I walked across the parking lot as the “incident train” passed. It was dark out. And cold. Not bitter cold, but just below comfortable.
I had parked my car in a lot across the street from the train station. As I opened my door, I heard it. Metal on metal, the screeching, rumbling sound of a 100-ton Metro North train barreling past the Noroton Heights train station at 6:26 in the morning. That was the train, I thought. Not my train, but, the train.
A chill ran down my spine. I felt colder. I thought of his family, and their immense pain. I thought of the passengers on that train. I thought of the engineer, sitting in the front when it happened. Did he see it? Did he see anything at all? Did anybody see anything?
Earlier that morning I had woken up at 5 and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Something was nagging at me to get to the train station. No witnesses had come forward. Maybe I could find someone if I go down today. It had happened last Monday, a week ago exactly. Maybe some people only take the train on Monday. Maybe I’ll find someone. Maybe I can help the family who had lost a father, a husband, a friend. Maybe I could help them bring closure in an hour so dark.
I looked toward the platform and saw about five or six people milling about. This older man, tall with a thick gray beard, saw me looking at him. He’d been doing this for so long, a “hello” wasn’t even on his mind. He hustled by before I could even tell him why I was there.
I took a breath. There are more people to talk to, I told myself. I looked over and saw a young woman standing and waiting. I approached her.
“Hi, I’m David DesRoches with the Darien Times newspaper, I’m wondering, were you here last Monday? Did you happen to see the accident?”
The woman looks at me square in the eye. “I’m his daughter.”
Words escaped me. How could I have not expected this? Did I really think that his family would not be down here, seeking closure for themselves? Was I that unaware? That clueless? Completely unprepared, I lost all sense of my profession. I was no longer a reporter. I was a fellow human being.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
She wanted help finding witnesses. That’s why she was there. Trying to see if anyone had seen anything.
In a haphazard way I asked her if she wanted to be quoted, knowing she’d refuse, which she did, politely. Her eyes had seen too many tears over the last week. Too much pain. Too many unanswered questions.
I gave her my card. “Please let me know if there’s anything we can do to help,” I said. “No matter what.”
She took my card and thanked me. She thanked me. Perhaps never in my life have I ever felt so undeserved of thanks. I felt guilty for being thanked. I felt like a fraud. I couldn’t take her pain away. I couldn’t make things better.
Quickly I remembered why she was thanking me. Because I was there. I was there for the same reason she was. Looking for witnesses. Seeking an answer. Hoping to find closure.
I walked away and came to tall man in his forties. I introduce myself, tell him why I’m there. He had been in Boston last Monday, but heard about it. I come to another man, also in his forties. He had arrived just after and learned his train wouldn’t be stopping.
Another man, he had come late too. Then I see a young woman. I begin to introduce myself but I immediately notice the family resemblance.
She’s also his daughter. She’s carrying a laminated photo of who I can only assume is her father.
She thanks me too. I’m again torn in my emotional response. I shouldn’t be here, I think. I’m not helping. What’s the point? The MTA Police are here, that’s good enough, right? I’m just in the way. I’m just a reminder of what happened. I’m just a media vulture. Why am I being thanked?
I didn’t really have time to dwell. The platform was filling up quickly now. The train would be arriving any second. I approached another man, nothing. And another, nothing. I find a young man standing next to Kevin’s daughter and it’s his son. Stupidly I approach him as if he’s a potential witness.
He thanked me. In a matter of seconds the number of people on the platform doubled. Tripled. I needed to find someone. Three more men. Nothing.
The arriving train blasts its horn. I start to gently shout.
“Did anyone see anything last Monday? Anyone? Anything?” I stared everyone I could in the eye until they saw my eyes. People seemed ashamed to not know anything. They wanted so badly to know what happened. But they just didn’t know. They hung their heads low as I called out in desperation, seeking some truth. Nothing.
The train stops. Doors open. People wander in. Hope of finding a witness disappears into a cacophony of cell phone chatter, newspaper rattling and topical banter.
Inside the train, people sleep, read news on paper or screen, talk to each other. The train closes its doors, rumbles on. A conductor stares out from one of the doors. He seems to know what’s been going on outside.
A thunderous roar blows past as the caboose chugs by — abnormally loud for a commuter train, announcing its departure with a robustness that felt orchestrated. It was as if someone had put an insensitive period at the end of a fragmented sentence of what could be the truth.
The platform is now empty, save Kevin’s children, myself, and two MTA police officers, who appear weary. Any sense of optimism they had departed hastily toward New York City. They’d been coming here every morning over the last week. Nothing. I attempt to leave and see Kevin’s son and daughter. I stop to see if they had any luck, and they ask me the same. Nothing. I can’t think of anything more to say.
But they say something. They ask if there’s anything they can do to help me. Here are people, at the height of pain and frustration and confusion and ten thousand unnamed emotions asking me if they can help me. My heart felt like a million pounds.
Character is a word that often gets lost. But I saw character on that platform. I saw integrity. I saw willful resilience and strength and determination. I saw peace — not of resolution, but of resolve. I don’t know if Kevin Murphy’s family will ever learn the truth of what happened that fatal day. But I know this — his children are his gifts to this world. And wherever he is, he would be proud.
Originally published in The Darien Times.