10 Years Later, Our Family Still Grieves

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Ten years ago, on Nov. 26, 2013, our family’s lives were forever changed. On a rainy morning two days before Thanksgiving, my father-in-law, Harris K. Teel, sat in the waiting room of Good Shepherd’s Ambulatory Surgical Center. His son, also named Harris, was having a routine procedure done. Harris the elder was there to drive him home.

At my wife’s request, since she was taking our daughter Abbie and a friend to Dallas, I pulled into the center’s parking lot garage to check on Mr. Teel, then walked down to the elevators at about 7:45. I noticed there was a lot of activity in the lobby and overheard someone say the elevators had been locked down. Minutes later, the younger Harris appeared in the lobby. His procedure had been canceled as he was lying on the gurney. It seemed there had been some type of stabbing incident.

“Where’s Dad?” he asked.

We started looking for him in the lobby. He was nowhere to be found. Soon, we were escorted upstairs, though I do not recall who did so. We were ushered into a conference room. I called my wife and told her to get back as soon as possible. After my wife and daughter arrived, we were told my father-in-law had been stabbed in the heart as he sat in the waiting room. Nurse Gail Sandidge was stabbed to death, while three others were stabbed as well — all by a young man escorting his mother over from the main hospital via the overhead walkway.

The heroic efforts of Dr. David Sadler, the late cardiovascular surgeon, kept Mr. Teel, as I always called him, alive for nine days. But the brain damage was severe and irreversible. He died on Dec. 5, 2013.

The killer was quickly caught, the weapon found. The incident was captured on video. We made the mistake of watching the video when a police detective came to our house. A decade later, it still causes nightmares.

The assailant was jailed without bail, charged with two counts of capital murder as well as assault charges for the other victims. And he stayed incarcerated for 1,982 days, awaiting trial. Finally, on May 1, 2019 – five-and-a-half years after his murderous actions tore the fabric of not just our family’s lives, but the families of the other victims as well, he pleaded guilty. He almost certainly will die in jail. That is my hope and prayer.

Mr. Teel was 82 at the time of his death but still strong and healthy. He insisted on going out alone at Lake Wright Patman to run his trotlines, hauling in 40-to-50-pound catfish by himself. He had a gruff exterior but kept a huge tender spot for his granddaughter, Abbie. She and her mom lived with the grandparents long before I was in the picture. After her grandmother’s death in 2008, Abbie and Mr. Teel grew even closer. His murder deeply affected her.

The family of a murder victim never really gets over the grief. The suddenness of the crime, the senselessness, it stays with you. One might get used to it but never over it. Unfortunately, I speak from experience, watching the effect Mr. Teel’s murder had on my wife and daughter, my wife’s three brothers and their children. Ten years later, we are still grieving in a way I think is different than if Mr. Teel had died of natural causes. I would not have bet against him still being around at 92, still frying up catfish caught at Lake Wright Patman.

Having to wait more than five years for his killer to be convicted only made it worse, and it was utterly unnecessary. It took a change at the polls in the district attorney’s office before this killer was brought to trial. That delay was unforgivable and caused unnecessary pain to everyone involved – the families of the two people killed, the three who were wounded, and all their family members. We are grateful to then-District Attorney Tom Watson, Assistant District April Sikes, and Sheriff Maxey Cerliano for all they did to finally achieve a measure of justice for his victims.

So, 10 years later, we celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday that feels quite different now than it did before that horrific morning of Nov. 26, 2013. It does every year. That will never change.

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