from the highway toward Syracuse’s Valley section and wondered why so many police and emergency vehicles were gathered in a grocery store parking lot.

A police officer had been shot and killed. An undercover drug buy had gone bad, and a beloved 31-year-old native son, Wallie Howard Jr., was gunned down. Shot in the head. By a 16-year-old.

Such a juxtapositi0n of hope and despair, of joy and grief.

A day of pure elation over the birth of a healthy baby, one who has done so much good in his 25 years, will forever be linked in my mind to the death of another young man who wanted to do good.

In his hometown, Wallie Howard Jr. is remembered every Oct. 30, with newspaper stories and ceremonies.

I think I’ve read every word about his life and death, but had never attended any events. I was always busy on Oct. 30, celebrating a life rather than mourning a senseless tragedy. But the connection was never far from my thoughts.

This year, perhaps because it was the 25th anniversary, I went to the ceremony in a downtown Syracuse park.

As I listened to the police chief, the mayor and others speak, I tried to soak it all in. The tributes were sincere and heartfelt, and as I listened I kept thinking of numbers, of ages, of the passage of time. I wondered what the past 25 years have been like for Wallie Howard Jr.’s two children. He left a four-month-old daughter and a 7-year-old son who, at 32, has lived longer than his father.

I looked around at the rows of police officers in the park and guessed that some weren’t even born when Howard was killed. I wondered how many of them have young kids at home.

And I thought about my son, born on a gorgeous Oct. 30 that had been filled with so much promise.

Twenty-five years ago. One life ends, another begins. 10-30-90.

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About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in crime, Irish Investigations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to October 30, 1990: One life begins, another ends

  1. ksbeth says:

    it is such a mix of emotions and what a powerful day for you – we have a birth and death in my family on the same date and i always feel the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Jim, this post made my heart ache with its celebration of life and its remembering of life. Such a beautiful tribute to two beautiful lives. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember that day too The shocking horror of Wallie Howard’s sudden, violent and tragic death contasted vividly with the calm beauty of a gorgeous October day. As the mother of a son close to Officer Howard in age, I’ve always felt deep sadness for his mother, Dee Howard.

    She has maintained a quiet grace and dignity that reveals much about the man Officer Howard must have been. His death was such a great loss to all of us that the community is still grieving all of these many years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a thing to encounter on your son’s day of birth Jim. It kind of makes me think of the old adage, life goes on… Happy Birthday to your son. ❤
    Diana xo

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  5. A day to rejoice (your son’s birth) and to mourn (Wallie Howard’s death).

    I worked at WHEN-AM radio when this happened and was on the scene reporting live about the shooting within 10 to 15 minutes. A horrible tragedy. Wallie Howard was an excellent police officer, who was undercover that day during a drug bust, when his life was cut short by a teen and two of his accomplices in a grab for money.

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    • Jim McKeever says:

      You certainly had a different perspective on that day, Judy … it must have been one of those times as a (human being and) journalist when it was very difficult to take care of the task at hand.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wallie Howard was gunned down in broad daylight in a parking lot outside a grocery store. I felt horrible for him and his family, and for the community knowing that none of us can ever feel safe. And, yes, a situation like that hurts your heart. But you wait until you’re home alone before you cry.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful tribute Jim. And I love people who take the time to honor life and sacrifice and are horrified by the senselessness of acts. So much so that they gather every year to honor a man and trump the stupidity and horror in the world. Thank you for sharing Officer Howard’s story with us, and the joy of your son.

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  7. Jim McKeever says:

    Thank you, Colleen … Oct. 30 is always a raw day in Syracuse, no matter the weather.

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  8. reocochran says:

    It is hard to imagine that sad loss happening on one of the best days of your life. I don’t have more than one mixed up day, sorrow and happiness. Not quite dramatic enough to say too much.
    I liked the way you described the special birth of second son. Two great celebrations in two years, Jim. 🙂

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