ODESSA — Late Wednesday morning, David Lehrke walked into his backyard shed, locked the door and told his wife he was going to "do something to make the cops kill me." Their daughter called deputies, and the wife told them Lehrke had stopped taking his medications. No one knew if he had a gun. He wouldn't answer the phone placed by the shed door.
Cpl. Arthur Morrison II was in a patrol cruiser near the home on Chesapeake Drive with other members of the Pasco Sheriff's Office crisis management team, trying to learn anything that might help them talk Lehrke out of the shed. They searched social media sites and found Lehrke's Facebook page, where he described his interests — fishing, diving, boating — and also his despair. "It is VERY dark here, Someone please send me some sort of light!" Lehrke, 47, wrote Monday night.
Morrison and the others didn't know if Lehrke had a computer in the shed, but, at that point, anything was worth a shot.
Morrison sent Lehrke a Facebook friend request.
Within seconds, Lehrke accepted. Then he quickly defriended Morrison, who was using the Sheriff's Office Facebook page he created as the school resource officer for River Ridge High School.
Morrison sent another request. Lehrke accepted again.
"hey are you ok?" Morrison wrote in an instant chat.
"who really wants to know," Lehrke responded, according to authorities, who released a verbatim transcript, typos and all.
"someone who wants to help you," Morrison wrote.
"i'm 47 and old dog new tricks, nah, ...
I don't want to play anymore, I want to take my Ball and go
Far away," Lehrke wrote.
This was the first time the Sheriff's Office had used an online chat in a negotiation situation. Morrison sent the first message at 1:30 p.m., and for the next 36 minutes, he and Lehrke communicated. Morrison prayed throughout it. He is also a pastor at Jasmine Lakes Baptist Church in Port Richey and believes in the goodness of life, in redemption and that it's never so bleak that suicide is an option.
Morrison, a 40-year-old husband and father of two boys, became a deputy because he wanted to help people and a negotiator because he could help people even more, during their darkest time.
In 13 years as a negotiator, he's worked more than 150 cases. He's lost about eight people. When that happens, it hurts him greatly.
"i cant be helped this time it will only lead to next time," Lehrke wrote.
"i'm damaged goods"
"I don't believe that," Morrison wrote. "I have many friends that have received help and made it through very tough times... put me to the test... tell me how I can help you..."
"pull the trigger so i don't have too," Lehrke wrote.
"We don't want to do that... ever," Morrison wrote. "that's not how we want to remember you. I am here to help not hurt."
After a few more exchanges, Lehrke told Morrison to call the Fire Department, but didn't explain why. Deputies didn't know it then, but Lehrke had lit a mattress in the shed on fire.
"too late sorry thistime," Lehrke wrote.
"thats not good," Morrison wrote. "will you talk to me on the phone." He gave his number. Lehrke didn't call. Two minutes later, at 2:06 p.m., Lehrke sent his final message:
"black smoke in here"
"what is black smoke?" Morrison wrote. He kept typing "are you there?" No response.
Minutes later, Lehrke came out of the shed, covered in soot, smoke billowing behind him, authorities said. He was taken into mental health custody under the Baker Act. Lehrke's wife did not want to comment for this story.
After the three-hour standoff, Morrison went back to work and taught a safe-driving class to students. That night he told his family what he did. He believes the Facebook chat helped keep Lehrke alive.
"There is always a light. There is always hope. There is always something to hold onto," Morrison said.
Times staff writer Marissa Lang and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.