Disclaimer: I like cats. In fact, I used to own two cats, but my son had friends who were allergic to cats, so I no longer have them. But the fact remains: I like cats. I used to own cats. I wish no harm to cats.
I was sitting in a meeting at Central Office when my phone lit up. It was a text from my secretary. Whenever I receive a text from my secretary it is always one of two things:
She wants to share something funny that happened while I was away.
She wants to share something the opposite of funny while I was away.
This particular text was more toward #2.
She wanted to let me know that the police were at the school circling the perimeter. They were conducting an investigation. A parent had reported that a 5’5” (or 5’6”) red haired man with a red beard driving a white sedan, pulled over in front of the school and grabbed a cat. He swung it around and then bashed it onto the pavement over and over again before getting back in his car to speed away from the scene. The police believed it might have been a “vendetta thing.” Those were the words they used: “vendetta thing.” They were requesting that I pull up the camera footage around 1:15 PM so they could catch the cat murderer in the act.
I slipped out of the meeting and walked down the hallway to the Tech Director’s office and explained my situation. He was immediately engaged in my quest to find the despicable cat murderer, and worked his fingers vigorously over his keyboard. It wasn’t long before the cameras from my school were displayed on a huge TV hovering over his desk. He worked the dial until he reached the 1:15 PM mark, and hit play.
The monitor showed the scene in front of our school. No activity for one minute. Two minutes. Then you see me walking out of the building toward my car parked down the street. I get inside and drive, turn in front of the building and head toward the very meeting where I received the initial text. At the exact moment my car was in front of the school, we witnessed something that will forever be etched in my brain: a cat fell from the undercarriage of my car and my back tire ran over it. He froze the video, backed it up, and we watched it again, and again, and again. Truth be told, we watched it 23 times. We turned and looked at each other. It was at this moment that I realized this simple and unmistakable fact: I WAS THE CAT MURDERER.
I grabbed my cell phone to call the police. I figured they would want to see this footage and stop their pursuit of the crazy red haired cat killer. I had two numbers for the police in my phone: “Emergency Police” and “Local Police.” In my haste I pressed the first one.
Police: 911, what is your emergency?
Me: Hi, this is Mark Johnson, principal of Bryant Elementary. I believe you are investigating a cat murder?
Police: Sir, this is the emergency number. Did you mean to call this number? Where are you located?
Me: I’m in Kearney.
Police: This is the emergency number. You need to call your local police.
Me: Oh, well, since I already have you on the line, would you like to investigate a cat murder?
Police: No, sir. We would not.
Police: Kearney Police Department, how can I help you?
Me: Hi, this is Mark Johnson, principal of Bryant Elementary. I understand you are investigating a cat murder?
Police: Yes we are. Let me put you through to the investigator.
Twenty minutes later two policemen walked through the door of the tech office ready to see the evidence we had found. I said, “Now before we press play, can you tell me again what it is you are hoping to see?” The policemen described a 5’5” or 5’6” redhaired man who would be seen grotesquely murdering a cat in front of our school. They said the parent who called it in used such graphic detail they were worried about what our students might have seen if they were looking out the window. I said, “Okay, here we go” and pressed play.
They asked to see the footage three times. After the third time they stood up and one of the guys laughed and said, “Oh man. This kind of stuff happens all the time. Cats love to crawl up into cars.” However, the other police officer said, with a very perplexed look on his face, “Why would that lady lie to me? She described it so graphically. I’ve had many interactions with her, and she’s never lied to me before.”
What I said was, “I don’t know.” What I WANTED to say was, “Sir, if I may, I’d like to make two points. One: If you’ve had many interactions with this woman in the past, that should be a red flag right there. Two: You might want to reread every deposition she has ever given you, because it’s possible you might have incarcerated someone who is actually innocent.”
The police officer then looked at me and said, “You have no idea how relieved I am that this story has closure. If we still had no evidence of what happened, the story would have been shared with one person, then passed to another, and spread across town, and might have even made the paper. We would get phone calls everyday about how people spotted a red haired cat killer that doesn’t even exist. Our days would have been filled running around chasing a ghost, all because one person said it happened, and everyone believed her.”
And there, in that very statement, was the lesson to be learned from this whole escapade. “All because one person said it happened, and everyone believed her.”
How many times have you heard a crazy story, or read something on Facebook, or caught wind of something at work that captured your attention, and before you even stopped to think about the validity of the story, or the accusation being made, or whatever it may be, and you passed it on to the next person? It happens all too often. It reminds me of a lyric from an Avett Brothers song called Ten Thousand Words: “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different. We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”
This woman decided to share a story. A completely fabricated story. If this woman had the chance, she might have shared this story with a lot of people, and the story might have spread like wildfire. Now granted, this story was about a man murdering a cat, which to some people might not be a big deal. But what if it was a big deal? What if the story was about more than just a cat? What if the story was about a teacher at your school? What if the story was potentially damaging to their career? If you heard the story, would you share it without hearing the whole story? Would you want to be a part of the gossip before you knew all sides?
The lesson in this cat murder story, amusing as it may be to sick people who don't love cats with their whole hearts as humans are destined to do, is very clear: Just because you hear something, doesn’t make it true. Just because you read something, doesn’t make it gospel. Always listen to all sides of the story before you make a decision. It may just mean the difference between chasing a ghost, or finding the truth.
You can read more of what Mark and Sam have to say in their book It Happens In The Hallway. Just click here.